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Longitudinal Relationships Between Reading and Spelling in Early Elementary Grades: Testing Causality Using a Cross-Lagged Panel Design

  • Author(s): Forrester, Ekaterina Petrovna
  • Advisor(s): O'Connor, Rollanda
  • et al.


Although considerable research has focused on the nature of reading-spelling relationships and its implications for practice, most of the literature is outdated, having been published in 1980s and 1990s. Moreover, limitations in the research base inhibit the full understanding of how reading and spelling development influence each other at different stages and whether reading-spelling relationships might differ in certain at-risk populations compared to typically developing readers. Several researchers suggested the existence and provided evidence for stages of reading and spelling development (Frith, 1985; Ehri, 1989; Henderson & Beers, 1980; Shanahan & Lomax, 1986). The present study examined the reading-spelling relationship hypothesis suggested by Uta Frith (1985) to determine whether evidence can be provided to support specific directionality of influences between reading and spelling. Using a sample of 386 elementary school students who were followed from first through fourth grade, a cross-lagged panel analysis explored across-time reciprocal influences of reading and spelling in Grades 1 and 3. The results indicated that during the alphabetic stage the relationship between reading and spelling was significantly influenced by other early literacy skills, specifically students' knowledge of letter names and the ability to read words correctly. Additionally, students' ability to use alphabetic knowledge in decoding was a causal determinant of their ability to use this knowledge in spelling at later time points. During the orthographic stage, orthographic knowledge in reading facilitated the orthographic knowledge acquisition in spelling. While the results of this study provided additional support for the Frith's hypothesis of the orthographic knowledge transfer, it was not able to provide evidence for the alphabetic knowledge transfer hypothesis that suggests that alphabetic knowledge is first acquired in spelling and then facilitates alphabetic knowledge acquisition in reading. Instead, reading was found to be an antecedent and facilitator of both alphabetic and orthographic knowledge. Differences between typically developing and struggling readers were also examined. The implications of these findings for reading and spelling instruction and future directions for research are discussed.

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