2023 Annual Meeting: Poster Session

The Rhythm of Reading: Components of Prosodic Sensitivity and Reading in Grade 1

Alex Ryken
Dalhousie University

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Background. Oral language skills are a crucial foundation for early reading development. One oral language skill we’re very interested in is prosodic sensitivity: awareness of prosody or the overarching sound patterns in language including stress, intonation, and timing. Prosody is part of phonology. Phonology at the phoneme level is very important to reading, but prosody has received comparatively little attention in reading research. The studies that exist have mixed results, maybe because different components of prosodic sensitivity may have different relations to reading outcomes.

Methods. As part of the larger study, Leaps and Bounds: From Reading Words to Understanding Texts, we worked with a group of 336 Grade 1 students. Since prosody includes multiple types of sound patterns, we examined three components of prosody: word stress, phrase stress, and intonation. We also measured word reading, reading comprehension, and several control variables.

Results. Our first research question asked whether prosodic sensitivity is one skill or separate component skills in Grade 1. We used confirmatory factor analysis to compare a 1-factor model and a 3-factor model. The 3-factor model was the better fit, suggesting that these components can be considered separate in Grade 1.

Our second research question asked whether components of prosodic sensitivity are related to word reading and/or reading comprehension in Grade 1. We used structural equation modelling and found that the word stress component of prosodic sensitivity was related to word reading in Grade 1 after controlling for age, phonological awareness, vocabulary, and nonverbal ability (as well as word reading when predicting reading comprehension).

Discussion. Overall, our findings suggest that prosodic sensitivity is not one general skill, and we should pay careful attention to which component is being measured in our own research and in the papers we read. Prosodic sensitivity, especially the word stress component, seems important to include in research and theories of reading.  

The effect of attention on word reading in English-French bilingual children

Shelley Rafailov, Sharry Shakory, Stefka Marinova-Todd, Dr. Becky Chen
Multilingualism and Literacy Lab​
Dept. of Applied Psychology and Human Development
The Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE) at the University of Toronto

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The purpose of this study is to evaluate the impact of attention on English and French word reading among elementary French Immersion (FI) students. The participants of the present study consist of approximately 190 Canadian FI students in Grades 3 and 4, recruited from Vancouver and Toronto. Students were administered a battery of English and French literacy measures including vocabulary, word reading, phonological awareness, and non-verbal reasoning. The Strengths and Weaknesses of ADHD symptoms and Normal behaviour scale (SWAN) was completed by parents, alongside a demographic questionnaire. A hierarchical regression was run to test whether factors of attention predict for word reading in both English and French above and beyond the effects of phonological awareness and vocabulary in each respective language. This study controls for the effects of child age, parent education, and non-verbal reasoning. The findings of this study will reveal the impact of attention on the development of literacy in early bilingual children. Specifically, this study aims to discern if there are unique effects of inattention or hyperactivity as per previous studies, as well as if these factors significantly impact first language versus second language development. This will provide valuable information to instructors regarding teaching practices and other environmental effects that can be accounted for to alleviate the effects of attention on reading. This research project will inform curriculum to increase the accessibility of the French Immersion program to students with special education needs. This project hopes to identify tangible supports for students at the onset of bilingual education to make FI sustainable throughout the completion of the program in Grade 12.

Lexical Decisions in Ortho-semantic Learning: An ERP Study of Grade 3 Children in English and French Immersion

Laura Elliott
University of Dalhousie

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Elementary school children in French immersion (FI) experience a lag in their English literacy skills through the early grades, due to reduced formal English instruction. This lag corrects itself once English instruction is introduced into the curriculum. However, FI presents a unique opportunity to study reading development, and its neural correlates, in children who are learning to read in a language other than their native language. We recruited third grade English and FI students to complete a novel word learning paradigm, in which participants learned the spellings and meanings of fictitious words. Then, participants completed a lexical decision task during EEG recording, including the newly learned novel words, real English words, pseudowords, consonant strings, and false letter strings. We investigated two neural markers shown to relate to behavioural measures of reading development: the N170 print and lexical tuning effects measured using event-related brain potentials (ERPs). In print tuning, N170 amplitudes are larger for strings of letters than symbols, and in lexical tuning, N170 amplitudes are larger for phonotactically legal letter strings than strings of consonants. A bilateral N170 print tuning effect is observed in children as young as 7 years old, with stronger, more left-lateralized N170 print tuning developing with reading skill. Lexical tuning emerges later, but correlates similarly with reading skill development. Therefore, we hypothesized FI students would demonstrate bilateral N170 print tuning and no lexical tuning, while English students would demonstrate more left-lateralized print and lexical tuning of the N170, and higher reading proficiency. Findings demonstrated that both English and FI students demonstrated print and lexical tuning effects, and differences in amplitude and laterality were observed between the two groups. Additionally, larger print and lexical tuning effects for novel words than real words were observed in FI students, which may indicate a greater sensitivity to orthographic patterns of newly learned words than their English peers. These findings demonstrate measurable differences in neural activity during reading between English and FI students, that do not necessarily indicate a lag in reading skill for FI students.

The direct and indirect effect of morphological awareness on reading comprehension

Abuosbeh, Z., Rafailov, S., Hipfner-Boucher, K., Steele, J., & Chen, X.
Multilingualism and Literacy Lab​
Dept. of Applied Psychology and Human Development
The Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE) at the University of Toronto

View the digital poster here.

Reading comprehension is essential for student success. This is especially true for French Immersion (FI) students, who learn French as a second language at school. These students are able to develop English and French skills simultaneously since they typically live in English-speaking provinces. Accordingly, academic achievement in FI is dependent on English and French language skills that facilitate reading comprehension. The word reading skills of FI students have been extensively studied, however, much less is known about FI students’ listening comprehension skills. These include morphological awareness, which is the ability to reflect on and manipulate morphemes in words. Morphological awareness is essential in inferring the meaning of  morphologically complex words. This will lead to comprehending individual sentences and ultimately full texts. Therefore, the purpose of the present study is to examine the direct effect of English and French morphological awareness on French reading comprehension in FI children in grade 3 and grade 5, including any cross-language effects. As well, we propose to examine the indirect effect of morphological awareness on reading comprehension through sentence comprehension. Structural equation models will be used  to create pathways from morphological awareness to reading comprehension with sentence comprehension as a mediator and working memory as a control variable. We will aim to share the sentence comprehension and morphological awareness measures in English and French with educators in FI. The results of this study will therefore benefit FI teachers and students by providing evidence based resources that teachers can use in the classroom to improve FI students’ language and literacy outcomes.


What information do child and adult readers use when they read?

Comparing reliance on orthographic-phonologic and orthographic-semantic routes.

Deanne Wah
Western University

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English is partially regular, meaning that the letters may not always match well with the sounds, i.e., the vowel in “pint” does not sound like the vowel in “mint.” This partial regularity in speech-print correspondence can be measured using surprisal. Evidence suggests that young children oversimplify print-speech correspondences, while adults access a richer set of cues when decoding text. Furthermore, reliance on semantics predicts poorer reading in children with reading disabilities.

Objective: I aim to study these effects by characterizing children’ and adults’ reliance on different grain sizes of information and semantic imageability. Specifically, I will be characterizing reliance on one-to-one vowel correspondences versus a more sophisticated context-dependent correspondence that incorporates multiple spelling-sound cues concurrently.

Methods: Children and adults will read words that vary along a continuum for one-to-one vowel correspondences, context-dependent correspondences, and semantic imageability. Word naming latencies and accuracy will be coded. For each participant, their degree of reliance on each type of information will be identified using slope estimates from regression models.

Results: In adults, greater reliance on one-to-one vowel correspondences is related to faster reading speed. Reliance on one-to-one vowel correspondences may compete with reliance on context-dependent correspondences. For low imageability words, reliance on context-dependent correspondences is related to faster reading.

Implications: The purpose of this study is to elucidate how people at different developmental stages read and what grain size of information is preferred for experienced readers.

Morphological processing in the pre-literate bilingual brain

Xin Sun
University of British Columbia

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From as early as 4 years old, children begin to recognize and make sense of units of words, or morphemes. Much of what we know is about how morphological skills support reading development in school-age children with diverse language backgrounds, however, it remains a question of how the developing brain is wired to support morphological awareness before children learn to read. The current study aims to unveil the neurocognitive mechanisms of morphological processes among pre-literate children and explore potential bilingual effects. Monolingual and bilingual 4-to-5-year-old children complete a word-matching task during fNIRS. For each trial, children hear three words and are asked to pick out the one (‘cupcake’ or ’stomachache’) that goes with the target word (‘pancake’). Preliminary data (N =12, 5 bilinguals) showed that overall children activated left frontal and middle temporal regions, which are often associated with morpho-semantic processes. Moreover, bilinguals tend to engage more bilateral frontal, whereas monolinguals more left middle temporal regions. The project hopes to offer new insights into how the developing brain supports early language acquisition.