An Examination of Spelling Acquisition in the Middle and Upper Primary School Years

Tessa Daffern

    Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

    2373 Downloads (Pure)


    Research has offered various perspectives on the acquisition of spelling competency; however, it is unclear whether knowledge progresses in successive stages, or in more complex ways. While assumptions regarding the relevance of learning to spell in contemporary classrooms undoubtedly influence instructional practices and priorities, research is needed to determine the extent to which proficiency in spelling influences compositional writing when compared to grammar and punctuation. It is imperative that school teachers adopt evidence-based practice; however, there is relatively little research available on the teaching and learning of spelling, particularly beyond the early childhood education years.The present study draws on data from 1,389 students to capitalise on a specific context that has not been rigorously explored, namely the Australian-English spelling system as represented by students in Years 3 to 6 from the Australian Capital Territory (ACT). The theoretical framework underpinning this study is Triple Word Form Theory (TWFT) which conceptualises proficiency in Standard English spelling according to an individual''s capacity to efficiently and automatically coordinate three linguistic skills: phonology, orthography and morphology (Richards, Aylward, Field, et al., 2006). The present research began with a Pilot Study (n=198) to develop and test an innovative spelling assessment tool informed by TWFT: the Components of Spelling Test (CoST). Reliability results demonstrate strong internal consistency in all three subscales: the Phonological Component; Orthographic Component; and Morphological Component.Following the Pilot Study, a Major Study was undertaken and adopted an explanatory sequential mixed methods design. Phase One aimed to: (i) understand the relationship between three language convention variables (spelling, grammar and punctuation) and written composition (n=819), as measured by the NAPLAN Language Conventions Test and the Writing Test; (ii) examine students'' median performance levels of the linguistic spelling components (n=1,198), as measured by the CoST; and (iii) explore the relationships between the NAPLAN spelling results and the CoST scores, for low-achieving spellers (n=237) compared with high-achieving spellers (n=275). Phase Two aimed to provide rich, descriptive comparisons of the spelling strategies used by low-achieving spellers and high-achieving spellers across Years 3 to 6. This final phase involved qualitative content analysis and triangulation of a range of data. Qualitative data included narrative and persuasive texts, composed by eight low-achieving spellers and eight high-achieving spellers in Years 3 to 6, as well as transcripts from semi-structured interviews, conducted with those students and their class teachers.In Phase One, results indicate that spelling, grammar and punctuation jointly influenced written composition, and that spelling was the main predictor of performance in written composition. From Years 3 to 6, concurrent increases in the median performance levels for the phonological, orthographic and morphological subscale scores of the CoST were found, albeit to varying degrees. While year level differences in scores were significant, the effects for gender and the interaction of year level and gender were non-significant. Additionally, significant positive correlations between the NAPLAN spelling results and the three subscale scores of the CoST were observed across the four cohorts, for low-achieving spellers and high-achieving spellers.
    Original languageEnglish
    QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
    Awarding Institution
    • Charles Sturt University
    • Mackenzie, Noella, Principal Supervisor
    • Hemmings, Brian, Co-Supervisor
    Award date30 Mar 2016
    Place of PublicationAustralia
    Publication statusPublished - 2016


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