New insights into the relation of morphological awareness and reading comprehension in children
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The purpose of reading is to understand the meaning encapsulated in text. Reading comprehension is undoubtedly a complex and multifaceted skill. It has been argued that morphological awareness—the awareness of and ability to manipulate meaningful units in spoken language—might play a vital role in reading comprehension. Despite mounting evidence in support of a relation between morphological awareness and reading comprehension, their relation nevertheless remains underspecified. The question therefore remains: how does children’s awareness of morphemes in language relate to the comprehension of written text? Across two studies, the aim of this dissertation was to clarify the relation between morphological awareness and reading comprehension in English-speaking children. It was hypothesized that morphological awareness supports children’s ability to decode (morphological decoding) and understand (morphological analysis) morphologically complex words, which, in turn, contributes to reading comprehension. With 224 Grade 3 children, Study 1 used a multiple-mediation design to test the direct and indirect contributions of morphological awareness to reading comprehension via four potential mediators: word reading, vocabulary, morphological decoding, and morphological analysis. The findings of Study 1 showed that morphological awareness contributed indirectly to reading comprehension through a morphological decoding path and a separate morphological analysis path. Interestingly, there was an enduring direct contribution of morphological awareness to reading comprehension beyond all mediators and controls. Using longitudinal autoregressive modeling, Study 2 tested whether morphological awareness predicts gains in reading comprehension beyond morphological analysis from Grade 3 to 4 (N = 197). It was found that morphological analysis, but not morphological awareness, contributed to gains in reading comprehension. Morphological awareness, for its part, contributed to gains in morphological analysis. This developmental pattern suggests that morphological awareness contributes to reading comprehension over time by supporting the development of morphological analysis. Altogether, the findings of this dissertation suggest that morphological awareness supports children’s ability to read and understand unfamiliar morphologically complex words and, in doing so, contributes to their understating of text. Clarifying the concurrent and longitudinal roles of specific morphological skills informs on the possible mechanisms underlying the relation between morphological awareness and reading comprehension, which has important implications for theory and instruction.