[Spelling Progress Bulletin, Summer 1982 pp11-13]
[Emmett Betts: see Anthology, Bulletins.]

Position Paper, by Emmett Albert Betts, Ph.D., LL.D.

Word Perception: Mediated Response Learning.

In word perception, certain obscure and unobservable processes operate between the stimulus (e.g., the word cat or the word autochthonous) and the response. In responding to the word cat, the beginner may call on pre-established associations with at, hat, cap, or cues from one or all three words. For the more complex word autochthonous /'o-, täk-than- əs/ the experienced reader may call on a number of pre-established associations: relating the number of places in which vowel letters occur in the word form to the probable number of syllables; relating the phonogram au to the sound /o/, the phonogram ch to the sound /k/, the phonogram ous to the unstressed syllable /-əs/; and so on. These internal, or psychological, processes are often called mediating (relating or intervening) responses.

Past learnings tend to mediate present learnings. The pupil who has systematically studied the at-cat-hat spelling pattern tends to bridge the gap between the stimulus sat and the response /'sat/, providing of course, he relates the sound /s/ with the letter s. The systematic addition of words fitting this pattern (e.g., bat-rat, cap-tap) controls, in a sense, the mediating process and increases predictability of responses.

The pattern bar-car-far-jar-star has structural (linguistic) meaning for the pupil who has studied it systematically. It is this structural meaning groupings by spelling patterns - that is crucial to the mediating, or relating, process.

When the beginner in reading learns to tell the difference between letters (T and L or b and d) or between the spelling patterns of words (sat and sit), he is discriminating. Before this time, he has learned to discriminate between speech sounds, between referential sounds (e.g., mother / 'məth-ər/ and daddy /'dad-e/) and the emotive sounds ah /'a/. This discrimination learning involves a complex of skills prerequisite to listening and talking, and later, to reading and writing. Hence discrimination becomes a mediating response.

When the pupil generalizes regarding the relationship between the phonogram of oi in oil and the sound /oi/, he is using a powerful mediating process. This generalization process operates for the he-me-we, my-by-shy, day-may-say, the not-lot-got, oat-boat-goat, eat-meat-feat, and other major and minor spelling patterns.

Commonly used words tend to be short words (e.g., a, an, and, the). In fact, there is some evidence indicating that about 50% of these common words are one-syllable words. But the other half may have two or more syllables (e.g., again, exit, strengthen). The less common words may be words of many syllables (e.g., repatriate, microevolution, telecommunication, antipatheticalness. and superseptuaginarian). Certainly multisyllable words appear to be more complex stimuli than one-syllable words. Therefore, they require greater cue search, more complex groupings into syllables, and so on-and it appears reasonable to assume that complex processes of mediation are required for their perception.

The complexity of mediating processes is increased by differences among individuals. Some beginners experience more difficulty in learning word perception skills - for emotional and a number of other reasons. A few pupils have difficulty with closure - for example, given the sound of oi in boil, they are unable to complete the sound sequence for the word. These differences in abilities of pupils to use various mediating processes are a class of important variables, often called intervening variables.


[Betty D. Roe: see Bulletins.]

Position Paper, by Betty D. Roe, Ph.D.

Why is it desirable for students to become automatic decoders?
What is one effective method for helping students to do so?

*Prof. of Educ., Tennessee Tech. Univ. Cookeville, TN.

There is a need to help students become automatic decoders so that their attention can be applied to the task of comprehension. Students who are struggling to recognize words have little attention left to devote to discovering meaning, and yet comprehension cannot occur unless words are recognized and understood.

Samuels suggests the method of repeated readings as a way of building fluency and overcoming the decoding barrier. This method - rereading a short, meaningful passage repeatedly until a particular level of fluency is reached - has been successful in a reading clinic setting with intermediate grade and junior high school students. The students improved in both word recognition and comprehension and had a good attitude toward the technique.


Samuels, S. Jay. "The Method of Repeated Readings." The Reading Teacher, v. 32 (Jan. 1979): 403-408.


Position Paper, by Dr. Josephine Wolfe*.

What is the relationship between word perception and concept development?

* Jenkintown, Pa.

There is a clear relationship between word perception and concept development. Word perception is a process of interpreting and understanding printed words resulting in the labeling of concepts. The ability to think as needed comes first. However, word forms or other visual symbols are imperative if the writer is to convey his ideas to the reader. Essential to the perception process are meaning aids such as anticipating meanings of words from pictures, from context, and from structure as well as extending word meanings by antonyms, synonyms, homonyms, homographs, and words with multiple meanings.

These aids give the reader a check on the accuracy of his association with a symbol. In other words, to perceive a word is to recognize it, to know what it means, and to use it - the end development being comprehension.


[Betty D. Roe: see Bulletins.]

Position Paper, by Betty D. Roe, Ph.D.

What are some differences in the ways that good readers and poor readers identify words? Why may these differences exist?

*Prof. of Educ., Tennessee Tech. Univ., Cookeville, TN.

Good readers tend to attack words more flexibly that do poor readers. Good readers vary the approach to a word (phonics, structural analysis, or contextural analysis) depending upon the situation, whereas poor readers tend to use a single approach. This may be because the good reader has mastered more approaches. Some teachers focus on a single approach (frequently phonics) for poor readers, while giving more techniques to better readers. Better readers are also more willing to try alternate pronunciations for graphemes than are poor readers, who tend to try only one possibility. Once again, this may be because the poor readers have not been taught to have a "set for diversity", and the better readers have.


Frenzel, Norman J. "Children Need a Multipronged Attack in Word Recognition." The Reading Teacher, v. 31; Mar. 1978: 627-631.

Jenkins, Barbara L. et al. "Children's Use of Hypothesis Testing When Decoding Words." The Reading Teacher, v. 33, March 1980: 664-667.


[Emmett Betts: see Anthology, Bulletins.]

Position Paper, by Emmett Albert Betts, Ph.D, LL.D.

Speech and Word Perception.

There are three reasons why a teacher needs some basic knowledge of speech sounds:

1. On-the-spot-help. When a pupil asks for help on the word squash during his silent reading, the teacher asks, "What part do you need to know?" If the pupil points to squ and has not studied the /skw/-squ relationship, the teacher says, "That sound is usually spelled skw. Now what is the word?"

If the pupil points to the a of squash, the teacher says, "The sound is /ä/, ah. What is the word?"

This procedure has several merits. The pupil is told only the sounds represented by the letter(s), not the whole word. Telling the child the word teaches him nothing, leaving him helpless when he sees (squ)irrel, sw(a)mp or some other "new" word. On the other hand, when the pupil is told only the unknown sound-letter relationship, he has to close the word by fitting the sound into the sequence of sounds for the word - as /skwäsh/. Finally, the pupil makes a note of the word squash for study in a follow-up activity with other pupils who need the help and, therefore, are ready for it. In this group, the pupils may study quick, quack, and other /kw/ -qu words as well as squash, square, squeak, squeeze, and other /skw/ -squ words - if the help is needed on the initial consonant blend. Or, they may study squash, swallow, swamp, quality, and other words with the vowel sound /a/.

2. Maturity in speech production. A knowledge of the sounds of speech helps the teacher to estimate the young pupil's achievement in speech. While children learn to articulate the consonant sounds in boy, pa, and ma, at an early age, (about 3 to 4 years), they do not learn to articulate the consonant sounds in zoo, Sue, and raw until a much later age. A knowledge of language development, especially speech reproduction, makes it possible for the teacher to identify the sounds and to make decisions regarding the sequence in the development which is to be expected.

3. Regional differences. Since the American population is becoming increasingly mobile, a Bostonian teacher may have pupils from Utah, Iowa, Tennessee, and other speech regions. In this situation, the teacher needs to be aware of regional differences in speech - of the pupil from the south who says far for fire, or fire for fair, of the pupil from Iowa who says water /wot-ər, wat-ər/ with an ah sound rather than an aw sound.

In parts of New York City, speakers say singer with two different g sounds as in finger and longer. Here the variation is in the consonant rather than the vowel sounds.

Hence, when the teacher gives on-the-spot help, she needs to know the child's possible pronunciation of the word.

In conclusion, each teacher needs to be aware of his or her own regional speech because there is no standard American English speech. Furthermore, there is a need to be aware of both regional differences and achievement in the production of speech sounds. Reading is, at least in part, the decoding of writing (orthography) into speech.


Position Paper, by Jack Haynes, Ed.D.*

Informal Reading inventories: do they help undergraduate students understand word perception processes?

*Lakeland, FL.

Teacher educators who work with undergraduate students in reading will find the informal reading inventory an excellent vehicle for helping students acquire an understanding of the word perception behaviors children exhibit during oral reading.

The simplicity of the informal reading inventory requires minimum training time before introducing students to firsthand experiences working with youngsters. The instrument encourages student educators to make careful observations and systematically record children's reading behaviors in auditory and visual memory of words, use of the sound-symbol system, use of structural elements, the use of syntactic clues to predict and confirm word choice, and intonation in oral reading.

The inherent problems with validity and reliability must be thoroughly and critically examined when using the informal reading inventories in this manner. In addition, considerable attention needs to be devoted to problems in scoring word perception errors. Preservice reading education should emphasize that not all word perception errors are equally disruptive of meaning; i.e., the omission of a structure word should be scored differently than the mispronunciation of a function word. Repetitions, omission of articles, or consecutive errors of the same type can be counted as one error even though they occur more than once. Dialect variations from the text need not be counted as errors when they do not interfere with meaning.

To achieve a desired level of competence, undergraduate students must be given ample opportunity to work directly with children in a diagnostic setting. This experience will help them learn to respond to the effort being made by the reader and gain proficiency in scoring and interpreting miscues.

However, the greatest value in using the informal reading inventory is that the procedures employed may be easily adapted for informal use with daily classroom reading activities.


Position Paper, by Lou E. Burmeister, Ph.D.*

Should an effort be made to teach meanings and functions of morphemes?

*The Univ. of Texas at El Paso, El Paso, TX.

A preliminary examination of a random sample of words taken from 16 books at each grade level from 2-6, equally distributed among the following content area subjects: Language Arts, Science, Mathematics, and Social Studies - suggests that certain specific morphemes and types of morphemes (prefixes, free roots, bound roots, and suffixes) appear with high frequency at different grade levels. This may suggest to some educators that a deliberate effort be made to teach the meanings and/or functions of these specific morphemes as part of an integrated word analysis and/or vocabulary in contest program when content area subjects are being taught ... A matrix showing these morphemes (as distributed in specific content areas and at specific grade levels) will be available at the IRA conference in Chicago together with some suggestions of ways of teaching them.

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