[Spelling Progress Bulletin, Summer 1983, pp7-9]
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[Also on this page: (3) Mediated response learning, (4) Phonics.
Readability: Contractions, Conclusions.]
[Emmett Betts: see Anthology, Bulletins.]

Learning Word-Perception Skills,

by Emmett A. Betts.

(2) Discrimination Learning.

Discrimination learning (learning slight but significant differences between word forms) is a process quite the opposite of category, or generalization, learning (learning to identify similarities between word forms). For discrimination learning, the pupil emits a certain response under one set of conditions (e.g., vowel /a/ followed by a consonant in at-sat-cat-cap) and another response under another set of conditions (e.g., vowel /a/ plus a consonant and final e in ate-mate-made). Learning to make discriminations: among word forms is essential to efficient, automatic word perception.

Consonant Boundaries.

Within the at-sat-cap category, the pupil must discriminate between the syllable boundaries. The word at has no initial consonant but it fits the (consonant)-vowel-consonant spelling pattern. The first word, (consonant), is given in parentheses because it is sometimes but not always a requirement for this spelling pattern.

Within other categories of basic spelling patterns, the pupil also must discriminate between consonant boundaries as in it-hit, made-take, oat-boat. These consonant boundaries can be - and usually are - neglected in teaching word-perception skills.

Basic and Variant Patterns.

The words at-had-tap-that fit the (consonant)-vowel-consonant pattern, and each of the words is pronounced with vowel /a/. But over-emphasis on this: (c)-v-c pattern may defeat the learner when he is confronted with all-ball-call-fall-stall variant in which a before ll represents the sound /o/. To preclude this possibility, learners are taught to discriminate, between the basic pattern (at-bad) and the variant pattern (all-ball) by using the all phonogram cue to all-ball.

In the above instances, the discrimination learning begins with the discrimination between the vowel sounds - the sound /a/ of at and bad versus the sound /o/ of all and ball. Then discrimination between word forms - at-bad-cap versus all-ball-call - is learned.

The words eat-each-meat-steam have the (consonant)-vowel-vowel-consonant pattern. But again, overemphasis on this (c)-v-v-c :pattern may interfere with the perception of the bread-thread-meant variant in which ea represents /e/. In this instance, learners are taught to discriminate between the basic pattern (eat-each) and the variant pattern (bread-thread) by using the meaning (lexical or referential) cues.

Teaching discrimination skills in word perception results in the pupil's selective perception of words - and assigning them (e.g., cut-but-cup) or parts of them (e.g., ie of pie-lie-die) to categories. In learning word-perception skills, pupils learn to make a great variety of discriminations, using different types of cues:

Strategies of Learning.

In learning word-perception skills, the pupil acquires a variety of types; or strategies, for learning: For words in some basic patterns - e.g., eat-seat-each-steam the pupil learns:
1. To discriminate between (or index) eat and seat or eat and each or steam and seam.

2. To classify, or categorize, eat-each etc. in the same spelling pattern.

3. To decide on the probabilities that ea represents /ē/ as in eat and each or /e/ as in bread and death or /ā/ as in break and great.
Discrimination learning enters into category learning. In learning the at-rat-cap-bad category, the pupil must discriminate between the consonant boundaries - e.g., between the c /k/ and r /r/ initial consonants of cat and rat or between the t /t/ and p /p/ final consonants, of cat and cap.

Since not all (consonant)-vowel-consonant spelling patterns represent the vowel sound /a/, cue learning is essential to discrimination learning for the all /ol/ in ball and fall, the alm /äm/ of calm and palm, and so on.

[Spelling Progress Bulletin, Summer 1983, p8]
[Emmett Betts: see Anthology, Bulletins.]

Learning Word-Perception Skills,

by Emmett A. Betts.

(3) 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 with cues from one or all three words. For the far more complex word autochthonous /'o-,tak-then-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 - grouping 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-ē/ - and the emotive sounds - ah /'ä/. 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, oat-boat-goat, eat-feat-meat 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 range from two-syllables (e.g., again, exit, strengthen) to 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.

[Spelling Progress Bulletin, Summer 1983, p9]
[Newell Tune: see Newsletters, Anthology, Bulletins.]

Learning Word-Perception Skills,

(4) Phonics,

by Newell W. Tune.

Phonics is another method of teaching reading but it has limited usefulness because only about 22% of the words in adult running text are spelt phonetically. Most of these words are common words of one or two syllables. That is why many primers and beginning readers use these regularly or phonetically spelt words. Unfortunately, some of the function words are not spelt entirely phonetically, such as is, was, has, in which the s has the z-sound. Using such wards mars the usefulness of phonics and causes doubt in the learner's mind as to the reliability of phonics:

However, there are many letter combinations of 2, 3, 4, 5 letters which are consistent in representing only one sound and therefore can be used as phonetic units. One of the most consistent is the letter combination ight, which always represents the sound /īt/. But there is also another way of representing this sound: with the letter combination ite. This is also reliable but is used in only a limited number of words, e.g., bite, cite, flite (golf balls), kite, lite (beer), nite (rider), quite, rite, site, trite, wite. Some of these spellings are rarely used. This short list can be added effectively to the list of ight words.

Another pair of letter combinations is: aught and ought. They are also quite reliable in representing the sound /aut/. A third set of letter combinations is: cion, sion, cion - all of which only represent the sound /shun/. 80% of the time this sound is represented by tion, and less than 20% of the time by soon. Only a few words are represented by cion. Usually sion is used when the word stem ends in s or n.

Other letter combinations are: an, and, en, end, which beside being regular are also spelt phonetically - at least in careful, deliberate speech. In rapid conversational speech, the vowel is usually reduced to schwa, being sounded as: /ən/, /ənd/, /ən/, /ənd/.

Another letter combination that is used frequently is ed. It is pronounced often as /ed/ but also frequently as /'d/, and sometimes as /t/. Despite these variables, it can be taught as a regular spelling.

Another reliable suffix is -ness. It is always spelt and pronounced phonetically /nĕs/. So is the ending -ly which is either pronounced /lē/ or /lĭ/. And the endings -ic and -ick which are also regular and phonetic /ĭk/. Also are the endings -ing, -gy, -ology regular and phonetic, being pronounced /ing/, /jē/, /olōjē/, along with ity /ĭtē/.

The silent terminal e rule is not very consistent. Sartorius said that there are 248 conformals to the rule and 339 exceptions. This is less than 50% efficient, hence the rule should not be taught, unless both lists of conformals and exceptions are given.

I'm sure I've overlooked many other suffixes that are regular, but you can compile a complete list from a large rhyming dictionary. Whether it is necessary to teach all of these suffixes, many of which are naturally phonetically spelt, is a question to be answered by research.

There are some prefixes that are regular and deserve being taught. Be- and de- are usually pronounced /bē/ and /dē/ but often are /bĭ/ and /dĭ/ in rapid, conversational speech.

It was debated (in my mind) whether it was better to present these suffixes in alphabetical order - which would present the phonetically spelt prefixes first - or to present the irregularly spelt suffixes first. It was felt that the latter is better because the learner then would not expect to find all letter combinations spelt phonetically in order to represent in a regular manner speech sounds. And of course, that means that they would not expect to be able to analyze such letter combinations into phonetic parts.


[Spelling Progress Bulletin, Summer 1983, p9]
[Emmett Betts: see Anthology, Bulletins.]

Readability: Contractions, Conclusions,

by Emmett A. Betts.

1. Contractions are counted as uncommon words in readability formulas for evaluating reading materials in the primary grades. (See Morphett, Weedon, and Washburne, Winnetka Chart for Determining Grade Placement of Children's Books.)

2. Contractions are seldom used in writing by children even in the upper grades, except in intimate correspondence.

3. In oral reading all individuals tend to use learned intonation patterns in reading; for example, shortening (contracting) can to /'kən/ or /kng/ or he is to /hēz/ to achieve weak stress in a word group.

4. Seventeen contractions: are among Fitzgerald's 222 spelling demons.

5. Contractions tend to violate common spelling patterns; hence, their use in primary reading materials interferes with rather than facilitates the learning of word perception skills

6. Different types of contractions: present different types of learning problems.
a. One syllable contractions, such as I'm, he's, they're
b. Two syllable-contractions, as isn't, haven't
c. Contractions in which the first part tends to retain the same sound(s), as I've, they'd
d. Contractions in which the sound of the vowel changes, as in don't (do not)
e. Contractions which are unrelated to the word, as won't (will not)
f. Contractions in which 's represents either /s/ or /z/, as in it's and he's.
7. Contractions of the auxiliary verb with a preceding pronomial subject - e.g., I've, he's, we've - are used in familiar and colloquial speech rather than in literary English. However, they are used increasingly in books and magazines for adults by authors reflecting "an urbane conversational tone."

8. The number and complexity of skills - excluding interpretation of contractions - to be learned by the beginner in reading can be grossly underestimated:
a. Left-to-right progression
(1) Word perception

(2) Line attack
b. Relating of speech to sounds to graphemes (letters and punctuation)
(1) Perception of isolated words, with their syllable stress

(2) Perception of words within their intonational contexts

c. Relating the structure of a string of speech sounds to the structure of groups of written words representing them
(1) Morphemes

- classes of words (Parts of Speech)

- function words

(2) Syntax

-word order

-relationships between word groups

-types of sentences

-antecedents of pronounds,

d. Etc.
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