Thesis (Ph.D)

Children with Dyslexia: Spelling as a Constraint on Writing Development


Background. Developmental dyslexia is characterised as a specific learning difficulty with written language: namely, reading and spelling. To date, little research has been conducted to examine the role of spelling when writing and, in particular, in the writing of young children with dyslexia. This is surprising when considering that spelling is an active process used when transcribing written text. Thus, this thesis aimed to investigate the impact of spelling ability in four areas: the quality of the written compositions produced, spelling error analyses, vocabulary choice when writing, and handwriting execution. Method. Thirty-one children with dyslexia (15 boys, 16 girls; 9 years) were compared to two typically developing groups: the first matched by age and the second by spelling-ability. Participants completed tasks that assessed cognitive ability, spelling, reading, working memory, narrative writing, vocabulary level, motor skill, and handwriting performance. A digital writing tablet was used to record and identify the temporal characteristics of handwriting. Results. Children with dyslexia scored significantly below their peers for written text quality, wrote less overall, and demonstrated a higher number of phonetically and orthographically inaccurate spelling errors. Limited vocabulary choices and a more disfluent handwriting profile were characteristics of the writing by children with dyslexia. These children with dyslexia did not have motor difficulties and demonstrated that handwriting execution speed was in fact similar to their peers. Rather, children with dyslexia paused more frequently before misspellings and within-words, a similar pattern to the younger spelling-ability matches. Spelling ability was found to predict a large proportion of variance in handwriting speed, written vocabulary choice, and the quality of the written text produced by children with dyslexia. Conclusions. A new model of the interacting writing processes was proposed, emphasising the importance of acquiring strong foundations in proficient spelling for writing to progress. The proposed model relates to atypical and typical development. The findings are related to theories of dyslexia and avenues for future research are discussed in relation to expanding the new writing model.

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Sumner, E

Oxford Brookes departments

Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences
School of Education


Year: 2013

© Sumner, E
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