Awareness and analysis: how morphological processes predict growth in early reading comprehension
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Reading comprehension is essential for academic and educational success. The present study examines how distinct aspects of understanding and manipulating morphemes, the smallest units of meaning in written and spoken language, contribute to children’s emerging reading comprehension. The majority of the research on the role of morphological processes in literacy focuses on morphological awareness, the ability to reflect on, process, and manipulate morphemes in language. However, a recent multidimensional perspective posits distinct aspects of morphological processing including morphological awareness and morphological analysis. In contrast to awareness, morphological analysis refers to the process of using morphemes to infer meaning from unfamiliar or morphologically complex words. New research has emphasized morphological analysis as a unique predictor of gains in reading comprehension when previous studies emphasized the dominant link between morphological awareness and reading comprehension. The current longitudinal study sought to provide clarity to these contrasting findings and examined the relative contributions (concurrent and predictive) of awareness and analysis in emerging reading comprehension from Grades 1 to 3. This was accomplished by using data from 171 children from Winnipeg public schools collected across five time points, using a structural equation modeling (SEM) design. Results showed evidence of early concurrent relationships between morphological awareness, analysis, and reading comprehension in Grade 1 and 2, with morphological analysis continuing to have a concurrent relationship with reading comprehension in Grade 3. Predictive links were found from earlier morphological awareness to subsequent waves of reading comprehension in each of the three grades. Morphological analysis did not directly predict subsequent reading comprehension across waves; however, findings may provide initial support for a shift in how these processes relate to one another while reading comprehension skills are emerging and strengthening. Theoretical and practical implications are discussed.