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Morphology: A Critical Component In Reading Development

Categories: Audiobook Library, Learning Disability

Guest blogger Becky Welsch, has a Master’s degree in K-8 Education. Becky’s certifications include the CEERI Tier I Qualification Exam (aligned with the International Dyslexia Association’s Knowledge and Practice Standards for Teachers of Reading). She is a reading clinician at Reading Writing & Comprehension, RW&C, LLC; an online and traditional reading intervention clinic specializing in Structured Literacy methodology.


Learning to read is a complex process that requires children to perform multiple mental tasks simultaneously. When we discuss the roadblocks to learning to read and dyslexia, we often talk about phonics, phonological awareness, fluency, and comprehension. However, one critical but often overlooked component of the reading process is morphological awareness. A morpheme is the smallest meaningful unit of language. For example, the word jumping has two morphemes, and <-ing>.

Understanding morphology is crucial in reading development, and morphological interventions must be included in effective reading programs. In their article “Morphological Awareness Intervention for Students Who Struggle with Language and Literacy,” Julie A. Wolter and Ginger Collins examine the connection between reading performance and morphological interventions. The authors demonstrate that for students to be able to learn to read and comprehend text, they need to have an explicit awareness of morphological processes. That is, students need to be aware of word parts like base words, prefixes, and suffixes and have direct knowledge of their meaning. There is a direct link between morphological awareness and an increased ability to read and write proficiently.

The connect between morphological understanding, and reading skills were even more apparent in students with dyslexia and other specific learning disabilities. Students who received direct and explicit interventions related to morphological awareness had better reading skills and were more likely to be proficient readers. Direct morphological instruction has also been linked to an increased sight word reading speed as well as increased decoding abilities, both of which lead to increased reading fluency and comprehension.

If a child struggles to understand and manipulate morphemes, their reading will become labored, and comprehension will suffer, especially as they get older and the complexity of the texts they are reading increases. It is imperative that any intervention program has an explicit morphology component introduced in the initial lesson to help struggling readers enhance their skills.

In an effective intervention program, each and every lesson needs to include a morphology component, and parents need to practice morphological skills with their children. Wolter and Collins identified a few critical skills students need when it comes to morphology. The first key understanding each student must have is the ability to segment words into their respective morphemes. For example, when giving the word , they need to be able to identify that it is composed of and <-ing> to form the new word coming.

 
PREFIX ROOT or BASE SUFFIX
  come -ing
Come + ing = Coming...drop the e

 

You can help your child become proficient in breaking apart words into morphemes. One method is to use a graphic organizer to help categorize the material, by asking your child to break words apart into prefixes, base words, and suffixes. Each morpheme can be color coded to help organize the information in a meaningful manner that will lead to an increase in reading skills.

A second skill the authors identify is the ability to combine base words and various prefixes and suffixes to make new words. In an effective program, students need to examine different prefixes and suffixes with a variety of base words to create new combinations with a variety of meanings. For example, using the base words students can build and determine the meaning of a plethora of words like construct, construction, instruct, instructor, destruct destruction, reconstruction and many, many more. For the competitive child, take turns building words with the morphemes and see who has the most allowable words!

 
PREFIX ROOT or BASE SUFFIX
con- struc, stuct -ing
de-    -tion
in-    -or
con + truct + ing = constructing
de + struc + tion = destruction
in + struct + or = instructor

 

Finally, Wolter and Collins suggest that students must have explicit instruction in the meanings of a variety of base words and affixes. Once students know these meanings, they can use this knowledge as an anchor to learn new words. For example, knowing that means “to cut,” and means “two,” students can determine that the meaning of bisect is “to cut into two.” This has a clear link to increased vocabulary skills which aid in comprehension of higher level texts and is crucial for advanced reading comprehension.

Children who struggle with reading and spelling benefit from direct, explicit morphological instruction. For instance, during an effective morpheme lesson, students could work with the prefix and learn that it means “between, among.” They would then asked to apply this knowledge to understand the meaning of words like interrupt, interstate, and interpersonal. In doing so, they have the opportunity to practice manipulating morphemes which will increase their vocabulary and their reading abilities.

Another way you could practice morphological skills with your child at home is to use index cards. Use one color to write a variety of base words. The words you choose would be dependent on your child’s skill level. For emergent readers, you would want to stick with words like , , and other simple words. If your child is more advanced, you could use more difficult words like or . You can find a list of age-appropriate base word with a quick internet search. In another color, write affixes which can include prefixes and/or suffixes, depending on the skill level of your child. Have your child match the base words with affixes to form new words. Have them explain how the affix changes the meaning of the base word. This can be as simple as creating plurals to as complicated as adding both a prefix and a suffix.

You can also take advantage of technology to help your child with vocabulary words and morphology elements. One great app developed by Learning Ally can help your child annotate as they are reading. This allows them to find and identify unknown words and affixes. It can also help them highlight and remember other important information. It comes with a built in dictionary to help with unknown vocabulary words as well.

If your child struggles with new vocabulary words and morphological skills, it is not something they will learn on their own. They need direct, explicit instruction in morphology. Just like phonics, it is not something they will just pick up on their own. Morphological awareness is an essential part of the Structured Literacy Framework.


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