Using spelling performance to study literacy acquisition in English for Spanish -speaking students in the seventh grade

Ivy E Rollins, University of Rhode Island


The U.S. educational system is undergoing dramatic increases in the rates of English Language Learners (ELLS), particularly those who speak Spanish as their first language (Kindler, 2002). The rising enrollment of ELL children highlights the importance of determining how to best meet the instructional needs of these students. One of the central issues pertains to whether literacy instruction should occur in Spanish or English. The prevailing recommendation is that Spanish-speaking ELL students first should learn to read in Spanish and subsequently learn to read in English. The purpose of the current study was to examine spelling development when this approach is used, assessing whether orthographic transfer effects from Spanish were evident for middle grade students (N=247) several years after their transition to English. Using a developmental spelling measure designed for this purpose, three types of transfer were documented and found to significantly differ in frequency: (1) higher accuracy occurred for letter-sound relationships in English that are consistent with Spanish (i.e., positive transfer); (2) lower accuracy scores were obtained for items with a novel attribute in English (e.g., novel + negative transfer); and (3) lowest scores were recorded for graphemes in English that involve familiar letters and speech sounds but in different combinations than in Spanish (i.e., negative transfer). The order of difficulty of transfer types also corresponded with developmental spelling levels, raising questions about the relative contributions of each on spelling performance for these students. Review of the relative difficulty of items assessing individual features within a developmental spelling level provided evidence of transfer effects. The associations between spelling performance and both current and prior literacy abilities in Spanish and English were evaluated. Students with strong literacy abilities in Spanish and/or English performed better on the spelling measure than did students who had weak skills in either language. Strong correlations between the spelling measure and standardized measures of spelling and reading support the construct/criterion validity of the instrument. The results suggest that older Spanish-speaking students continue to be influenced by prior knowledge of Spanish writing system. The educational implications for this kind of early-exit bilingual programs were discussed. ^

Subject Area

Education, Bilingual and Multicultural|Education, Educational Psychology|Education, Reading

Recommended Citation

Ivy E Rollins, "Using spelling performance to study literacy acquisition in English for Spanish -speaking students in the seventh grade" (2007). Dissertations and Master's Theses (Campus Access). Paper AAI3277006.