Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Faculty of Community Services, Education and Social Sciences

First Advisor

Dr Patricia Formentin


The research reported in this thesis examined the relationship between beginning spelling and reading. More specifically, it focussed on the relationship between the development of early reading and spelling in a context where the approach to early reading instruction includes systematic phonological awareness and decoding instruction. A critical assumption made by proponents of developmental early literacy models is that transfer of skills and knowledge from reading to spelling will occur spontaneously and without formal instruction (Frith, 1980). By contrast instruction-centred approaches make the assumption that there are critical pre-requisite skills that can and should be taught explicitly (Carnine, Silbert & Kameenui, 1997). The difference between these approaches is highlighted in the treatment of invented spelling, a popular activity in Western Australian junior primary classes. A series of studies was undertaken to examine the effect on invented and standard spelling performance of teaching Year 1 children phonological awareness and the strategy of sounding out words. Data were gathered from a range of settings using different research tools. The relationship between phonological awareness and beginning reading and spelling performance was explored initially through a single case study. A post-hoc study was then undertaken with a cohort of students who had received systematic decoding instruction to examine whether proficiency in the decoding of nonwords was related to spelling performance. This permitted an analysis of common sub-skills of decoding and encoding. In the main study the effect on different aspects of reading and spelling performance of using Let's Decode, an approach that includes explicit phonological awareness and systematic decoding instruction, was investigated. In addition, an analysis was made of whether students who received explicit instruction in skills known to contribute to beginning reading and spelling produced superior invented spelling samples. A qualitative analysis was made of the. pre and post invented spelling tests of two pairs of students from the control and intervention groups matched on invented spelling and phonological awareness skills at the beginning of the year, and re tested at the end of Year 1. The final research question involved a single-subject research design to examine the effect of explicit instruction in isolating phonemes in words and prompts to 'listen for sounds' prior to, and during, the process of spelling words. The single case study revealed a child who was regarded as a competent speller and reader but who could only read words in a familiar context and who had developed a strategy for spelling words based on copying an adult model. This was interpreted as evidence supporting the need for phonological awareness instruction as a pre-requisite for spelling. The post-hoc analysis of a class of students who had received systematic decoding instruction showed that no student classified as a 'good decoder' could also be classified as a 'poor speller'. This result was considered evidence of a strong link between the phonological knowledge that is required to decode and the role of alphabetic knowledge in spelling. The main study revealed phonological awareness and systematic decoding instruction was associated with superior invented and conventional spelling and reading performance on all reading and spelling measures. Of particular importance was the finding that students who commenced the study with very weak phonological awareness and who subsequently received systematic phonological and decoding instruction showed greater gains in invented spelling than matched students in the control condition. The single subject design showed the effectiveness of phonological awareness individualised instruction on invented spelling for weak students from both intervention and control conditions. It was concluded that the ability to invent spelling is improved when students receive explicit instruction in phonological awareness and systematic decoding but that some students, namely those with persistent weakness in phonological awareness, also require explicit prompts to apply their alphabetic knowledge to spelling words. The implications for instruction of these findings are discussed.

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