Facilitating Word Recognition and Spelling Using Word Boxes and Word Sort Phonic Procedures. (Research Brief)

By Joseph, Laurice M. | School Psychology Review, Winter 2002 | Go to article overview
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Facilitating Word Recognition and Spelling Using Word Boxes and Word Sort Phonic Procedures. (Research Brief)


Joseph, Laurice M., School Psychology Review


Abstract. Word boxes and word sorts are two word study phonics approaches that involve teaching phonemic awareness, making letter-sound associations, and teaching spelling through the use of well-established behavioral principles. In the current study, the effectiveness of word boxes and word sorts was examined through the use of a multiple baseline design across students. Participants had mild mental retardation and ranged in age from 9 years, 5 months to 10 years, 6 months. Findings revealed that word boxes and word sort phonic procedures increased students' word identification and spelling skills. The results are discussed in terms of how the format for these two instructional procedures facilitates opportunities to respond for teaching consonant-vowel-consonant patterned words.

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A common cause of reading problems is difficulty making letter-sound associations (Adams & Henry, 1997; Stahl, 1998). One explanation for weak letter-sound association skills is the lack of explicit phonics instruction in the primary grades (Adams, 1990; Groff, 1998; Pressley, 1998). Word boxes and word sorts are two types of contemporary phonic techniques that have been embedded within comprehensive reading programs such as Reading Recovery (clay, 1993) and Four Blocks (Cunningham, 1999). These techniques incorporate spelling and phonemic awareness training through the use of concrete manipulative materials (Stahl, Duffy-Hester, & Stahl, 1998). Additionally, these techniques employ robust behavioral principles of teaching and learning such as modeling, opportunities to respond, repeated exposures, corrective feedback, and reinforcement. These principles of learning have clearly achieved empirical support (e.g., Daly & Martens, 1994; Greenwood, 1991; Narayan, Heward, Gardner, Courson, & Omness, 1990; Samuels, 1988; Skinner, Logan, Robinson, & Robinson, 1997).

Word boxes, a technique that clay (1993) incorporated into the comprehensive Reading Recovery Program, are an extension of Elkonin's (1973) sound boxes. Word boxes are implemented in Reading Recovery when children experience difficulty grasping the sequential order of sounds in spoken words and of letter sequences in written words. Word boxes consist of a drawn rectangle that has been divided into sections (i.e., boxes) according to the phonemes in a word. Children are instructed either to move counters or magnetic or tile letters, or to write letters in the boxes as they say each sound in a word. Word boxes have been described by scholars in the field of reading (e.g., Griffith & Olson, 1992; Yopp, 1995) as a viable approach for helping children develop phonemic awareness. Variations of this approach have also been incorporated in comprehensive phonemic awareness training programs that have been tested with preschoolers in experimental studies (e.g., Ball & Blachman, 1991; Hohn & Ehri, 1983). Within Reading Recovery, word boxes have been used to help children improve their writing skills (Deford, 1994).

Although components of word boxes have been used as part of comprehensive training programs (e.g., Reading Recovery and preschool phonemic awareness training programs), Joseph (1998/1999) investigated word boxes in isolation as a method for teaching word identification and spelling with children who had phonemic awareness deficits as well as limited skills in identifying and spelling words. Using a multiple baseline design across participants, all of the children made progress in reading and spelling words in isolation. They were also able to identify and spell target words in other contexts (i.e., spelling target words accurately in sentences and saying target words correctly while reading short stories).

Joseph (2000b) found that a sample of first graders who received word boxes instruction performed better on word identification and spelling than a control group of first graders who received instruction on detecting phonetic rules through the use of teacher-directed lessons and worksheet exercises.

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