Academic journal article Journal of Developmental Education

Spelling Facilitates Good ESL Reading Comprehension

Academic journal article Journal of Developmental Education

Spelling Facilitates Good ESL Reading Comprehension

Article excerpt

The main purpose of reading is reading comprehension, defined as the ability to make meaning from written text (M. Burt, Peyton, & Van Duzer, 2005). Although many educators consider reading comprehension to be one of the most crucial skills for academic success (Rance-Roney, 1995), large numbers of college students do not have good reading skills. According to a study of academic literacy done in California, 83% of the faculty believe that poor analytic reading skills contributed to students' lack of success in their courses (Intersegmental Committee if the Academic Senates, 2002). Both the ACT exam and the NAAL (National Assessment of Adult Literacy) show that almost half of the students entering college do not read well enough to perform satisfactorily in their courses (Snell, 2008). These statistics are based on native speakers of English. Therefore English Second Language readers (ESLR) are likely to have even more difficulty with college-level reading.

Background: Reading Comprehension

On the college level, reading comprehension is a complex cognitive activity. To make meaning from text, college readers need to perform many skills: extract new information, make inferences, establish validity, evaluate arguments, compare with other sources, determine how the tone and style of writing affects communication, recognize the author's intention, form opinions, and react and respond personally to what they are reading (Duke & Pearson, 2002; Koda, 2005). Aside from these activities, college-level reading also requires individuals to keep track of numerous word and syntactic signals such as tense changes; pronoun reference; negation; and words of causality, modality, contrast, and sequence which define relationships, nuances, logic, and implications (Celce-Murcia & Larsen-Freeman, 1999; Gravani & Meyer, 2009). Although this study is concerned with reading comprehension, it does not focus on these various reading behaviors but rather on how the contributing activity of word reading makes these other endeavors possible. The assumption is that this multifaceted process known as reading comprehension cannot proceed without fluency, which is based upon the understanding and efficient processing of the individual words within the text.


Reading fluency, defined as the ability to read easily and accurately (M. Burt et al, 2005), is believed to be affected by the rate at which an individual is able to access the meaning of a word (Tannenbaum, Torgeson, & Wagner, 2006). The relationship between reading fluency and the speed of word reading can be explained by the limitations of working memory. A reader who is struggling to decode and understand individual words has little workingmemory available for the other "thinking" activities required in reading comprehension. In fact, beginning readers may concentrate so intently on individual words that they lose the meaning of the beginning of a sentence by the time they have struggled to the end. In addition, many will not retain crucial concepts of an introductory statement while reading through the other ideas presented in longer texts. Given the complexity of processes required for reading comprehension, the decoding and understanding of words need to be efficient and automatic in order to free working memory for other necessary cognitive activities (Daneman, 1991; Koda, 2005). Studies show that the efficient processing of words is associated with good reading comprehension (Klaudia & Guthrie, 2008;Ritchey&Speece,2006),andthatstudentswho lack fluency are known to have problems in reading comprehension (Strucker & Davidson, 2003).

Vocabulary Knowledge, Words, and Spelling

How does spelling fit into the paradigm of fluency and reading comprehension? It is apparent that readers must understand the words in a passage, or at the least have some familiarity with most of them, in order to understand what they are reading. Hirsch (2003) claims that a reader must be able to recognize 90% to 95% of the words in a text in order to comprehendits meaning. …

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