Derivational Suffix Knowledge: What do Students Know and How to Best Support Their Learning

  • Author / Creator
    Martinez Cano, Dalia Carolina
  • Despite the considerable attention given to morphology instruction in recent years, there remains an essential need to understand how and when it should be taught, as well as whether it is better suited for students with specific characteristics. Thus, the objective of this dissertation was twofold: first, to assess students’ knowledge of the form and meaning of highly frequent derivational suffixes across different grade levels, and second, to examine whether explicit instruction in novel derivational suffixes has additional benefits over implicit
    instruction across two grade levels (Grades 3 and 5) and two languages (English and Spanish).
    To meet these objectives, I conducted three studies. The first study examined the knowledge in form and meaning of highly frequent derivational suffixes in a group of Grade 3, Grade 5, and Grade 8 English-speaking Canadian students. We assessed 309 children on word reading and receptive vocabulary tests and two
    experimenter-designed tasks to assess the form (orthographic knowledge) and meaning (semantic knowledge) of 28 derivational suffixes (14 adjectives and 14 nominals). Overall,
    our findings showed a significant improvement in identifying and understanding derivational suffixes from Grade 3 to Grade 5 and a smaller, but still significant, improvement from Grade 5 to Grade 8. Our findings regarding suffix type were mixed. Although written forms of adjectives were identified more accurately than nominals across all grade levels, this advantage did not extend to the students’ semantic knowledge of the suffixes. The variations in knowledge between adjectives and nominals correspond to the increasing occurrence of each suffix type in the readings of older children. These results highlight the importance of exposing students to multiple examples of suffixes in words, as this exposure appears to be crucial for consolidating suffix knowledge. Furthermore, the results highlight the distinction between recognizing suffixes and comprehending their meaning. The second study compared the effects of implicit and explicit instruction on the learning of novel derivational suffixes across two grade levels (Grades 3 and 5). For three days, 83 Grade 3 and 86 Grade 5 English-speaking Canadian students were trained on target words containing experimenter-designed suffixes (i.e., pseudo-suffixes) consistent in form and meaning (e.g., the pseudo-suffix -nim in words such as “hillnim”: a small hill or “desknim”: a small desk). Implicit and explicit instruction differed in the attention paid to the co-occurrence of the suffixes in the target words. Participants were tested on the novel suffixes form and meaning at two different time points: immediately after training (i.e., immediate post-test) and one week later (i.e., delayed post-test). This testing included a suffix identification task (SIT-N) to assess for suffix form, and a word definition and multiple-choice tasks that assessed the meaning of both trained and transfer words (i.e., words not included in the training but whose meaning could be inferred if knowing the meaning of the trained suffixes). Results of mixed-effects models showed that participants at both grade levels scored similarly on the SIT-N across the two training conditions. Regarding meaning the results were mixed. For Grade 3, the added benefits of explicit instruction over implicit were evident in the two meaning tasks. For transfer words, this benefit was particularly evident during the delayed post-test where results showed that when receiving explicit instruction the knowledge
    was sustained. Nevertheless, the scores from those receiving implicit instruction significantly declined after a week of training. For Grade 5 the differences across conditions were only detected in the word definition task. Although no significant differences in scores emerged from the word type comparison (trained vs. transferred), the results showed that explicit
    instruction consistently led to higher scores for both types of words. The findings suggest that although younger readers benefit more from explicit instruction in morphological analysis,
    more advanced readers with presumably more reading experience, continue to benefit from explicit teaching, particularly when it comes to acquiring a deeper understanding of the suffixes.
    The third study compared the effects of implicit and explicit morphological analysis instruction in Spanish, a language characterized by high morphological complexity and relatively consistent letter-sound correspondences. Following the same methodology as in Study 2, 94 Grade 3 Spanish-speaking Mexican students underwent a three-day training.
    Participants received either explicit or implicit training on target words containing experimenter-designed suffixes consistent in form and meaning (e.g., the suffix -isba refers to a factory, in words such as “botisba”: a boot factory, “cajisba”: a box factory). Immediately after training concluded and a week after, participants were tested on the form and meaning of
    the novel suffixes in both trained and transfer words. Results of mixed-effects models showed that explicit instruction led to better outcomes in learning the form of the suffixes. Regarding
    meaning, across-condition differences were only detected in the word definition task; explicit instruction produced better results for both trained and transfer words. The findings suggest
    that in Spanish, explicit instruction continues to offer additional benefits for teaching the form and meaning of novel suffixes compared to when using an implicit approach.
    Overall, this dissertation offers valuable insight into the current practices in morphology instruction, contributing to a growing body of intervention research that aims to provide guidance on the most effective strategies to enhance word reading, expand
    vocabulary, and improve reading comprehension through the lens of morphology. Furthermore, we provided evidence of the significant benefits of explicit morphology instruction in Spanish. This is particularly important given the limited body of studies
    examining the effects of morphology instruction in alphabetic languages other than English.

  • Subjects / Keywords
  • Graduation date
    Spring 2024
  • Type of Item
  • Degree
    Doctor of Philosophy
  • DOI
  • License
    This thesis is made available by the University of Alberta Libraries with permission of the copyright owner solely for non-commercial purposes. This thesis, or any portion thereof, may not otherwise be copied or reproduced without the written consent of the copyright owner, except to the extent permitted by Canadian copyright law.