Topic 3.3 - Spelling ability and associated skills (ESR13)

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Topic 3.3, Spelling ability and associated skills will be hosted at the Université libre de Bruxelles and supervised by Jacqueline Leybaert and Fabienne Chetail.

The aim of this longitudinal project is to test how the development of orthographic representations of children with hearing impairment (HI) are related to biological factors (recovered auditory skills through cochlear implant or hearing aids), language skills and environment (vocabulary in oral and/or sign language, exposure to print), and to a cognitive ability independent of language, i.e. short-term memory (STM) for serial order. Recent theories of STM distinguish between item information, which reflects the temporary activation of long-term representations stored in the language system, and serial-order information, which is encoded in a specific representational system independent of the language network (Majerus 2006). Previous work from our team demonstrated that verbal STM for order information explained a significant percentage of variance of written sentences comprehension score, above the variance accounted for by linguistic variables in a large, heterogeneous sample of profoundly and severely deaf children (N = 45; 13- 18 year-olds, Leybaert et al., 2017). In the present longitudinal project, the ESR will explore the spelling abilities of new samples of younger deaf and hearing children, and how their spelling skills are related to language skills and to STM for serial order. For this purpose, 70 typically developing children and 30 children with HI will be tested twice a year, from early first-grade to end of second grade. In early first grade, children will be administered order and item STM tasks, language tasks (phonological awareness or PA, speechreading, letter name knowledge, vocabulary knowledge) and a non-verbal reasoning test. In late first grade and in second grade, children’ spelling abilities will be assessed for a set of 72 words varying in frequency, length and phoneme-to-grapheme predictability (Simon et al., in revision). Percent correct spelling and type of errors (phonologically plausible vs phonologically non-plausible, like omission, insertions, or transposition of letters) will be analysed.

The aim of topic 3.3 ist to provide a quantitative normative description of the various spelling patterns of children with HI in relation to predictive factors, such as age of implantation, duration of implant use, communication modes and practice, unilateral vs. bilateral implantation, language scores. Of interest is whether STM capacity for order information would be an independent predictor of word spelling, over and above the variance explained by intelligence and the language predictors. This work will also explore possible directions for enhancing spelling abilities: by developing speech perception abilities, by developing linguistic experience in phonology and morphology, and by training verbal STM for serial order.

Part of this project will take place at the Centre Hospitalier Universitaire de Grenoble Alpes. It will enable the ESR to capitalise on the Grenoble’s expertise in assessment of speech production abilities in children with HI, which may be an important factor in the development of spelling abilities. The clinical environment of the Centre Hospitalier Universitaire de Grenoble Alpes will provide the ESR with an awareness of the variability of the children with HI regarding auditory rehabilitation.

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