Improving spelling ability among speakers of African American vernacular English: an intervention based on phonological, morphological, and orthographic principles



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Given the importance of the role of spelling in literacy, it is important to have knowledge of the linguistic features that allow students to be successful spellers. Having phonological, morphological, and orthographic knowledge is essentially important to spell conventionally. In the United States, the standard language is Academic English (AE). African American Vernacular English (AAVE) is considered a deviation from AE, with its own sound system. AAVE is the most widely used form of dialect in the United States. Many students who speak AAVE may have difficulties in producing the correct spelling of AE words. The overall purpose of this study was to provide sixth-grade students, who are speakers of AAVE, with an eight-week intervention in the principles of phonology, morphology, and orthography that would assist them in improving their spelling performance. Students had similar scores on all spelling and dialect pretest measures before the intervention began. The research design was a pretest/posttest/posttest design using waitlist- control. This study included 142 students divided into 14 class sections taught by two teachers. The two teachers provided the intervention to the students. The experimental group consisted of seven classes, and the control group consisted of seven classes. After the first implementation of the intervention, the study was replicated with the control group of students. MANOVA was utilized to determine the effect of the intervention. The intervention produced large effects for the students who received the spelling instruction. The results from the criterion-referenced spelling assessments and a sentence writing task revealed that students who received explicit instruction from the intervention made gains in their spelling performance from pretest/posttest 1/posttest 2 and maintained these gains after being tested eight weeks later. Practical and theoretical recommendations are provided for teachers and researchers. Suggested recommendations include: providing teacher training that will enable teachers to be more linguistically aware of AAVE and its features, making students aware of the difference in the AAVE and the AE sound system, and conducting more research-based studies that will assist speakers of AAVE in literacy and spelling.