Words that move: The importance of struggling readers' understanding of polysemy for reading development and intervention.
Abstract: Children's evolving understanding of polysemy represents a unique
aspect of semantic knowledge that is rarely addressed in reading theory or intervention.
The ubiquity of words with multiple meanings in written language, however, underscores its
importance for the development of fluent reading and comprehension. Early struggling
readers' difficulties in both decoding and processing ... read moretext may make them particularly
vulnerable to deficits in this semantic capacity, which further compromises their already
impaired reading skills. The relative lack of research into readers' development of this
metalinguistic insight and its place within intervention, mean that such weaknesses in
children are frequently overlooked and unaddressed. The aim of the present dissertation is
thus to investigate early impaired readers' understanding of polysemy through an
exploration of its growth, underlying skills, and contribution to reading fluency and
comprehension. The investigation will further evaluate the success of a multi-componential
intervention in addressing this aspect of semantic knowledge. Towards these goals, a
cross-sectional investigation was first undertaken to compare the ability of six-, seven-,
eight-, and nine-year old struggling readers to detect and describe a word's multiple
meanings. A series of regression analyses were then run to evaluate the semantic and
cognitive skills that underlie this capacity and its prediction of reading at the single
and connected-text levels. Finally, hierarchical linear modeling techniques were used to
examine the efficacy of a multi-componential program in instructing struggling second and
third graders to appreciate the polysemous nature of words. Results indicated both growth
and significant weaknesses in early struggling readers' understanding of polysemy. Findings
further revealed that this capacity was a significant predictor of word reading and
comprehension and was itself predicted by semantic knowledge, word retrieval, and cognitive
flexibility. Finally, intervention results demonstrated the efficacy of a
multi-componential program (RAVE-O) in fostering rich semantic knowledge and a flexible
approach to words. Effects were sustained a year after the program's end and generalized to
words outside the intervention. Findings illumine the significance of this understudied
aspect of semantic knowledge within the reading process and demonstrate its amenability to
Thesis (Ph.D.)--Tufts University, 2012.
Submitted to the Dept. of Child Development.
Advisor: Maryanne Wolf.
Committee: Calvin Gidney, Mary Anton-Oldenberg, and Jean Berko Gleason.
Keywords: Reading instruction, and Developmental psychology.read less