Dissertations, Theses, and Capstone Projects

Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name



Speech-Language-Hearing Sciences


John Locke

Subject Categories

Adult and Continuing Education Administration | Adult and Continuing Education and Teaching | Other Education | Other Languages, Societies, and Cultures | Reading and Language


adult literacy, morphological awareness, morphological instruction, reading disabilities, reading instruction, vocabulary instruction


This study investigated the effects of two kinds of word study on the literacy skills of 34 adult struggling readers. Young adults seeking high school equivalency diplomas were randomly assigned to intensive individual tutoring, two hours once a week for four weeks, in either morpho-phonemic or whole word study to learn academic vocabulary from a civics curriculum. Participants were African American and Latino adults in secondary education who had learned English either as their native language or as their second language in early childhood. Those given morpho-phonemic instruction analyzed Latin and Greek word origins, parsed morpheme and syllable structures, and extracted base words in morphologically related words. Those taught whole word study focused on spelling the words, reading additional sentence contexts with target words, and generating meaningful related words. Both groups made sizable gains on word reading, spelling, vocabulary and comprehension for the taught words, but the morpho-phonemic group had significantly higher gains on word analysis for extracting base words from complex words. Both groups demonstrated small gains in civics content knowledge that they studied. After the civics instruction, students projected large increases in their civic engagement, with an advantage for the whole word group.

The group who received morpho-phonemic tutoring transferred their learning from the vocabulary lessons to the reading of unfamiliar words, whereas the group who received whole word tutoring did not. To be specific, the group who learned to analyze words' internal (sub-lexical) meaning and sound structures had significantly higher gain scores on standardized tests of word attack (reading nonsense words) and printed word recognition than did the control group. These results are consistent with the hypothesis that teaching high quality lexical representations of words' multi-dimensional linguistic identities, including how meaning and sound structures map onto spellings, increases literacy skills. The fact that these adult struggling readers increased their word attack and word recognition skills is noteworthy from a theoretical standpoint because being able to analyze and recognize new words are the first linguistic hurdles in the process of reading comprehension. In summary, teaching adult struggling readers to analyze complex words' morpho-phonemic structures boosted their word reading skills with transfer to new words, whereas traditional whole word instruction did not, lending support to connectionist theories of written word learning.