Date of Award

Summer 8-2014

Author's School

Graduate School of Arts and Sciences

Author's Department


Degree Name

Master of Arts (AM/MA)

Degree Type



Most theories of literacy development have focused on children’s knowledge of the phonological aspect of writing. Relatively few studies have investigated children’s writing-related knowledge before they acquire alphabetic knowledge. The constructivist theory provides insights into what and how children know about other aspects of writing such as its graphic properties and symbolic function. The present study examined different aspects of the constructivist perspective. Preschool children with a mean age of 4 years and 4 months completed a spelling task and a recognition task. Participants who had not grasped conventional phoneme-grapheme correspondences in English were of primary interest. Consistent with the constructivist view that children use writing to directly represent meaning, prephonological spellers produced more written elements for words representing long objects than those representing short objects. The present findings do not support several other aspects of the constructivist theory, however. For example, contrary to the constructivist idea that children learn about universal features of writing before language-specific ones, prephonological spellers produced features that are conventional in their writing system (e.g., horizontal arrangement of lines of writing) much more often than features conventional in other systems (e.g., vertical arrangement). Some of the present findings are more consistent with the view that children use their statistical learning skills to understand aspects of writing such as its visual properties.


English (en)

Chair and Committee

Rebecca Treiman

Committee Members

Brett Kessler, Lori Markson


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