Morphology is the study of the structure of words, specifically looking at roots, affixes, and parts of speech. A morpheme is the smallest unit of meaning within a word. Morphological knowledge, the target of the assessment, is the ability to identify, manipulate, and use units of meaning in word recognition, spelling, accessing, and communicating word meaning in reading and writing.
Why study morphology?
Morphological knowledge is closely related to vocabulary knowledge. Students’ knowledge of vocabulary is high correlated with their reading ability. Thus, studying morphology can give insight into how students build their vocabulary and, ultimately, improve their reading.
How does morphology link to reading?
The circle diagram at the right incorporate multiple sounds. Take the word injustice. It has three morphemes: the prefix in, the base word just, and the suffix ice. Taken together, they form the whole word, which fits into the syntax of a sentence and the semantics and pragmatics of understanding.
One of the most important reasons for studying morphology is that it is the lowest level that carries meaning. That is, for educators and researchers interested in more than just decoding and pronunciation, morphology can be a key link to understanding how students make meaning from the words they read.
Earlier research (Goodwin, Petscher, Carlisle, Mitchell, 2017) and the study that produced Monster, P.I. suggest that there are different ways that students use morphology to support their literacy efforts. Building on this work, we consider morphological knowledge as multidimensional with specific factors for each task, specific factors for each hypothesized skill, and a general factor for general morphological knowledge. In other words, why students get items right or wrong is in part is due to the structure of the task, but also due to their knowledge of each hypothesized skill and their overall general morphological abilities. Skills identified include: 1) Students can identify units of meaning; 2) Students can use suffixes to gain syntactic information; 3) Students can use morphology for meaning; and 4) Students can read and spell morphologically complex words.