Orthographic learning at a glance: On the time David L. Share J

Journal of
J. Experimental Child Psychology 87 (2004) 267–298
Orthographic learning at a glance: On the time
course and developmental onset of self-teaching
David L. Share*
Department of Learning Disabilities, Faculty of Education, University of Haifa, Mt. Carmel,
31905, Haifa, Israel
Received 2 October 2003; revised 20 January 2004
Experiment 1 examined the time course of orthographic learning among Grade 3 children.
A single encounter with a novel orthographic string was sufficient to produce reliable recall of
orthographic detail. Moreover, newly acquired orthographic information was retained 1
month later. These data support the logistic learning functions featured in contemporary connectionist models of reading rather than a ‘‘threshold’’ model of orthographic learning. Experiments 2 and 3 examined self-teaching among novice readers. In contrast to the findings from
less regular orthographies such as English and Dutch, beginning readers of a highly regular
orthography (Hebrew) appear to be relatively insensitive to word-specific orthographic detail,
reading in a nonlexical ‘‘surface’’ fashion. These results suggest fundamental differences between shallow and deep orthographies in the development of orthographic sensitivity.
Ó 2004 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Keywords: Reading; Word recognition; Orthographic learning; Decoding; Self-teaching; Reading
The hallmark of skilled reading is the rapid and virtually effortless recognition of
printed letter strings. This fluency depends, first and foremost, on the acquisition of
word-specific orthographic representations linked to phonological, semantic,
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D.L. Share / Journal of Experimental Child Psychology 87 (2004) 267–298
morphological, and syntactic information. The development of orthographic representations is a central issue in literacy research and practice.
According to the ‘‘self-teaching’’ hypothesis (Jorm & Share, 1983; Share, 1995),
the ability to translate unfamiliar printed words into their spoken equivalents (‘‘phonological recoding’’ or simply ‘‘decoding’’) is the central means by which orthographic representations are acquired. The self-teaching model proposes that each
successful identification of a new word is assumed to provide an opportunity to acquire the word-specific orthographic information that is the foundation of skilled visual word recognition. Relatively few (successful) exposures appear to be sufficient
for acquiring orthographic representations for both adult skilled readers (Brooks,
1977) and young children (Hogaboam & Perfetti, 1978; Manis, 1985; Reitsma,
1983a, 1983b). From a self-teaching perspective, exhaustive letter-by-letter decoding
(en route to a correct pronunciation) is assumed to be critical for the formation of
well-specified orthographic representations because it draws a childÕs attention to
the order and identity of letters.
The self-teaching hypothesis assumes that nearly all printed word learning takes
place when children independently identify unfamiliar letter strings encountered in
the course of everyday reading. Not only are novice readers encountering large numbers of unfamiliar printed words on a daily basis (Nagy & Herman, 1987), but every
letter string is at some point unfamiliar. The available evidence (reviewed in Share,
1995) indicates that neither direct instruction nor contextual guessing constitutes a
viable means for identifying specific lexical identities and, hence, for orthographic
learning in general. The self-teaching hypothesis proposes that only the ability to
translate a printed letter string into its spoken form (i.e., phonological recoding) offers a reliable means of independently identifying new letter strings. By this account,
phonological recoding acts as a self-teaching mechanism or built-in teacher, enabling
a child to independently develop the word-specific orthographic knowledge necessary for skilled reading.
Extending an experimental paradigm developed by Reitsma (1983a), the selfteaching hypothesis was first directly tested by embedding novel target words in
short stories (Share, 1999). These targets were simply novel letter strings (i.e.,
pseudowords) representing fictitious names for places, animals, fruits, and the like.
Grade 2 readers were asked to read aloud the test texts and then answer comprehension questions. Three days later, target spellings were identified more often, named
more quickly, and spelled more accurately than were alternate homophonic spellings. A second experiment (Share, 1999, Experiment 2) found that viewing the target
letter strings under conditions designed to minimize phonological processing significantly attenuated orthographic learning. A third experiment showed that this reduced orthographic learning was not attributable to alternative nonphonological
factors (e.g., brief exposure durations, decontextualized presentation).
These results supported the self-teaching hypothesis and indicated that four or
even fewer exposures to a target spelling are sufficient for orthographic learning to
occur. An alternative account of these data in terms of mere visual exposure to target
spellings was rejected on the basis of both quantitative and qualitative findings
(Share, 1999), indicating that successful orthographic learning was determined by
D.L. Share / Journal of Experimental Child Psychology 87 (2004) 267–298
what the child said when identifying/decoding the target item and not what the child
merely saw.
The self-teaching phenomenon (i.e., rapid orthographic learning contingent on
successful phonological recoding) has now been replicated among older normal
and disabled Hebrew readers (Share & Shalev, in press) and also among North
American English-speaking children (Cunningham, Perry, Stanovich, & Share,
2002). Testing a key prediction of the self-teaching hypothesis, Cunningham et al.
(2002) reported a large correlation (r ¼ :65) between orthographic learning and
the number of target stimuli correctly decoded.
The current series of experiments addressed two issues related to the self-teaching
model. The first study (Experiment 1) explored the time course of self-teaching, that
is, the rapidity (i.e., number of exposures) with which orthographic representations
become established and the durability (i.e., retention over time) of these representations. Experiments 2 and 3 sought evidence of self-teaching among beginning (Grade 1)
Experiment 1: Parameters of self-teaching—exposure and durability
This first experiment was designed to reveal how quickly orthographic representations are established and also how durable these representations are. Several studies (Ehri & Saltmarsh, 1995; Reitsma, 1983a, 1983b, 1989; Share, 1999) have shown
that among normal young readers, four or more exposures produce reliable orthographic learning. Hogaboam and Perfetti (1978) found reliable orthographic learning after only three exposures. Results for two exposures have been mixed
(Reitsma, 1983a, 1983b, 1989). These data seem to suggest a ‘‘threshold’’ model of
orthographic learning, with significant learning occurring only after some threshold
level of experience.
In contrast to a threshold model, current connectionist learning algorithms predict significant orthographic learning from the very first learning trial (Harm & Seidenberg, 1999; Plaut, McClelland, Seidenberg, & Patterson, 1996). This is because
changes in connection weights are directly proportional to the discrepancy between
the current values and the target values. As weights are adjusted over the course of
training, the magnitude of changes gradually diminishes toward asymptotic values.
Thus, the most ‘‘powerful’’ single learning trial, according to the connectionist
approach, is necessarily the first trial, with progressively diminishing returns
Consistent with these connectionist predictions of single-trial learning are the
findings from studies of repetition priming with pseudowords (Logan, 1988; Scarborough, Cortese, & Scarborough, 1977). For example, Logan (1988) included from 1 to
16 repetitions of pseudowords and words in a lexical decision task and found a
strong initial decrease in reaction time, gradually decelerating over subsequent repetitions in the form of a classic power function typical of skill acquisition across a
range of domains (Logan, 1988, 2002; Newell & Rosenbloom, 1981). Moreover,
the benefits of repeated presentation did not generalize to novel pseudowords and,
D.L. Share / Journal of Experimental Child Psychology 87 (2004) 267–298
hence, were item specific (cf. Share, 1995).1 Nevertheless, the applicability of these
findings to developing readers encountering new words in more natural reading contexts remains to be established given that all of this work has been carried out exclusively with highly skilled adult readers (typically university students).
The current investigation examined the time course of orthographic learning by
including single- and double-exposure conditions in addition to the standard fourexposure condition. Contemporary connectionist learning algorithms predict significant learning after only a single exposure to a new word. A threshold model, in contrast, predicts reliable orthographic learning only after a limited number of learning
With regard to durability, previous self-teaching studies obtained strong and
clear-cut results when retention of orthographic information was tested 3 days after
exposure to targets (Cunningham et al., 2002; Ehri & Saltmarsh, 1995; Reitsma,
1983a, 1983b; Share, 1999; Share & Shalev, in press). Hogaboam and Perfetti
(1978, Experiment 2) reported significant retention of newly acquired spellings 10
weeks later. To date, no investigation appears to have attempted to replicate such
impressive long-term retention of orthographic information. The current study addressed the question of long-term durability by including a range of posttest retention intervals (3 days, 1 week, and 1 month).
Sample and design
A total of 36 Grade 3 children (15 boys and 21 girls, mean age 8.6 years), selected
from two schools in a relatively advantaged area in Haifa, Israel, participated in a
3 3 2 design that consisted of three levels of target exposure (one, two, and four
exposures), three posttest intervals (3-day, 7-day, and 30-day delays), and two alternate spellings (between-subjects). The order of the two repeated-measures factors
(exposure and posttest interval) was fully counterbalanced. Thus, at each of three
story-reading sessions (3-day, 7-day, and 30-day sessions), children read three stories
(one-exposure, two-exposure, and four-exposure stories) for a total of nine stories.
Half of the sample saw one set of spellings, whereas the other half saw the alternate
Targets and texts
The targets consisted of 9 of the 10 original pairs of pseudowords from the earlier Grade 2 study (Share, 1999) representing names in the following nine categories (one pseudoword name per category): animals, flowers, fruit, cars, stars, coins,
musical instruments, peoples (nations), and personal names. Target length ranged
from two to four syllables and from three to five consonant letters (mean: 4.1).
Each target letter string included two letters that represented a consonantal
Although the evidence from studies of repetition priming is convincing regarding single-trial learning
when participants are performing the same task, transfer of learning across tasks (e.g., from pronunciation
to lexical decision) is quite another story (Logan, 1990).
D.L. Share / Journal of Experimental Child Psychology 87 (2004) 267–298
phoneme that could be transcribed by two alternate graphemes.2 This set of target
items included four of the six homophonic grapheme pairs that exist in Hebrew
orthography, with alternate letters located at all positions (from initial to final)
across target strings.3
Each target appeared either four times, twice, or once in short texts ranging in
length from 94 to 170 words (mean: 126). All texts were fully pointed (i.e., contained vowel diacritics) and, hence, had near perfect one-to-one grapheme–phoneme correspondence (Feitelson, 1988; Navon & Shimron, 1984; Share & Levin,
Posttest measures of orthographic learning
Three measures of orthographic learning were administered either 3, 7, or 30 days
after text reading.
Spelling. This first test of orthographic learning required children to reproduce the
target spelling in writing.
Naming. Children were next asked to name a series of words presented on a computer
screen one at a time. The target spellings, both original and homophonic, were embedded in a longer list of 60 items designed to reflect the natural range and distribution
of word frequency in childrenÕs reading material. Thus, several high-frequency function words appeared in the list several times, as in natural text. Each list contained all
targets seen 3, 7, or 30 days earlier, together with their homophone foils. Each spelling
(both target and homophone) was presented twice. To control for differential priming,
the order of presentation in each list was target–homophone–homophone–target for
half of the sample and homophone–target–target–homophone for the other half. This
arrangement equates the total number of times each of the two alternate spellings is
phonologically and orthographically primed. Each word was presented in fully pointed
form in the center of a computer screen and remained visible until removed by activation of the voice key. The intertrial interval was 1000 ms.
Orthographic choice. Each child was presented with both homophonic spellings of
the target word. For half of the sample, one of the spellings was the original or
This study examined orthographic learning of purely consonantal graphemic information because
Hebrew orthography is a consonantal alphabet in which (optional) vowel diacritics (or ‘‘points’’) have
only a subsidiary status (appearing mostly below letters). This reflects the fact that in Semitic morphology,
the semantic core of most content words is represented by a purely consonantal root, with vowel
information conveying mostly grammatical inflections such as person, number, and gender. This difference
between consonants and vowels is reflected not only in the speech patterns of native Hebrew speakers who
often exchange stem-internal vowels in spoken word production (Ravid, 1995) but also in the fact that
skilled readers have been shown to be largely insensitive to vowel identity (Shimron & Navon, 1981–1982),
relying on direct recognition of consonantal roots (Bentin & Frost, 1995; Frost & Bentin, 1992).
There were several other cases of letters that could be transcribed by alternate graphemes (e.g., BET/
VAV), but in most of these cases, the alternate grapheme was very infrequent in young childrenÕs spelling.
Thus, the probability of correctly reproducing the complete array of target letters was just under 50%.
D.L. Share / Journal of Experimental Child Psychology 87 (2004) 267–298
‘‘correct’’ target spelling seen in text; for the other half, the correct target was the
alternate spelling. Items were presented in a slightly different font from that used in
the original texts.
Testing was conducted on an individual basis in a quiet resource room adjacent to
the Grade 3 classrooms. The basic testing procedure involved the reading of three
texts followed 3, 7, or 30 days later by posttesting. There was an interval of at least
several days between a posttest and subsequent text reading.
In the first text-reading session, the task was explained as follows: ‘‘I want you to
read aloud some stories and tell me which one you liked best. Try to read them all by
yourself. Be sure you understand the stories because IÕm going to ask you some questions afterward. Okay?’’ The only assistance given was with reading the title of the
passage. No further help of any kind—neither praise nor corrective feedback—
was given during story reading. Children who explicitly sought help in identifying
a word were asked to try their best to read it by themselves. All story reading was
tape-recorded. Following text reading, children were asked three factual questions
that could be answered only on the basis of text content and not from general knowledge. Texts were read fluently (mean time: 46 s), accurately (mean accuracy: 98%),
and with good comprehension (mean: 76%).
The three measures of orthographic learning were administered at delays of either
3, 7, or 30 days to determine the longevity of newly acquired orthographic information. These three tasks were administered in a fixed order: spelling, naming, and
orthographic choice.
Spelling. Each child was first asked whether he or she remembered the story about
the fruit/town/flower and then was requested to write this name. Every attempt was
made to elicit the childÕs own representation of the target words. First, after reminding the child about the topic of a particular story (e.g., ‘‘Do you remember the
story you read to me about the hottest town in the world?’’), the examiner asked
the child to write the name of the fruit/town/flower. If the child was unable to recall the name, the first syllable was supplied. If this also failed to elicit the cued word,
the target was then supplied in full. No attempt was made to praise, modify, or
correct any written response.
Naming. Immediately following spelling, the child was seated in front of a desktop
computer and told that he or she was going to read aloud some words that would
appear in the middle of the screen. The child was asked to read each word as quickly
and accurately as possible. Twelve practice trials preceded the test list. Naming responses were recorded manually by the experimenter, who sat next to the child.
Naming responses were also tape-recorded for later cross-checking. No feedback was
given during word naming.
D.L. Share / Journal of Experimental Child Psychology 87 (2004) 267–298
Orthographic choice. Following naming, the two alternate spellings of the target
word were presented: ‘‘Here are two words that both look very much alike, but if
you look carefully youÕll see that theyÕre different. One of these words, and only one,
is the same as the name of the town/fruit/flower you read in the story 3/7/30 days ago.
Make sure to look very carefully at each word and then tell me which one is the right
one.’’ No corrective feedback was given in response to the childÕs choice. Locations
of the two alternatives were switched from child to child. The order of presenting
target sets was similarly varied across children.
Statistical tests
As in previous work (Cunningham et al., 2002; Share, 1999; Share & Shalev, in
press), the dichotomous categorical (success/failure) data from the orthographic
choice task and the spelling production measures were tested using binomial tests
for the differences between proportions (including divergence from predesignated
chance-level proportions of 50%) and were reported as z scores. Naming latencies
(and accuracy) were tested using the conventional parametric tests (i.e., repeatedmeasures analysis of variance [ANOVA]).
Identification of targets during text reading
Overall decoding accuracy for target word consonants (vowel errors were ignored) was very high (93%). This result affirms the assumption that in a regular orthography such as pointed Hebrew, at least, readers normally apply their knowledge
of symbol–sound relationships when confronted with an unfamiliar letter string
rather than simply guessing or skipping these items.
Results for spelling (homophonic) target letters appear in Table 1. Overall, the
spelling data produced clear-cut evidence of orthographic learning. Levels of success
in reproducing the target letters were well beyond chance (61%), z ¼ 5:40. Turning
Table 1
Mean percentages and raw scores of target letters correctly spelled at posttest by Grade 3 children: Experiment 1
Number of exposures
3 days
7 days
30 days
61 (44/72)
61 (44/72)
58 (42/72)
61 (44/72)
64 (46/72)
63 (44/70)
62 (42/68)
63 (43/68)
53 (36/68)
61 (130/212)
63 (133/212)
58 (122/210)
61 (130/216)
63 (134/214)
59 (121/204)
61 (385/634)
Note. Raw scores (in parentheses) in each cell represent the number of individual target (homophonic)
letters correctly reproduced out of a possible 72. Each of the 36 children in Experiment 1 read one story in
each of the nine conditions, with each story containing a single pseudoword target with two homophonic
letters, hence a total of 72 (36 2) observations in each cell. (There are fewer than 72 observations per cell
in cases where target letters were omitted in spelling productions.)
D.L. Share / Journal of Experimental Child Psychology 87 (2004) 267–298
first to the results for exposure (see marginal [column] means in Table 1), each of the
three conditions was significantly beyond chance, with z values of 3.30, 3.71, and
2.35 for one, two, and four exposures, respectively. It appears that even a single encounter with an unfamiliar word is sufficient to produce reliable orthographic learning. There appears to be little gain with additional exposures, z values < 1:0.
Each of the three posttest intervals also yielded significant orthographic learning,
with z values of 2.99, 3.69, and 2.66 for 3-day, 7-day, and 30-day intervals, respectively. Remarkably, newly acquired orthographic information was retained up to 1
month later and was not significantly inferior to spelling success at 3-day and
7-day intervals, z values for differences < 1:0. Although the number of data points
from any one cell in this 3 3 design have questionable reliability,4 it is noteworthy
that even the single-exposure result (62%) was marginally significant at 30 days,
z ¼ 1:94, p ¼ :052.
Looking at the body of Table 1, it is evident that orthographic learning in the various conditions was surprisingly uniform, with the largest absolute difference in either exposure conditions or posttest delays being a mere 4%. The findings also
generalized across all but one of the pairs of homophonic letters. With the exception
of the ALEF/AYIN (glottal stop) pair with an overall success rate (summing over
the nine conditions) of 57% (p ¼ :065, one-tailed), each of the remaining three homophone pairs was spelled at a rate significantly beyond chance (CHET/CHAF, 73%;
KAF/KUF, 61%; and TET/TAF, 58%).
The spelling data demonstrate that orthographic learning is both rapid and
Naming accuracy
Overall naming accuracy was 76% for both targets and homophones. A 3 (exposure) by 3 (posttest interval) by 2 (target/foil) repeated-measures ANOVA failed to
reveal any significant main effects or interactions, all F values < 1:0. As can be seen
from Table 2, naming accuracy was fairly similar across number of exposures and
across posttest intervals.
Naming latencies
Vocalization latencies less than 300 and more than 3000 ms were first discarded,
and then mean reaction times were calculated for correct pronunciations of targets
and foils with missing values replaced by individual subject means. These data are
summarized in Table 3.
Overall, there was a small but nonsignificant 16-ms advantage for targets,
F ð1; 35Þ ¼ 1:73, p > :05. As with the accuracy data, there were small and inconsis4
Some indication of the power of these binomial tests can be gauged by asking what degree of
deviation from a 50% chance level is required to attain significance with an alpha of .05 (two-tailed). For
the spelling data in Experiment 1, the figures are 3% (i.e., more than 53% or less than 47%) for the grand
mean (N ¼ 634), 7% for the marginal means (n ¼ 212), and 13% for the individual cell means (n ¼ 72). For
the orthographic choice data, the figures are 6% for the grand mean (N ¼ 318), 10% for the marginal
means (n ¼ 106), and 19% for the individual cell means (n ¼ 36).
D.L. Share / Journal of Experimental Child Psychology 87 (2004) 267–298
Table 2
Mean percentages and standard deviations of posttest naming accuracy of targets and foils by Grade 3
children: Experiment 1
Number of exposures
3-day interval
7-day interval
30-day interval
77 (38.0)
79 (36.2)
75 (38.3)
77 (35.5)
76 (37.3)
71 (38.5)
76 (37.7)
76 (36.8)
Note. Standard deviations are in parentheses.
Table 3
Means and standard deviations of posttest naming latencies (in milliseconds) of targets and homophone
foils by Grade 3 children: Experiment 1
Number of exposures
3-day interval
7-day interval
30-day interval
782 (215)
797 (237)
800 (218)
793 (210)
768 (194)
806 (224)
783 (213)
799 (223)
Note. Standard deviations are in parentheses.
tent differences favoring the target in most cases, but none reached significance. A
3 3 2 repeated-measures ANOVA revealed no reliable main effects or interactions. It would seem that in the context of the current paradigm with relatively
few trials (two for each target and foil) and considerable intralist priming (both phonological and orthographic), naming latency might not be the most sensitive measure
of orthographic learning. In previous studies with this same paradigm (Share, 1999;
Share & Shalev, in press), naming latency was consistently found to be the least reliable of all three measures of posttest orthographic learning and also the least sensitive.5
In Share (1999, Experiment 1), latency differences between targets and foils were significant in the
four-exposure condition but not in the six-exposure condition (there were no accuracy effects). In
Experiment 2, there were no significant effects in either latency or accuracy, yet the other two measures
(spelling and orthographic choice) revealed significant orthographic learning. Finally, in Experiment 3,
significant differences were found in accuracy but not in latency—precisely the opposite pattern to that
observed in Experiment 1.
D.L. Share / Journal of Experimental Child Psychology 87 (2004) 267–298
Table 4
Mean percentages and raw scores for posttest orthographic choices by Grade 3 children: Experiment 1
Number of exposures
3-day interval
7-day interval
30-day interval
56 (20/36)
75 (27/36)
72 (26/36)
75 (27/36)
75 (27/36)
72 (26/36)
65 (22/34)
71 (24/34)
74 (25/34)
65 (69/106)
74 (78/106)
73 (77/106)
67 (73/108)
74 (80/108)
70 (71/102)
70 (224/318)
Note. Raw scores are in parentheses.
Orthographic choice
Results for the orthographic choice task appear in Table 4. The overall level of
correct orthographic choices (70%) was well above the 50% chance level, z ¼ 7:28,
p < :001. At each of the three exposure conditions (summing over posttest intervals),
choices were also significantly greater than chance, with z values of 2.33, 4.08, and
3.89 for one, two, and four exposures, respectively. Replicating the spelling data,
a single encounter with the target string produced reliable orthographic learning.6
With an additional exposure, there was a small but nonsignificant gain, z ¼ 1:33,
whereas all other comparisons were nonsignificant, z values < 1:0. This picture of rapid initial orthographic learning with small but often nonsignificant increments accruing at additional exposures accords well with the earlier Grade 2 finding
(Share, 1999) of small nonsignificant gains in orthographic learning from four to
six exposures. Together, the spelling production and spelling recognition data suggest that the most decisive point in the process of assimilating orthographic informa6
It might be queried whether the orthographic choice data can be used to support the claim that a
single exposure to a novel letter string leads to significant orthographic learning. Because the orthographic
task was administered immediately after the naming task in which targets and their homophonic spellings
were each presented twice, it might be argued that the orthographic choice posttest actually took place
after a minimum of three exposures to the target rather than just one exposure. However, it is important to
note that in the naming task, not only were both homophonic spellings of the target presented, but order
was counterbalanced across participants. In these circumstances, it is assumed that any advantage gained
by seeing the original target spelling in the naming task is offset by equal exposure to the homophonic foil.
That is, the two exposures ‘‘cancel each other out,’’ as it were, leaving the initial exposure as the deciding
factor in the orthographic choice. Looked at another way, one can think of the final orthographic choice
task as evaluating the net orthographic ‘‘gain’’ of three exposures (in the case of the original spelling)
compared with only two exposures to the alternate homophonic spelling, with the difference again being a
single exposure. Most important, the data from several studies employing the self-teaching paradigm
support this working assumption. In the 1999 study with late Grade 2 readers (Share, 1999, Experiment 1),
the orthographic choice task was the first of the same three posttests with 74% correct choices. The
Cunningham et al. (2002) replication used the same posttesting procedure (also with late Grade 2 readers)
and produced a figure of 75%. The current study (Grade 3) with orthographic choice last (rather than first)
yielded the same success rate (75%). Orthographic choice was also the last of the three posttests in Share
and ShalevÕs (in press) study that included a group of normal readers in Grades 4, 5, and 6, once again with
the same figure of 75% obtained when the choice task followed the spelling and naming tasks. All of these
studies support the working assumption that the order of these posttests makes little difference with regard
to the outcomes for orthographic learning. Nevertheless, it must be conceded that, in the strictest sense,
only the spelling data can be taken as unambiguous support for the claim regarding one-shot (‘‘logistic’’)
orthographic learning.
D.L. Share / Journal of Experimental Child Psychology 87 (2004) 267–298
tion is the very first encounter with a novel word, in contrast to earlier developmental
work that suggested that orthographic learning occurs only after a certain threshold
number of exposures.
Pooling across the three exposure conditions, the data from the three posttest
intervals produced essentially the same pattern of results. Orthographic memory
was significantly greater than chance and equally robust at each interval, with z
values of 3.66, 5.00, and 3.89 for 3-day, 7-day, and 30-day delays, respectively.
Consistent with the spelling data, orthographic information not only was retained
1 month later but also was not inferior to performance at either the 3-day or 7-day
posttests, with both z values less than 1.0. The small difference between the 3-day
and 7-day data was not significant, z ¼ 1:48. As was the case with the spelling data,
the result for a single exposure at 30 days (65%) approached significance, z ¼ 1:71,
p ¼ :083.
Repeated-measures ANOVA revealed no interaction between exposure and delay,
F < 1:0, indicating that the rates of successful orthographic choices were consistent
across exposures and posttest intervals. In sum, the orthographic choice data, like
the spelling data, suggest that orthographic learning is both rapid and robust.
The rapid single-trial learning revealed in the spelling and choice tasks is consistent with the learning algorithms featured in contemporary connectionist models,
whereby the greatest changes in connection weights occur earlier on in training because weight changes are directional proportional to the discrepancy between current weights and target weights (Harm & Seidenberg, 1999; Plaut et al., 1996). As
weights are adjusted in the course of training, weight changes gradually diminish toward asymptotic values. Thus, the strongest single learning trial is necessarily the
first trial, with progressively diminishing returns thereafter, as in the current case
of orthographic learning. Thus, current instantiations of connectionist models with
logistic learning functions fit the data better than does a threshold model positing
significant learning only after some threshold level of experience.
It would clearly be of interest to map the learning function more completely by
including a wider range of exposures. The current study included only three levels
of exposure and found no significant differences among the three. Although performance at two exposures was numerically superior to that in the one-exposure
condition, simple pairwise comparisons found no significant gains after a single
exposure on either choice or spelling, and the data for four exposures did not
show any reliable trend toward further improvement. In the 1999 Grade 2 study,
comparison between four and six exposures, for both choice and whole-word
spelling (but not target letter spelling or naming latencies), produced nonsignificant gains from four to six exposures. When the results for a single exposure
in the current study (65%, 69/106) are compared directly with the six-exposure result in the 1999 study (78.5%, 157/200), there was a significant difference for orthographic choice, z ¼ 2:56, p < :01, but not for target letter spelling (66 vs 61%,
z ¼ 1:18).
D.L. Share / Journal of Experimental Child Psychology 87 (2004) 267–298
The lack of reliable differences for additional presentations of target items suggests the possibility that orthographic learning may be more context specific than
item specific. In all of the studies of orthographic learning discussed previously, target stimuli were presented within one and the same context such as a sentence or passage. This suggests the possibility that frequency of exposure within a single coherent
context may be less critical than presentation across multiple contexts or occasions.
Alternatively, if learning is totally item specific, each individual encounter with a
novel letter string, whether in a single context or in multiple contexts, would be
treated as an equivalent learning trial.
If the developmental data on orthographic learning are found to fit the item-specific logistic learning function posited by the connectionist models, such a finding
would subsume the printed word learning data within the broader context of skill
learning. Growing proficiency in practiced tasks across a range of skill domains is
well described by a power function, with initially large gains diminishing with further
practice (Logan, 1988; Newell & Rosenbloom, 1981). As an example of skill acquisition, the current orthographic learning data are well accommodated within the
framework of LoganÕs (1988, 2002) instance theory, according to which single-trial
item-specific learning follows from the claim that ‘‘attending to a stimulus is sufficient to commit it to memory. ... Subjects store and retrieve representations of each
individual encounter with a stimulus’’ (Logan, 1988, p. 501). The accumulation of
separate episodic traces with experience is taken to explain the transition from effortful algorithmic processing to memory-based processing proficiency—in the current
context, the transition from word identification through ‘‘algorithmic’’ grapheme–
phoneme translation of an unfamiliar letter string to word recognition of the now
no longer unfamiliar string.
Behaviorally as well, more ‘‘effort’’ appears to be invested in decoding at the very
first encounter with a novel string. When children read aloud the text passages in this
study, the letter-by-letter sounding out and blending observed on the initial encounter with a new target would typically be replaced by a smooth uninterrupted pronunciation by the second or third exposure. The online dynamics of the decoding process
would seem to be a valuable topic for future investigation. Despite a huge research
literature demonstrating the central role of decoding in reading development, there
has been surprisingly little systematic documentation of precisely how developing
readers arrive at, or fail to arrive at, the correct spoken form of a printed word
and what the implications are, if any, for the construction of new orthographic
and lexical knowledge. Nearly all researchers have been content to rely on measures
of simple accuracy or vocalization onset latency—measures that are easily gleaned
but surely rather crude superficial measures of what is likely to be a complex process
(cf. Berent & Perfetti, 1995).
Clearly, there are also practical implications of single-trial learning. If ‘‘first impressions’’ are indeed the most potent, a decoding (or spelling) error on the very first
attempt at a new word should be more detrimental to long-term orthographic learning than should an error committed at a later point. The common classroom practice
of ignoring spelling errors in the early written products of beginning readers (when
the primary focus of learning and instruction is the acquisition of the alphabetic
D.L. Share / Journal of Experimental Child Psychology 87 (2004) 267–298
principle and/or communicative intent) suggests that greater effort might need to be
expended later to alter faulty orthographic representations created at the initial encounters with novel words.
An important point about the self-teaching hypothesis is that pronouncing an unfamiliar letter string necessitates a type of processing that is uniquely conducive to
the development of well-specified orthographic representations. The exhaustive letter-by-letter processing, often involving more than a single ‘‘pass’’ along the letter
string, may be one of the key benefits of phonological recoding. Furthermore, because processing is generally more exhaustive and effortful at the first exposure, this
may result in a more powerful learning experience. It would be of interest to systematically manipulate the nature of decoding depth and exhaustiveness. In the third experiment (Share, 1999), decoding depth (and accuracy) was manipulated by reducing
exposure time to only 300 ms compared with self-paced (i.e., unlimited) exposure in
Experiment 1. Not surprisingly, time-limited exposure produced a lower rate of decoding success and also significantly attenuated orthographic learning. It seems safe
to assume that processing was also less thorough in this particular manipulation.
The retention data also proved to be impressive, with clear-cut retention even at
30 days. Even 1 month later, the strength of orthographic memory was not significantly poorer than after 3 days. These data corroborate the earlier findings of Hogaboam and Perfetti (1978), who reported significant retention at 10 weeks. However, it
might not be entirely pertinent to ask how long orthographic information is retained
given that reading, as an everyday activity for most literate individuals, involves recurrent exposure to printed words of varying frequencies. If Nagy and Herman
(1987) are correct in estimating that children are exposed to millions of printed
words each year, this implies that even rare words are appearing often enough to refresh decaying representations. Hence, the question of how long newly acquired orthographic information is retained may be somewhat misconstrued.
It is interesting to note that for both choice and spelling, performance at 7 days
was actually superior, although not significantly, to performance at 3 days, with
the hint of a decline at 30 days. This seemingly inverted-U function was certainly
not anticipated and suggests that orthographic memory is consolidating over the first
week before declining. Of course, these observations remain entirely speculative,
based purely on nonsignificant trends. Nevertheless, the possibility of an invertedU function in long-term retention may be worth examining in future research.
Experiment 2: Early onset—self-teaching among beginning readers?
The second experiment reported here tested the hypothesis that beginning reading
is beginning self-teaching (Share, 1995). A growing number of studies have suggested
that some rudimentary self-teaching skills, perhaps sufficient to establish primitive
orthographic representations of the kind discussed by Perfetti (1992), may exist at
the very earliest stages of learning to read, even before a child possesses any decoding
skill in the conventional sense of being able to sound out and blend simple pseudowords (Ehri & Wilce, 1985, 1987; Morris, 1992; Stuart & Coltheart, 1988). This view
D.L. Share / Journal of Experimental Child Psychology 87 (2004) 267–298
runs counter to many prevailing accounts of printed word learning that propose an
initial logographic or visual stage prior to later developing phonological recoding
(see, e.g., Frith, 1985; Gough & Juel, 1991). This early self-teaching is assumed to
depend on three factors: letter–sound knowledge, some minimal phonological sensitivity, and the ability to use contextual information to determine exact word pronunciations on the basis of partial decodings.
Ehri and others (Ehri & Sweet, 1991; Ehri & Wilce, 1985, 1987; Rack, Hulme,
Snowling, & Wightman, 1994; Scott & Ehri, 1990; Treiman & Rodriguez, 1999; Treiman, Tincoff, & Richmond-Welty, 1996) have demonstrated that even kindergarten
children are capable of learning words on a phonetic basis rather than a visual basis
provided they have some knowledge of letter–sound or letter–name relations. For example, knowledge of the names of the letters J and L may enable a child to read the
word JAIL even in the absence of blending skill. However, a partial decoding strategy based solely on letter–sound knowledge is in itself insufficient. It necessarily depends on the ability to recognize identity between learned letter names or sounds and
phonological segments in spoken words. A child who is able to generate words beginning with a given sound, and who has also acquired a basic knowledge of letter–
sound correspondences, will be in a position to generate a plausible candidate for a
novel item. A child oblivious to the phonemic structure of speech (i.e., for whom
spoken words are indivisible wholes), will have no way of generating a candidate
pronunciation for an unfamiliar letter string. The joint role of letter–sound knowledge and phonological sensitivity is consistent with the wealth of evidence indicating
that these two factors are critical co-requisites in reading acquisition (e.g., Bradley &
Bryant, 1983; Ehri & Sweet, 1991; Hatcher, Hulme, & Ellis, 1994; Share, 1995; Tunmer, Herriman, & Nesdale, 1988).
Consistent with these observations regarding early decoding skill and the possibility of self-teaching among beginning readers, two studies—one in Dutch (Reitsma, 1983b) and one in English (Ehri & Saltmarsh, 1995)—have reported evidence
of rapid orthographic learning among Grade 1 children. Reitsma (1983b, Experiment 3) examined printed word learning in Dutch in a sample of 18 Grade 1 readers (split into more and less skilled subgroups) and 13 learning-disabled Grade 3
readers. These children read aloud meaningful sentences containing words judged
to be familiar in spoken but not written form. Test sentences were read either zero
(control), two, four, or six times across 2 days. Three days later, target spellings
were named more quickly than homophonic foils by both Grade 1 subgroups
for four and six exposures but, as noted previously, not for two exposures or unseen (control) items.
Ehri and Saltmarsh (1995) taught 30 English-speaking Grade 1 readers (also split
into more and less skilled readers) and 15 older disabled Grade 3 readers to read target words with simplified spellings (e.g., CRADL, MESNGER) that were practiced
between 10 and 12 times (over 2 days). Three days later, children named three types
of items: the original spellings (CRADL), homophonic spellings (e.g., KRADL) and
nonhomophonic spellings (e.g., KRATL). The more skilled beginning readers took
an average of four practice trials before their first error-free reading of the complete
list of targets, whereas the less skilled beginners required an average of nine trials.
D.L. Share / Journal of Experimental Child Psychology 87 (2004) 267–298
Each of the two subgroups of beginners read the target spellings faster than it did
either the homophonic or the phonetically altered foils.
It is important to note that English and Dutch are linguistic ‘‘cousins,’’ with both
belonging to the Germanic family of languages characterized by numerous closed
syllables with complex consonant clusters. Like other Indo-European language families such as Romance (French, Spanish, and Italian), Germanic orthographies differ
in orthographic ‘‘depth,’’ that is, the 1:1 consistency of letter–phoneme mapping. English is widely regarded as exceptional in its degree of irregularity (Seymour, Aro, &
Erskine, 2003), a claim reinforced by direct comparisons of decoding accuracy for
matched word and pseudoword lists (see, e.g., Landerl, 2000; Seymour et al.,
2003; Wimmer & Goswami, 1994), but Dutch is not highly regular either compared
with many other Indo-European scripts such as German, Italian, Finnish, and
Greek. A consortium of European researchers (COST A8) recently classified Dutch
at an intermediate level of regularity (Seymour et al., 2003). Comparisons of word
and pseudoword decoding among Grade 1 children in 13 European orthographies
supported this intermediate ranking of Dutch orthography.
The current study examined whether the Dutch and English findings of early orthographic learning generalize to a highly regular orthography, pointed Hebrew, a
script that transcribes a non-European language with relatively simple syllable structures and few consonant clusters. The early-onset hypothesis formulated by Share
(1995) predicts that the high levels of decoding afforded by HebrewÕs near perfectly
regular orthography (Share & Levin, 1999; Shatil & Share, 2003) should lead to significant orthographic learning even among beginning readers.
Sample and design
A total of 32 Grade 1 children (18 girls and 14 boys, mean age 7.0 years) participated in this study. This group was drawn from the same two schools as were the
Grade 3 children in Experiment 1. The design was a 2 2 fully repeated-measures
design, with exposure and posttest interval each consisting of two levels. The two exposure conditions were set conservatively at two and four exposures. Similarly, retention intervals were 3 and 7 days.
Materials and procedure
Eight of the nine target items used in the previous experiment were employed
again in the current study. Stories were simplified and shortened somewhat for this
younger group, averaging 64 words in length (range: 51–77). Median reading time
was 92 s, accuracy averaged 97% correct, and comprehension was 61%.
Each child participated in two text-reading sessions that were followed either 3 or
7 days later by posttesting. In each text-reading session, children read aloud four stories that were followed by orally administered comprehension questions. Both story
order and session order were counterbalanced. The same posttesting format used in
Experiment 1 was adopted in this study: spelling followed by naming followed by orthographic choice.
D.L. Share / Journal of Experimental Child Psychology 87 (2004) 267–298
Owing to limited resources, this study employed only a single spelling for each orthographic target. Selected spellings were those found in Experiment 1 to be the less
preferred of the two alternate spellings (nonpreferred [64.9%] vs preferred [72.3%] in
the orthographic choice task, 50.0% vs 70.8% in spelling production). These included
four instances of the Hebrew letter TAF (/t/), four TET (/t/), one KUF (/k/), one
KAF (/k/), three AYIN (/§/—glottal stop), one ALEPH (/§/), and two word final
CHAF (/x/ [ch as in Bach]).
Estimates for base rate orthographic preferences among Grade 1 children for
these selected spellings were then obtained in a comparison sample of Grade 1 children. An independent sample, rather than the experimental group, was used to evaluate base rate preferences in view of the finding (see Experiment 1) that only a single
exposure is sufficient to induce orthographic learning.
Spelling and orthographic choice tasks were administered to a group of just over
100 Grade 1 children from a school in a comparable area with regard to socioeconomic status. These 100 children were asked to spell the eight target words. Spelling
dictation was carried out as a whole-class exercise. All phonologically plausible spellings of each target phoneme (there were cases of up to three alternate graphemes per
target phoneme) were then tallied to give an estimate of the ‘‘orthographic preference’’ for the target spelling.
For spelling production, the overall frequency of individual target letters was
46.6%. A week later, these same 100 children were given an orthographic choice task
in which both alternate spellings of each of the target words were presented side by
side. In this Grade 1 sample, target spellings adopted for use in the current study
with Grade 1 children were selected at a rate of 51.8% (426/823). Because neither
of these figures differed significantly from the 50% chance level, orthographic learning in Experiment 2 was judged to be statistically significant only if it exceeded the
50% chance level.
Target decoding accuracy averaged 93% for consonantal letters (matching the rate
achieved by the Grade 3 children) and 77% for consonants and diacritics (compared
with only 57% for the Grade 3 children). Decoding rates were identical for the twoexposure and four-exposure conditions. Decoding accuracy for both consonants and
diacritics in Grade 1 was significantly higher than that in Grade 3 children, a result
consistent with other studies (e.g., Ravid, 1996) showing that knowledge and/or reliance on diacritics is greater in Grade 1 when children are taught to read fully
pointed text, often with direct instruction in the phonemic values of the diacritical
marks. By Grade 3, however, children have become accustomed to unpointed text
and are less certain about the phonemic value of these markings or are less reliant
on them owing to more effective use of orthographic information.
Spelling production
Table 5 presents the rates for successfully reproducing the critical target letters.
The overall result (46%) was very close to chance and nearly identical to the rate
D.L. Share / Journal of Experimental Child Psychology 87 (2004) 267–298
Table 5
Mean percentages and raw scores of target letters correctly spelled at posttest by Grade 1 children: Experiment 2
Number of Exposures
3-day interval
7-day interval
45 (57/126)
48 (61/128)
48 (62/128)
45 (57/128)
47 (119/254)
46 (118/256)
46 (118/254)
46 (119/256)
46 (237/510)
Note. Raw scores are in parentheses.
observed in the Grade 1 comparison sample (47%). As can be seen in Table 5, the
differences between 3-day and 7-day outcomes, as well as between the two-exposure
and four-exposure outcomes, were negligible. This pattern of surprisingly uniform
spelling outcomes was also observed in the Grade 3 data. In stark contrast to both
the Grade 3 results presented previously and the Grade 1 data reported for Dutch
and English (Ehri & Saltmarsh, 1995; Reitsma, 1983b), there was no evidence whatsoever of orthographic learning.
Naming accuracy and latency
As in Experiment 1, a 2 (number of exposures) by 2 (posttest interval) by 2 (alternate spelling) repeated-measures ANOVA indicated no significant overall difference
between naming accuracy for targets (88%) compared with homophonic foils (87%),
F < 1:0, nor did it indicate any significant main effects or interactions.
Vocalization latencies less than 300 and more than 5000 ms were first discarded,
and then mean reaction times calculated for correct pronunciations of targets and
foils with missing values replaced by individual subject means. As with the accuracy
data, vocalization onset times failed to indicate any reliable differences (targets:
1586 ms; foils: 1580 ms; F < 1:0), nor were there any significant main effects or interactions.
In view of the questionable reliability and sensitivity of reaction time data in this
particular paradigm, it would not be prudent to conclude that orthographic learning
did not take place in these young children solely on the basis of the latency data.
Orthographic choice
These data appear in Table 6. The overall success rate of 52% was nearly identical
to the figure obtained in the Grade 1 pilot sample (51.8%) and was not significantly beyond the 50% chance level, z < 1:0. Neither the two-exposure nor the
Table 6
Mean percentages and raw scores for posttest orthographic choices by Grade 1 children: Experiment 2
Number of exposures
3-day interval
7-day interval
38 (24/63)
56 (36/64)
59 (38/64)
55 (35/64)
49 (62/127)
55 (71/128)
47 (60/127)
57 (73/128)
52 (133/255)
Note. Raw scores are in parentheses.
D.L. Share / Journal of Experimental Child Psychology 87 (2004) 267–298
four-exposure results exceeded chance, z < 1:00 and z ¼ 1:24, respectively. The 3-day
result was clearly nonsignificant, whereas the 7-day data (57%) approached significance, z ¼ 1:59, p ¼ :133. In sum, the results for the orthographic choice task also
provide little support for the early-onset hypothesis.
In contrast to the Grade 3 data, there was no reliable evidence of orthographic
learning on any of the posttest measures. Performance was consistently at chance.
Only the orthographic choice results for four exposures (55%) and for the 7-day condition (57%) produced results that deviated slightly (but nonsignificantly) from
chance. It would appear that among normal beginning readers of pointed Hebrew,
high levels of decoding are not associated with the storage of word-specific orthographic detail. Additional findings from a recent study of self-teaching among older
disabled readers corroborate this result (Share & Shalev, in press). These data were
collected from a group of 20 children tested early in their second school year (Grade 2)
who were selected as reading level controls for older disabled readers in a study of
self-teaching among dyslexic and garden variety poor readers. Grade 2 control readers were matched to the older readers on speed and accuracy of reading both real
words and pseudowords and were exposed to the same set of targets from Share
(1999) that appeared in the original unabbreviated version of the stories presented
to the current Grade 1 sample. The only other differences between the current Grade
1 data and those from the Grade 2 group were the use of two-exposure and six-exposure texts (rather than two-exposure and four-exposure texts), a single posttest interval of 3 days (rather than 3 and 7 days), and both alternate spellings of the targets.
The young Grade 2 group in the Share and Shalev (in press) study decoded the
targets at the same level of accuracy as did the current Grade 1 children (93%), with
decoding accuracy for both vowels and consonants (66%) falling approximately midway between the level obtained by the Grade 3 sample (57%, Experiment 1) and the
current Grade 1 sample (77%, Experiment 2), a finding that is also consistent with
the declining accuracy of the reading of diacritics across Grades 1 to 3 (Ravid,
1996). Orthographic choices failed to exceed chance levels (57%), no effects were
found on either naming accuracy or naming times, and target letter spelling was also
very close to chance (52%). However, all other groups in the Share and Shalev (in
press) study demonstrated reliable and significant orthographic learning despite
the fact that decoding accuracy was actually a little lower (80% for dyslexics and
88% for garden variety poor readers). The presence of statistically significant crossover interactions between decoding success, on the one hand, and orthographic
choice and spelling, on the other, confirmed that these normal Grade 2 readers were
unable to recognize or recall orthographic detail despite high levels of decoding success. Taken together, both sets of data indicate that the early-onset hypothesis must
be rejected at least in the case of pseudowords presented in HebrewÕs highly regular
pointed script. The evidence of early orthographic learning reported in the deeper orthographies of Dutch and English (Ehri & Saltmarsh, 1995; Reitsma, 1983b) does
not appear to generalize to the shallow pointed Hebrew script.
D.L. Share / Journal of Experimental Child Psychology 87 (2004) 267–298
The absence of rapid orthographic learning in Grade 1 Hebrew readers stands in
stark contrast to the data obtained from the group of Grade 2 children tested during
the final months of the school year (Share, 1999). Potential sampling differences do
not appear to be responsible for the discrepant results. In view of the fact that the
earlier 1999 self-teaching study obtained reliable evidence of orthographic learning
in three separate samples of children tested at the end of Grade 2, the data converge
on the hypothesis that there are fundamental print processing developments taking
place among young Hebrew readers between early Grade 2 and late Grade 2.
Before embarking on speculation regarding the source of this intriguing finding, it
must be acknowledged that the current Grade 1 data were derived entirely from
pseudoword stimuli, whereas both the English and Dutch studies employed real
words or pseudo-homophones of real words judged to be familiar to children in spoken form but not in printed form. Thus, the possibility that beginning readers of Hebrew may exhibit self-teaching with real words cannot be ruled out a priori. Perhaps
items such as pseudowords with relatively few associative links in long-term memory
are less likely to be retained by novices than are real words. It might be speculated
that at the onset of reading development, much printed word learning involves a
considerable degree of meaning seeking with relatively little attention paid to the
nonsemantic dimension of print such as orthographic detail. Alternatively, children
at this age may simply require a greater number of target exposures; there were only
a maximum of four presentations per item in Experiment 2. Experiment 3 addressed
both of these issues empirically in a study of Grade 1 children reading both real
words and pseudowords, each in alternate spellings and with a greater number of exposures (eight as well as four). All posttests were administered after an interval of 7
Experiment 3: Self-teaching in Grade 1 readers with real words and pseudowords
A total of 64 children participated in this study (35 girls and 29 boys, mean age 7.1
years). This sample was drawn from five schools spanning a wide range of socioeconomic backgrounds and nine separate Grade 1 classes.
This study included words as well as pseudowords, with each item in alternate homophonic spellings, and also eight exposures in addition to the standard four. A total of 64 children participated in this 2 (word type) by 2 (spellings) by 2 (exposures)
by 2 (replications) design. The fourth factor, replications, was adopted because a total of 16 passages (eight words and eight pseudowords) administered over four storyreading sessions, each followed by a posttest session, was considered excessive in
view of the exigencies of testing young children in school settings. Consequently, it
was decided to limit the testing demands to the more manageable proportions used
D.L. Share / Journal of Experimental Child Psychology 87 (2004) 267–298
in previous studies (i.e., two text-reading sessions and two posttests for a total of
four testing sessions). Therefore, each child read a total of only eight texts, four stories containing real-word targets and four stories containing pseudowords, with the
order of these word/pseudoword sessions counterbalanced. Within each session, a
child read two stories with four target exposures and the other two stories with eight
target exposures. Because story order (either within or across sessions) had not been
found to influence the results in previous work, story order within session was fixed.
Splitting the 16 test items into two groups of eight and assigning them to two independent (‘‘item replication’’) subsamples, each with identical conditions, made it
possible to check the generalizability of results across items. (Owing to an experimenter error in which one child received the wrong subset of items, 33 children
saw one set of words and pseudowords and 31 children saw the second set.)
Target words and texts
The real words and texts in this study were developed in a three-stage procedure.
An initial pool of candidate words deemed to exist in a Grade 1 childÕs oral vocabulary but unfamiliar in written form was first generated. Each of these words contained from one to four homophonic letters. A word-by-word survey of the
reading scheme used at the school where the pilot work was carried out reduced this
initial set to 67 words; any word that appeared in print, even once, was discarded.
Next, four Grade 1 teachers and a literacy specialist (the regional pedagogical adviser) were asked to rate the degree to which Grade 1 children are likely to be familiar with the printed form of these words on a 5-point scale (‘‘almost certainly seen in
print,’’ ‘‘probably seen,’’ ‘‘possibly seen,’’ ‘‘probably not seen,’’ and ‘‘almost certainly not seen’’). Only words rated in the lowest two categories (‘‘probably not
seen’’ and ‘‘almost certainly not seen’’) by at least three of the four judges were included in the next step. A total of 28 words remained at this point. All 28 items were
then given in a spelling dictation task (two separate sessions of 14 items) to a sample
of 69 children at this pilot school. Testing was carried out with small groups of up to
five children at a time. Children were also asked whether they knew the meaning of
each word as it was dictated. From the subset of items in which the homophonic letters were spelled with the incorrect target letters close to 50% or more of the time, 8
items were selected for inclusion in the final test set: KETEM (stain), AVAZ (goose),
KIVUN (direction), TA’UT (mistake), TA’ARUXA (exhibition), KASKASIM (dandruff), ATALEF (bat, winged), and KONXIYA (conch, shell). These items each included between two and four homophonic letters, with the critical letters
appearing in all letter positions from the initial to final positions.7 This set also included at least one exemplar of each of the six homophonic letter pairs that exist
in Hebrew script. Of the 8 target items, 5 included three homophonic letters, but
in all 5 cases, only two of the three letters met the criterion of 50% homophone
In Hebrew, homophonic letters are very common (more so than in English) because approximately
one-third of all phonemes can be transcribed by alternate graphemes. Thus, the vast majority of Hebrew
words contain at least one homophonic letter.
D.L. Share / Journal of Experimental Child Psychology 87 (2004) 267–298
substitutions in the pilot sample. One item (KASKASIM) included four homophonic
letters. Item length ranged from two to four syllables and from three to six letters.
Eight short stories were then composed with the target words as the central theme
(see examples in the Appendix). Story length ranged from 65 to 84 words. The stories
were then split into two sets of four, with specific letter identities equated as much as
For the pseudoword stimuli, eight of the nine items used in Experiment 2, together with their accompanying passages, were used again in the current study.
The procedure was the same as in Experiment 2 with two exceptions. The posttest
naming task was dropped, leaving only spelling and orthographic choice, and only a
single posttest interval (7 days) was included.
Story-reading performance
Children took an average of just over 2 min to read these passages (median: 125 s
[SD ¼65 s], with an average of 5.7 errors [SD ¼ 6:1]) and comprehension at 80%
[SD ¼ 29%].
Target decoding
Overall target decoding accuracy was 93% (SD ¼ 19%) for consonantal letters
only and 75% (SD ¼ 35%) for consonants and vowels. Not unexpectedly, there were
substantial differences between words and pseudowords. For real words, target consonantal decoding accuracy averaged 95%, which was significantly greater than the
decoding accuracy (90%) for pseudoword targets, t(510) ¼ 2.96, p ¼ :003. For the
combined consonant and vowel accuracy, there was also a significant advantage
for real words (89% vs 61%), t(510) ¼ 9.92, p < :001. These data suggest that decoding, and particularly the vowel decoding of novel words in text, might not be purely a
matter of nonlexical, bottom-up grapheme–phoneme translation in the classic dualroute sense but is partly assisted by item-specific knowledge of known phonological
Orthographic choice
Comparing, first, the outcomes for the same pseudoword targets used in both this
study (Table 7) and Experiment 2, it can be seen that the overall nonsignificant result
for the pseudowords in this study (55%), z < 1:0, replicated the Experiment 2 data at
the same 7-day posttest interval (57%) (collapsing over exposure), thereby confirming the surprising lack of sensitivity to orthographic information among these readers. Doubling the number of exposures from four to eight did not alter this picture,
z < 1:0. Nor did the inclusion of real words deemed familiar to these young readers succeed in uncovering any convincing evidence of orthographic learning.
D.L. Share / Journal of Experimental Child Psychology 87 (2004) 267–298
Table 7
Mean percentages and raw scores for posttest orthographic choices by Grade 1 children: Experiment 3
4 exposures
8 exposures
56 (72/128)
59 (76/128)
57 (73/128)
50 (64/128)
57 (145/256)
55 (140/256)
58 (148/256)
54 (137/256)
56 (285/512)
Note. Raw scores are in parentheses.
p < :05.
Whereas the overall result for real words (57%) was significant, p ¼ :04, individually,
neither the four-exposure condition nor the eight-exposure condition reached significance. Above all, the inclusion of real words with familiar meanings appeared to
make little difference to the overall pattern of results. There was no overall difference
between real words and pseudowords, z < 1:0, rebutting the supposition that the use
of target items devoid of meaning in Experiment 2 somehow masked true
orthographic abilities.
It must be acknowledged, nonetheless, that the overall result for words (57%) was,
formally, statistically significant. Indeed, nearly all the figures in Table 7 exceeded
the 50% chance level, consistently clustering around the borderline of statistical significance. The grand mean (56%) also was significant, so there are clearly ‘‘glimmerings’’ of orthographic learning here. But comparison of these marginal data with the
unambiguously robust findings seen in Experiment 1 and in all previous self-teaching
studies undertaken with children from late Grade 2 upward reveals fundamental differences in the degree of orthographic learning. The 7-day data for the Grade 3
group from Experiment 1 averaged 74%, the end-of-Grade 2 sample averaged 74%
(Share, 1999, Experiment 1), Grades 4, 5, and 6 averaged 75% (Share & Shalev, in
press), and end-of-Grade 2 English speakers averaged 75% (Cunningham et al.,
2002). These data demonstrate, in a very consistent manner, effects of a different order of magnitude for orthographic choice.
Looking at the generalizability of results across the two subsamples of children
presented with different subsets of items, no significant differences were found either
on the grand mean, on marginal means (i.e., four or eight exposures, words or
pseudowords) or on individual cell means (i.e., no z value exceeded unity).
It is important to emphasize that these poor results for orthographic learning were
obtained in spite of high levels of target decoding—levels that were actually higher
than those recorded for the older samples for whom orthographic learning was unmistakably present. The spelling data presented next confirmed this apparent dissociation between good (i.e., accurate) decoding and poor orthographic learning.
The spelling data produced an unambiguous result (Table 8). All cells, marginal
means, and even the grand mean were consistently and unequivocally nonsignificant.
In contrast to the orthographic choice data, there was no suggestion at all of orthographic learning. As in the case of orthographic choice, the pattern for the complete
D.L. Share / Journal of Experimental Child Psychology 87 (2004) 267–298
Table 8
Mean percentages and raw scores of target letters spelled correctly at posttest by Grade 1 children:
Experiment 3
4 exposures
8 exposures
46 (117/256)
53 (135/256)
49 (252/512)
51 (130/256)
51 (131/256)
51 (261/512)
48 (247/512)
52 (266/512)
50 (513/1024)
Note. Raw scores are in parentheses.
sample (N ¼ 64) was reproduced in both subsamples with very small and nonsignificant differences between the two subgroups at all levels of analysis.
In spite of the inclusion of familiar known words in addition to pseudowords and
doubling the number of target presentations, the outcomes of this third study confirmed the pattern emerging from Experiment 2 in that memory for word-specific orthographic detail was negligible. This finding, replicated across independent groups
of participants and items, raises both cross-linguistic and developmental (intralinguistic) issues.
Turning first to the startling developmental differences between the outcomes for
Grade 1 (Experiments 2 and 3) and those for Grade 3 (Experiment 1), it is hypothesized that in an orthography as transparent as pointed Hebrew, which permits such
high levels of decoding so very early in a childÕs orthographic experience (cf. Cossu,
1999; Seymour et al., 2003; Wimmer & Goswami, 1994), normal novice readers typically pass through a phase resembling surface dyslexia. Competent novices of regular orthographies are capable of decoding nearly any word in a ‘‘bottom-up’’ or
‘‘surface’’ fashion but appear to be relatively insensitive to surface information, that
is, to word-specific orthographic detail. The qualifier ‘‘relative’’ acknowledges that
novice readers are not impervious to orthographic information. The overall result
in Experiment 3 for orthographic choice (but not spelling) suggested some embryonic orthographic learning. More generally, the Hebrew data showing significant orthographic knowledge evident in both successful orthographic choice and
homophone choice tasks with high-frequency real words at the end of Grade 1 (Shatil, 1997) clearly refutes any categorical conclusions regarding the presence or absence of orthographic learning. Studies of early spelling development in Hebrew
further confirm that even Grade 1 children are able to spell most of the homophonic
target letters in familiar words correctly (Ravid, 2001; Shatil, Share, & Levin, 2000).
Therefore, it seems reasonable to assume that many more exposures than the current
four or eight would eventually lead to significant orthographic knowledge. In contrast, the dramatic differences between Grade 1 novices and the older, more proficient readers studied in Experiment 1 and in prior work with this paradigm
revealed these beginners to be relatively insensitive to word-specific orthographic detail, reading in a highly surface fashion. Relative to the older readers (late Grade 2
onward) these beginners are clearly processing print in a very different manner.
D.L. Share / Journal of Experimental Child Psychology 87 (2004) 267–298
The source of this processing difference does not appear to be the availability or
nonavailability of word meaning. The inclusion of meaningful words in Experiment
3 was specifically aimed to address the possibility that the lack of orthographic learning in Experiment 2 was somehow due to the use of meaningless pseudowords. However, although it is true that the overall level of orthographic choices for words, but
not pseudowords, was significant in this third study, these two rates were nearly
identical (55% vs 57%) and, most important, were not significantly different. Moreover, in the four-exposure condition, orthographic learning of pseudowords was
found to be statistically significant (59%), and in the spelling data, the pseudoword
results were marginally superior, although again the differences never attained significance. In sum, these data are consistent with earlier findings reported by Hogaboam
and Perfetti (1978) and Share (1999) indicating that word meaning per se does not
appear to play a significant role in word-specific orthographic learning.
The role of familiar phonological/oral forms as a base for securing spellings may
be a more promising avenue with regard to orthographic learning. Although the current study did not take up this issue, a recent study with this same experimental paradigm (Somech & Share, in preparation) found much poorer orthographic memory
for words that Grade 3 readers were unable to recall orally at posttest compared with
successfully recalled items. Thus, the availability of a familiar phonological form
may be a significant factor in orthographic learning, at least among older, more
skilled readers. However, among novice readers, the phonological availability hypothesis seems unlikely to shed much light on orthographic learning for the same
reason that the meaning hypothesis was discounted: Real and highly familiar spoken
words failed to confer any advantage for Grade 1 readers in terms of orthographic
learning relative to newly learned, and probably only partially recalled, pseudowords.
Currently, the source of this processing difference can only be grounds for speculation. One possibility is that some ‘‘critical mass’’ of print exposure by more skilled
readers enables the uptake of word-specific orthographic detail in a way that is qualitatively different from that of novices. In this regard, it is important to note that in
Israeli schools, Grade 1 is the sole ‘‘learning-to-read’’ year, devoted primarily to the
acquisition of the code (known as ‘‘technical’’ reading). Most schools follow a structured sequence of basal-type workbooks (often with controlled reading vocabulary)
in which letters and diacritics are introduced in a more or less fixed sequence. Because the fundamentals are typically acquired by the end of Grade 1 (Feitelson,
1989; Share & Levin, 1999), the reading curriculum in Grade 2 switches from a learning-to-read mode to a reading-to-learn mode in which readers, now able to decode
virtually any pointed text, plunge into a variety of readers, literature, and biblical
texts whose only concession to the novice is the presence of vowel diacritics. In view
of these basic curricular changes, it seems reasonable to assume that Grade 2 witnesses a major transition in both the volume and variety of print experience.
It is hypothesized that for the majority of normal readers of a highly regular
script, the latter half of Grade 2 witnesses the emergence of a highly specialized
print-specific processing advantage (not a basic skill difference) acquired as an outgrowth of extensive print experience. This ‘‘orthographic sensitivity’’ hypothesis
D.L. Share / Journal of Experimental Child Psychology 87 (2004) 267–298
assumes that a critical volume of print experience brings about a fundamental
change in orthographic sensitivity. Just as an art or food connoisseur becomes sensitive to subtle nuances that escape the layperson, the accumulation of print exposure
enables the more experienced reader to develop a sensitivity to orthographic detail
that is beyond the grasp of the novice.
The concept of orthographic sensitivity is very different from contemporary thinking regarding the role of print exposure in the development of orthographic knowledge. It is generally assumed that differences between more skilled readers and less
skilled readers on conventional measures of orthographic knowledge, such as orthographic choice, are attributable to a greater volume of exposure per se; that is, older
children simply have seen the specific test items more often. By this account, younger
readers receiving the same number of exposures to new words should perform at
comparable levels when assessed on word-specific orthographic information as in
the current paradigm. The current Grade 3 data, together with converging data from
additional samples (Share, 1999; Share & Shalev, in press) show clearly that a conventional print exposure account does not capture the current findings.
The notion of orthographic sensitivity is also distinct from (but in no way is at
odds with) traditional accounts of orthographic development that typically stress recurrent multiletter sequences (e.g., -ight) and morphological patterns (e.g., -ed). It
should be emphasized that the current study examined orthographic learning solely
in the context of word-specific letter-level information and not general orthographic
conventions that, in Hebrew, are tied to morphological constraints governing noun
and verb formation. The reason that only item-specific letter-level orthographic
learning was assessed is simply that homophonic letters marking general morpho–
phonological structures are extremely common, consistent, and well known even
among Grade 1 children. For example, the grammatical feminine gender is marked
solely by the affixed letter TAF; the homophonic letter TET is never part of any
grammatical affix or any morpho–phonological pattern. In contrast, individual root
letters in a specific lexical morpheme can be either TET or TAF, with no general rule
governing these alternations. The focus on item-specific orthographic detail implies
that a putative lack of morphological sensitivity/awareness among Grade 1 readers
cannot account for their lack of orthographic learning in the present investigation.
The orthographic sensitivity hypothesis could be tested in a longitudinal study examining concurrent changes in orthographic learning (in both reading and writing),
reading fluency, and prosody as well as fine-grained documentation of both the
quantity and quality of print exposure. Alternatively, experimental simulation may
be possible by means of an artificial orthography.
Turning to the cross-linguistic aspects of these findings, it is clear that an orthographic sensitivity account resting on quality and quantity of print exposure may explain the Hebrew-language data but not the cross-linguistic differences in the Grade
1 findings. As noted previously, neither Dutch nor English can be considered highly
regular orthographies (Seymour et al., 2003), and the comparative data support this
assertion (Landerl, 2000; Seymour et al., 2003; Wimmer & Goswami, 1994). In terms
of irregularity, English might best be classified as an ‘‘outlier’’ orthography. Even
words that most English speakers would consider to be ‘‘regular’’ (e.g., ship, tell,
D.L. Share / Journal of Experimental Child Psychology 87 (2004) 267–298
speed, make) could be considered irregular in comparison with the strictly one-onone letter–sound correspondences that characterize highly regular scripts (and in
which digraphs and geminates typically are not found). In contrast to both Dutch
and English, fully voweled (pointed) Hebrew orthography has neither vowel nor consonant digraphs (e.g., sh, ee), no geminates (e.g., ss, ll), no consonant clusters (e.g.,
sp, cl, str), and no silent letters (with one exception). The adherence of pointed Hebrew to the one-to-one mapping principle is nearly perfect (Navon & Shimron, 1984;
Share & Levin, 1999; Shimron, 1993).8 Possibly because simple one-to-one letter–
sound relationships have such far-reaching utility, simple nonlexical correspondences suffice to decode nearly any pointed letter string, whether high frequency
or low frequency and whether word or pseudoword. In contrast, deeper orthographies oblige the developing reader to look beyond low-level phonology and consider
higher order regularities that are often word specific or ‘‘lexicalized’’ (Share, 1995).
Indeed, many of EnglishÕs oldest and most common words (e.g., have, was, to, of,
come, would) are so idiosyncratic that word-specific orthographically based memorization seems to be the only reasonable option.
The notion that readers of deeper orthographies must pay greater attention to
word-specific visual–orthographic information has been formalized in Katz and
FrostÕs (1992) orthographic depth hypothesis. This theory maintains that ‘‘shallow
orthographies are more easily able to support a word recognition process that
involves the languageÕs phonology. ... Deep orthographies encourage a reader to process printed words by referring to their morphology via the printed wordÕs visual–orthographic structure’’ (p. 71). Extending this notion to early reading acquisition,
Seymour et al. (2003) argued that learning to read in a shallow orthography may
be based primarily on a single alphabetic/phonological process, whereas a deep orthography requires both phonological and visual–orthographic (‘‘logographic’’ in
SeymourÕs terminology) processes. Consistent with this view, Seymour and colleagues found significantly greater lexicality effects (word reading superior to
pseudoword reading) among novice readers of deeper orthographies (e.g., Dutch,
Danish, English) compared with shallower orthographies (e.g., German, Italian,
Greek). A growing number of cross-linguistic studies now demonstrate that children
learning to read English rely to a greater extent on so-called ‘‘large’’ orthographic
units, such as multiletter word bodies and whole-word strategies, than do readers
of more regular orthographies (Goswami, Ziegler, Dalton, & Schneider, 2001,
2003; Landerl, 2003; Landerl, Wimmer, & Frith, 1997; Wang & Geva, 2003; Ziegler,
Perry, Ma-Wyatt, Ladner, & Schulte-Korne, 2003).
If beginning readers of deeper orthographies, such as English and Dutch, are indeed more reliant on word-specific orthographic information in printed word learning, the relative insensitivity to orthographic information observed among Grade 1
The only exceptions are two diacritical marks. The patax (ganuv) appearing under a word-final
CHET (as in tapuax [apple]) is pronounced before, rather than after (as is conventional), the CHET. The
second exception, a vowel diacritic called kamatz katan, occurs when the kamatz (normally pronounced /a/)
is combined with the schwa to produce the sound /o/ in a limited number of high-frequency words. Neither
of these exceptions accounts for more than a few dozen words in Hebrew.
D.L. Share / Journal of Experimental Child Psychology 87 (2004) 267–298
readers in pointed Hebrew could be interpreted as exclusive reliance on simple letter–
sound translation for reading any and all classes of printed words.9 Comparative
studies are needed to evaluate this hypothesis.
Returning to the role of phonological recoding in the acquisition of word-specific
orthographic representations, it is clear that in HebrewÕs highly regular script at
least, decoding accuracy per se is not sufficient to ensure orthographic learning. Absolute levels of decoding accuracy were actually greater among the very group
(Grade 1) showing the poorest orthographic learning. Furthermore, it seems safe
to assume that the decoding proficiency of the Hebrew-speaking Grade 1 children
surpassed the levels for the English and Dutch children in the Reitsma (1983b)
and Ehri and Saltmarsh (1995) studies. But rather than asking whether children
can successfully decode novel orthographic forms (not nearly as challenging a task
in Hebrew as in English), it may be more important to ask how they succeed in decoding them and, in particular, how rapidly and efficiently the decoding process is
executed. Slow, laborious, letter-by-letter decoding may leave little capacity for attending to multiletter and word-level graphemic detail (Bowers, 1989). A child might
not even be looking at the printed letters when attempting to blend the string of phonemes. Even in English, the evidence from a number of recent training studies with
severely disabled readers suggests that decoding accuracy alone is not sufficient to
ensure reliable long-term orthographic learning. These studies are relevant to the issue of orthographic learning and self-teaching because they examined the long-term
effects of remedial instruction in phonological skills (phonemic awareness and phonological recoding) not only on generalized decoding (word attack) skills but also on
real-word identification and, hence, more orthographically based word identification
(Foorman et al., 1997; Lovett et al., 2000; Olson, Wise, Ring, & Johnson, 1997; Torgesen et al., 2001; Torgesen, Wagner, & Rashotte, 1997).
The first generation of these carefully controlled evaluations of phonologically
based remedial instruction indicated that the decoding skills of even severely disabled
readers can be significantly improved, at least according to an accuracy criterion, but
reliable and enduring transfer to real-word identification did not occur (Foorman
et al., 1997; Olson et al., 1997; Torgesen et al., 1997). More recently, however, several
second-generation training studies (e.g., Lovett et al., 2000; Torgesen et al., 2001)
that have included more intensive training in phonological awareness and decoding
skills have succeeded in demonstrating sustainable and generalized gains in realword reading. This later work supports the notion of self-teaching among disabled
readers but suggests that treatment intensity may be a critical factor in developing
the automatized decoding skills that seem to be a prerequisite to reliable growth in
orthographically based reading in severely disabled readers (Olson et al., 1997).
These English-language training studies, together with the apparent dissociation between accurate decoding and orthographic learning among beginning
This line of reasoning predicts that in the case of regular orthographies with one-to-one letter–sound
relations but one-to-many phoneme-to-grapheme relations (e.g., Greek, Hebrew), spelling should also be
less strongly linked to reading than in the case of deeper orthographies because this depends heavily on
word-specific orthographic knowledge.
D.L. Share / Journal of Experimental Child Psychology 87 (2004) 267–298
readers of Hebrew, underscore the point raised earlier regarding the need to go
beyond readily available measures of decoding, such as accuracy and even vocalization onset latencies, and employ more sophisticated measures of the temporal
dynamics of decoding. Decoding a novel word is not merely a sequential letterby-letter process of retrieving phonemes one-by-one and then stringing these
together. Going beyond decoding accuracy and speed, EhriÕs (1978, 1992) amalgamation hypothesis, Bowers and WolfÕs (1993) timing hypothesis, and PerfettiÕs
(1992) discussion of representation redundancy all emphasize the fact that
printed words, and particularly multisyllabic words, are not merely chains of letters; rather, they form coherent hierarchically organized subgroupings of letters
that must be unitized into syllabic and morphemic units. Consider the implications for orthographic learning of a child who decodes the word bending as
‘‘ben-ding.’’ It is these groupings that are perceived as orthographically integrated whole-word units or whole morpheme units by skilled readers (Adams,
1990; Carlisle, 1995, 2000; Mann, 2000; Stanovich, 1992). The accurate but slow
and nonautomatic decoding of adult dyslexics (Bruck, 1990; Felton, Naylor, &
Wood, 1990) may be an expression of an inability to amalgamate decoded letters into cohesive units.
A variety of factors may influence the childÕs ability to integrate and amalgamate the sounded letters of a novel orthographic string into an integrated unit in a
way that promotes orthographic learning. Inadequate sensitivity to higher order
phonological and morphological structures in oneÕs spoken language may impair
the developing readerÕs ability to merge the individual phonemes of a novel letter
string into the larger units required for well-specified and well-integrated orthographic representations. As discussed previously, these considerations call for research to go beyond simple accuracy and vocalization onset times and to probe
the nature of online decoding. Little is known about how exactly sequences of letters coalesce in the minds of young readers as they decode. Systematic documentation of the online dynamics of decoding may help to illuminate some of the
puzzles of orthographic learning.
This research was supported by a grant from the Israel Science Foundation. The
author thanks Carmit Shalev and Limor Golan for their invaluable assistance in collecting the data in these experiments.
Appendix A. Sample Grade 1 text with embedded pseudoword target (‘‘Takunia’’)
The hottest town
In Australia is the hottest town in the world. This town is called Takunia and itÕs
right in the middle of the desert. In Takunia, the temperature can reach 60 °C. ItÕs so
hot that even the flies drop dead. You can even fry an egg on the roof of your car.
D.L. Share / Journal of Experimental Child Psychology 87 (2004) 267–298
The people in Takunia drink lots of beer. ItÕs very strong beer. If youÕre not used
to drinking beer youÕd better watch out!
Would you like to live in Takunia? (51 Hebrew words)
Appendix B. Sample Grade 1 text with embedded real-word target (‘‘bat’’)
A strange animal
One day a bat was sitting in a tree, beside a birdÕs nest. The bird got a fright and
chirped, ‘‘Go away you big bird!’’ ‘‘IÕm not a bird, IÕm a mouse,’’ said the bat.
Then the bat jumped down and sat on the grass in the garden below. The cat saw
him, came closer and said, ‘‘IÕll catch you, mouse.’’ ‘‘IÕm not a mouse, IÕm a bird’’
said the bat, ‘‘Look at my wings.’’ Then he spread his wings and flew up and away.
What a strange animal, some of the time a bird, other times a mouse. (63 Hebrew
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