PERCEPTUAL VERSUS SEMANTIC SET IN EARLY READING
LASSAR, ANNE GAIL
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The present study of early reading started with the view that different and new units of attention emerged sequentially in the course of learning to read. Within this context the present study examined the hypothesis that as reading progresses in first grade the word as a semantic unit comes to dominate the individual letters as units of attention.;The experiment included two tasks which were given to ninety-one first grade children. In each task the children were to indicate whether a given letter was in the display. A practice and screening task was first used to ensure that the children knew the letters to be used in the experiment. In the first of the two tasks three-letter combinations which were consistent with English word structure (consonant-vowel-consonant structure) were used. These trigrams were nonsense words and had no meaning. The second task presented real words which were read by the children to create a "word set" before the given letter was to be identified as having been present or absent in the given word. Response time as well as accuracy were recorded for each item.;Measures of reading achievement were also obtained. The word recognition portion of the Wide Range Achievement Test and the reading portion of the Metropolitan Achievement Test were used for this purpose.;The results indicated that average readers had more difficulty attending to the individual letters when they were part of a word as compared with when they were part of a string of letters (orthographically constructed non-word). This was not true of the better readers, who were able to attend equally well to individual letters regardless of context.;These results supported the hypothesis that in beginning reading words tend to dominate individual letters as units of attention when considering average readers but not for better readers.;The results permitted two possible interpretations. The first is that a developmental progression was illustrated. It can be said that average readers manifested a hierarchy of sets in which a "word set" was predominant and a "letter set" was secondary to the word set. The more advanced readers did not show such a hierarchy of sets and were able to adopt a perceptual or semantic set as necessary. This is consistent with the idea that there is a "learning to read" progression. Children may move through stages during which a semantic (word set) set comes to dominate a perceptual set (letter set) as was shown by average readers. This is followed by the development of the ability to respond to the semantic or perceptual set as required, as was shown by the better readers. This is consistent with the view that skilled readers use sets separately and harmoniously according to task demands. As the child becomes more proficient in reading he becomes better able to adapt to multiple task requirements as did the better readers in the present study.;The second possible interpretation is that no developmental sequence occurs. Rather, better readers are the most skillful in being able to use whatever set is required. Thus, they are unhampered by other potentially interfering sets such as a word set, as occurred with the average readers.