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GRASP - Effects of Grammatical Reflection on Spelling among multilingual pupils

Using grammatical reflection to get a grasp on syntactic orthographic markers

  • Research team: Constanze Weth (PI), Sonja Ugen
  • PhD researchers: Lisa Klasen, Katinka Mangelschots
  • External researchers: Michel Fayol (Université Clermont Auvergne), Reinold Funke (Heidelberg University of Education)
  • Funding: Luxembourg National Research Fund
  • Duration: 2019-2022


Although the Latin script focusses on phonological representation, many orthographic forms in French and German refer to syntactic, grammatical structures. Many of these syntactic markers are not represented in phonology. Therefore, learners must acquire knowledge about these silent syntactic structures in order to spell correctly. The overall aim of the current project GRASP is to investigate how training of syntactic manipulation and reflection enhances the spelling skills of grade 4 pupils in relation to orthographic syntactic markers that are not orally expressed, such as the capitalization of nouns in German and plural markers in French.

The GRASP project assumes that syntactic orthographic markers, such as capital spelling of nouns in German and plural spelling in French cannot be mastered without understanding how the grammatical information (such as gender or person) "agree" between varied words or parts of the sentence, in particular the structure of nominal phrases and subject-verb agreement. The project is doing an intervention study in order to test how instruction on grammatical reflection related to syntactic orthographic markers improves spelling of syntactic markers. The training is developed for German and for French. Although the syntactic markers and agreement structures in both languages differ, the concept of the training is similar, adapted for the specificities of both languages.

The first research question asks if a grammatical training in German (or French) improves orthographic syntactic markers in the respective language. To do so, the project carries out pre-, post and follow-up tests in German and French.

The second research question focusses on a training effect. As the training for both languages has a parallel design, the project assumes that training in German might have an effect on the spelling of French syntactic markers, and vice versa, training in French an effect on German.

The project consists of two separate but interrelated training, one for German and one for French, using a parallel experimental design. The intervention group of each study is the control group of the other. Effects of the training are tested in a pre-, post-, and follow-up design with a longitudinal perspective throughout the academic year 2019/20. Altogether 37 classes of Cycle 3.2 all over Luxembourg are cooperating with the researchers. We expect the first findings by the end of the year 2020.

The pedagogic aim of the project is to find new ways to help students overcome some of the most difficult spelling categories in German that persist during secondary school. The project assumes that learning the grammatical structures represented by these spelling patterns, help the learners to get a better grasp on spelling. We assume that a deeper understanding of the trained grammatical structure might also affect reading comprehension. A follow-up study will scrutinize this question.