Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



Program Name/Specialization

Developmental Psychology


Faculty of Science

First Advisor

Dr. Alexandra Gottardo

Advisor Role



Learning sight words is a process that involves forming connections between letters and their sounds in order to connect spellings of words with their pronunciations as well as their meanings. During the development of sight word reading, children will sound out (phonologically recode) words that they do not yet know by sight (Share, 1995). Because English lacks transparency, sounding out according to grapheme-phoneme correspondences often only results in an approximation to the target word. The process by which a child must match a word they have recoded phonologically with a word that exists in their vocabulary has been referred to as set for variability. Recently, two studies have examined the role that set for variability plays in the development of children’s reading abilities. Tunmer and Chapman (2012) found using a novel task involving recognizing words from slightly mispronounced words that phonemic awareness and vocabulary made independent contributions to the variance in performance on their task. Using a similar task, Elbro, de Jong, Houter, and Nielsen (2012) found set for variability performance to make a contribution to word recognition skills for both regular and irregular words despite using a more regular orthography (Dutch). Together, the findings suggest that set for variability is a universal process involved in learning to read.

The current study seeks to gain a better understanding of the role that set for variability plays in the development of sight word reading. By combining quantitative data from traditional measures of reading skills with qualitative data from recording weekly reading sessions we expect to be able to better understand the way in which a child’s set for variability develops and the role it plays in the development of reading words by sight. We compare emergent readers in different phases of their sight word reading development in their ability to identify the target words in a mispronunciation task. Participants’ abilities in a number of reading measures are also analyzed in relation to the errors made on weekly reading sessions that were audio recorded and later phonetically transcribed in order to identify how set for variability skills develop in relation to some of the better-understood aspects of reading development. Implications for future set for variability research and educational impacts are discussed.

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