Mise à jour le 02 sept. 2022
Publié le 31 août 2022 Mis à jour le 2 septembre 2022

Financement ANR
2021 - 2025
Porté par Stéphanie Massol

Learning to read lasts over several years to attain a certain level of expertise to process words through a fast, automatic and parallel processing of their letters. Whereas studies showed a visual specialization for print emerging shortly after the start of learning to read, there is essential information still missing on key milestones for orthographic processing development. Orthographic processing refers to letter identity coding and letter position coding. The development of orthographic processing is a crucial aspect for efficient reading, beyond phonological knowledge or intelligence. This timely project aims to fulfill the gaps regarding foundational stages of orthographic processing during the first years of learning to read. More specifically, the specific aims of the project are threefold.

First, we will investigate when and how parallel letter processing emerges and develops. Beginning readers start reading by using a slow letter-by-letter strategy and, due to practice, there is a shift to a fast access to orthographic and lexical-semantic representations, partly through the development of parallel letter processing. Therefore, how parallel letter processing emerges from practice? The project will address this issue and the results should reveal that this change of reading strategy occurs at the earliest stages of learning to read.

Second, we will investigate the development of letter-specific position coding. Efficient reading requires the association of different letter identities with different positions in the written word. Hence, is this mechanism a consequence of orthographic coding? When and how does it develop? By using the same-different matching task, we will provide crucial evidence in favor of a specific position coding for letter-in-string as a consequence of the development of the reading system, and that this mechanism develops once a certain amount of reading experience is attained.

Third, the project will examine the intertwining between perceptual and lexical-semantic information processing. With increased reading experience, children progressively become aware of sub-lexical and lexical properties of letter strings. Thus, how do readers build perceptual and lexical-semantic functional intertwin? We will investigate the perceptual tuning to letter co-occurrence probabilities, and the emergence of the use of lexical information in order to disambiguate perceptual signals. The results should reveal differential sensitivity to letter strings as a function of familiarity of letter combinations and that a certain automatization of reading is required to lexical influences onto orthographic processing.

To reach the scientific objectives, this project will assess reading skills in an innovative way at both behavioral and neurophysiological levels with the use of a longitudinal protocol with large samples of children. Children will be tested at the end of kindergarten and the development of their reading skills will be assessed every three months within a series of behavioral experiments, until the end of Grade 3. Furthermore, to investigate the neural development of orthographic processing, this project will also combine behavioral measures with EEG recordings in another group of children within the same range of ages, tested every 6 months.

Such longitudinal studies are important for revealing stable developmental trends, while getting insights into reading profiles depending on both spelling and reading levels. Therefore, the project will provide preliminary insights on specific orthographic processing markers that give rise to differential reading outcomes at different developmental points.

This project is then fully in adequation with questions that are currently addressed in the field of learning to read and offers unique possibilities for providing a complete picture of the time-course of the development of orthographic processing in the most critical early period.