WWC review of this study

Effectiveness of visual imagery versus rule-based strategies in teaching spelling to learning disabled students.

Darch, C., & Simpson, R. G. (1990). Research in Rural Education, 7(1), 61-70. Retrieved from: https://eric.ed.gov/?id=EJ418893

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
    , grade

Reviewed: January 2014

At least one finding shows promising evidence of effectiveness
At least one statistically significant positive finding
Meets WWC standards without reservations
Writing achievement outcomes—Statistically significant positive effects found
Comparison Period Sample Intervention
Significant? Improvement

Spelling Test (author created)

Spelling Mastery vs. HBJ Spelling and Laidlaw Spelling

1-day post

Grade 4;
28 students




More Outcomes

Test of Written Spelling (TWS): Predictable Words subtest

Spelling Mastery vs. HBJ Spelling and Laidlaw Spelling

1-day post

Grade 4;
28 students





Test of Written Spelling (TWS): Unpredictable Words subtest

Spelling Mastery vs. HBJ Spelling and Laidlaw Spelling

1-day post

Grade 4;
28 students





Characteristics of study sample as reported by study author.

  • Female: 43%
    Male: 57%
  • Race

  • Rural
    • B
    • A
    • C
    • D
    • E
    • F
    • G
    • I
    • H
    • J
    • K
    • L
    • P
    • M
    • N
    • O
    • Q
    • R
    • S
    • V
    • U
    • T
    • W
    • X
    • Z
    • Y
    • a
    • h
    • i
    • b
    • d
    • e
    • f
    • c
    • g
    • j
    • k
    • l
    • m
    • n
    • o
    • p
    • q
    • r
    • s
    • t
    • u
    • x
    • w
    • y



The study was conducted in a university-based summer program in the rural southwestern United States.

Study sample

The sample for this study included 28 fourth-grade students with learning disabilities who had a history of low academic achievement. Twenty-one students were White, seven students were Black, and 16 were male. The mean age of the entire sample was 10 years 6 months. The mean full scale IQ for the entire sample was 92. The students were identified by their local districts as learning disabled based on both federal and state guidelines. The students were randomly assigned either to the Spelling Mastery or Visual Imagery interventions. The study does not specify the number of students in each condition, and the authors did not reply to a request for this information. Four teachers were randomly assigned to teach the interventions, two to each intervention. The authors did not report any attrition and did not respond to a request for this information.

Intervention Group

Students in the intervention group received instruction through lesson 40 of the Level C Spelling Mastery program (the full program has 137 lessons). The teacher followed scripted lessons included with the program to teach students how to recognize the meaning of the smallest word segment that has meaning (morphograph) and to identify these segments within words. Students then practiced spelling words composed of learned segments by identifying the segments and then spelling the whole words. Students were also taught spelling rules and practiced using the rules with relevant examples. Finally, teachers instructed on several spelling rules that enabled a spelling strategy to apply to many words, such as dropping the ‘e’ when adding ‘ing’ to the end of a word. Teachers provided Spelling Mastery instruction for 25–30 minutes per day for 25 days during a 6-week period.

Comparison Group

Students in the comparison group received Visual Imagery and were presented with the same practice words as the students in the Spelling Mastery group. When a word was presented, students were directed to look at the word and apply a four-step Visual Imagery model: • after covering the word, the teacher asked the students if they could see the image of the word in their minds; • students were directed to imagine the word displayed on a large outdoor screen; • students were asked to imagine each letter of the word pasted onto the screen; and • students were told to remember the word by visualizing themselves nailing the letters of the word onto the screen. Students were then asked to apply the Visual Imagery strategy to several other words without teacher assistance. This independent practice typically required 5–8 minutes. Teachers provided Visual Imagery instruction for 25–30 minutes per day for 25 days during a 6-week period.

Outcome descriptions

Three tests in the writing domain were administered after the intervention was completed. The measures included a spelling test developed by the study authors and the Test of Written Spelling (TWS) Predictable Words and Unpredictable Words subtests (the authors do not report a composite TWS score). Three unit tests were also administered but are not included in this report. For a more detailed description of these outcome measures, see Appendix B.

Support for implementation

The senior author met with each of the four study teachers twice for roughly one hour each time. During these training sessions, the correct instructional procedures for the appropriate spelling program were modeled. Through role-playing, the teachers practiced the instructional procedures and were critiqued by the senior author. All teachers were judged to have mastered their respective instructional strategies.


Your export should download shortly as a zip archive.

This download will include data files for study and findings review data and a data dictionary.

Connect With the WWC

back to top