Skip to Content

Coronavirus: Get complete details about the university's response to COVID-19.

Arnold School of Public Health

Knowledge of Orthographic Learning Lab


In the Knowledge of Orthographic Learning Lab (KOOL2), we investigate factors that potentially affect the development of reading and writing. One research focus is on how children develop orthographic knowledge (i.e., knowledge regarding the systematic manner in which we represent spoken language in writing). Our most recent investigation focused on the orthographic knowledge students from first to sixth grade demonstrate. A second major focus now is on morphological awareness, which is the conscious knowledge of the smallest units of meaning in language. KOOL2 has a three year, $1.4 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences (IES) to develop a measure of morphological awareness. Specifically, Project MATRS (Morphological Awareness Test for Reading and Spelling) will develop a reliable and valid measure of morphological awareness for students from first to sixth grade. We are entering Year 2 (2018-2019 school year), which will include assessing 3,600 students from first to sixth grade. Overall, then, all KOOL2 studies are conducted to further inform developmental theory about written language and how best to assess and instruct written language abilities.

Department of Communication Science and Disorders

ASHA 2019 Papers/Handouts

Current Research Areas

MATRS team:
The MATRS team of trained research assistants will be responsible for the administration and data collection of the morphological awareness tasks to our study participants in grades 1-6.

Follow the link for additional information on the poster, The Development of Orthographic Knowledge: Exploring Results.

We are investigating the manner in which preschool and kindergarten children quickly acquire the mental graphemic representations (MGRs, or “pictures in their heads”) of new words that they are exposed to in incidental situations, such as storybook reading contexts.

We are examining how different linguistic knowledge factors (e.g., phonemic {sound} awareness, orthographic {letter and letter patterns} knowledge, morphological {knowledge of roots, prefixes, suffixes} awareness, MGRs, rapid naming) influence early reading and spelling skills.

In collaboration with  Dr. Julie Masterson at Missouri State University, we are studying new methods of assessing developmental changes in spelling ability that take into account the linguistic knowledge children apply to their spellings.


Kenn Apel

Kenn Apel, PhD, CCC-­SLP

Professor & ChairDept. Communication Sciences & DisordersArnold School of Public HealthUniversity of South CarolinaColumbia, SC 29208 Ph.D. University of MemphisMA and BA, San Diego State University Kenn Apel, PhD, CCC-SLP, conducts research in the areas of spoken and written language and working with children, adolescents, and adults who have language-based learning deficits. Dr. Apel’s research focuses on the underlying linguistic components that support the development of word-level reading and spelling. One particular aspect of his research focuses on the nature and number of tasks needed to assess elementary school children’s morphological awareness abilities. Dr. Apel is a Fellow of the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association and a recipient of that Association’s Honors Award.

Victoria Henbest

Victoria Henbest

Victoria Henbest, M.S. CCC-SLP, is an ASHA certified Speech-Language Pathologist. Currently, she is a doctoral student assisting with research being conducted in the KOOL2 lab. She earned a B.S.E. in Communication Sciences and Disorders from the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville in 2007. She received her M.S. in Communication Sciences and Disorders from Missouri State University in Springfield, Missouri in July of 2009. Over the past 5 years, Victoria worked as a Speech-Language Pathologist at the Republic Early Childhood Center in Republic, Missouri. Victoria grew up in Fayetteville, Arkansas and is an avid hog fan! After receiving her PhD, Victoria plans to enter academia as a researcher/scholar.

Alexis Mitchell

Alexis Mitchell, MATRS Project Coordinator  

Alexis Mitchell, M.S., CCC-SLP, is an ASHA certified Speech-Language Pathologist. She is working as the MATRS Research Project Coordinator in the KOOL2 lab. She attended Eastern Illinois University, earning both her B.S. and M.S. in Communication Disorders and Sciences. Her Master's Thesis was on the topic of collaboration between classroom teachers and school SLPs and the resulting impact on student vocabulary acquisition. Since that time, she has worked as an SLP in public schools in Illinois, North Carolina and Massachusetts. Her work has spanned early childhood through middle school aged students, with a particular interest in the language and literacy connection.

June Maranville

June Maranville, Project Coordinator Emeritus

June Maranville, MSP, CCC-SLP received her master’s degree from our department (Communication Sciences and Disorders – COMD). She was instrumental in helping to set up and manage Year 1 of MATRS.  


MATRS Research Assistants


Henbest, V.S., & Apel, K. (in press). Orthographic fast-mapping across time in five- and six- year- old children. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research.

Hennessy, N, & Apel, K. (2017). Morphological awareness: How the pieces add up. Perspectives on Language and Literacy, 43, 7-9.

Apel, K. (2017). Morphological awareness development and assessment: What do we know.  Perspectives on Language and Literacy, 43, 11-16.

Henbest, V.S., & Apel, K. (2017). Effective word reading instruction: What does the evidence tell us? Communication Disorders Quarterly, 1-9.  

Apel, K., & Henbest, V.S. (2016). Affix meaning knowledge in first through third grade students.  Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools, 47, 148-156. doi:10.1044/2016_LSHSS-15-0050

Apel, K., & Masterson, J.J. (2015). Comparing the spelling and reading abilities of students with cochlear implants and students with typical hearing. Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education, 20, 125-135. doi: 10.1093/deafed/env002

Brimo, D., Apel, K., & Fountain, T. (2015). Examining the contributions of syntactic awareness and syntactic knowledge to reading comprehension. Journal of Research in Reading, 40, 1, 57-74. DOI:10.1111/1467-9817.12050

Hall-Mills, S., & Apel, K. (2015). Linguistic feature development across grades and genre in elementary writing. Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools, 46, 242-255.

McLeod, A., N. & Apel, K. (2015). Morphological awareness intervention: Study of a child with a history of speech and language impairment. Communication Disorders Quarterly, 36 (4), 208-218. doi: 10.1177/1525740114560371

Wilson-Fowler, E.B., & Apel, K. (2015). Influence of morphological awareness on college students' literacy skills: A path analytic approach. Journal of Literacy Research, 47, 405-432. doi: 10.1177/1086296X15619730

Apel, K. (2014). A comprehensive definition of morphological awareness: Implications for assessment. Topics in Language Disorders, 34, 197-209. doi: 10.1097/TLD.0000000000000019

Apel, K. (2014). Clinical scientists improving clinical practices: In thoughts and actions. Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools, 45, 104-109. DOI: 10.1044/2014_LSHSS-14-0003.

Apel, K., & Diehm, E. (2014). Morphological awareness intervention with kindergarteners and first and second grade students from low SES homes: A small efficacy study. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 47, 65-75. DOI: 10.1177/0022219413509964

Apel, K., & Werfel, K. (2014). Using morphological awareness instruction to improve written language skills. Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools, 45, 251-260. doi:10.1044/2014_LSHSS-14-0039

Connor, C.M., Phillips, B.M., Kaschak, M., Apel, K., Kim, Y-S., Al Otaiba, S., Crowe, E.C., Thomas-Tate, S., Johnson, L.C., & Lonigan, C.J. (2014). Comprehension tools for teachers: Reading for understanding from pre-kindergarten through fourth grade. Educational Psychology Review, 26, 379-401. DOI 10.1007/s10648-014-9267-1

Horton,  R., & Apel, K. (2014). Examining the use of spoken dialect indices with African-American children in the southern United States. American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology, 23, 448-460. doi:10.1044/2014_AJSLP-13-0028

Apel, K., Brimo, D., Diehm, E., & Apel, L. (2013). Morphological awareness intervention with kindergarteners and first and second grade students from low SES homes: A feasibility study. Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools, 44, 161-173. DOI: 10.1044/0161-1461(2012/12-0042)

Apel, K., Brimo, D., Wilson-Fowler, E.B., Vortius, C., & Radach, R. (2013). Children develop initial orthographic knowledge during storybook reading. Scientific Studies of Reading, 17, 286-302. DOI: 1080/10888438.2012.692742

Apel, K., Diehm, E., & Apel, L. (2013). Using multiple measures of morphological awareness to assess its relation to reading. Topics in Language Disorders, 33, 42-56. Doi: 10.1097/TLD.Ob013e318280f57b

Burkard, R.F., Apel, K., Jette, D.U., Lewis, N.P., Moore., R.E., Page, J.L., & Nunez, L.M. (2013). Final report: Ad hoc committee on interprofessional development.

Hall-Mills, S., & Apel, K. (2013). Narrative and expository writing of adolescents with language-learning disabilities: A pilot study. Communication Disorders Quarterly, 34, 135-143. Doi: 10.1177/1525740112465001

Kim, Y-S., Apel, K., & AlOtaiba, S. (2013). The relation of linguistic awareness and vocabulary to word reading and spelling for first grade students participating in Response to Intervention. Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools, 44, 337-347. DOI: 10.1044/0161-1461(2013/12-0013)

Masterson, J.J., & Apel, K. (2013). Monitoring progress in spelling improvement. Perspectives on Language Learning and Education, 20, 144-152. DOI: 10.1044/lle20.4.144

Apel, K., Thomas-Tate, S., Wilson-Fowler, E.B., & Brimo, D. (2012). Acquisition of initial mental graphemic representations by children at risk for literacy development. Applied Psycholinguistics, 33, 2, 365-391.  

Apel, K., Wilson-Fowler, E.B., Brimo, D., & Perrin, N.A. (2012). Metalinguistic contributions to reading and spelling in second and third grade students. Reading and Writing, 25, 1283-1305.

Apel, K. (2011). Science is an attitude: A response to Kamhi. Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools, 42, 65-68.

Apel, K.  (2011). What is orthographic knowledge? Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools, 42, 592-603.

Apel, K. & Apel, L. (2011). Identifying intra-individual differences in students' written language abilities. Topics in Language Disorders, 31, 54-72.

Apel, K., & Lawrence, J. (2011). Contributions of morphological awareness skills to word-level reading and spelling in first-grade children with and without speech sound disorder. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, 54, 1312-1327.

Hall-Mills, S., & Apel, K. (2011). Differential effects of letter name spelling and text representation on early reading ability. Contemporary Issues in Communication Science and Disorders, 38, 97-108. DOI: 1092-5171/11/3802-0097

Wolter, J.A, Self, T., & Apel, K. (2011). Initial mental graphemic representation acquisition and later literacy achievement in children with language impairment: A longitudinal study. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 44, 543-555.

Apel, K. (2010). Kindergarten children’s initial spoken and written word learning in a storybook context. Scientific Studies in Reading, 14, 5, 440-463.

Masterson, J.J., & Apel, K. (2010). The Spelling Sensitivity Score: Noting developmental changes in spelling knowledge. Assessment for Effective Intervention, 36(1), 35-45.

Masterson, J., & Apel, K. (2010). Linking characteristics discovered in spelling assessment to intervention goals and methods. Learning Disabilities Quarterly, 33, 3, 185-198.

Puranik, C., & Apel, K. (2010). Effect of assessment task and letter writing ability on preschool children’s spelling performance. Assessment for Effective Intervention, 36(1), 45-56.

Wolter, J.A., & Apel, K. (2010). Initial acquisition of mental graphemic representations in children with language impairment. Journal of Speech-Language-Hearing Research. 53, 179-195.

Recent Books and Book Chapters

Johnson, A., Prelock, P., & Apel, K. (2016). IPE 101: Introduction to interprofessional education and practice for speech-language pathology. In A. Johnson (Ed),  Interprofessional Education  and Interprofessional Practice in Communication Sciences and Disorders: An Introduction and Case-Based Examples of Implementation in Education and Health Care Settings. Rockville, Maryland: American Speech-Language-Hearing Association.

Masterson, J. J., & Apel, K. (2013). Spelling assessment frameworks (pp. 584-601).  In A. Stone, E.R. Silliman, B. Ehren, & G. Wallach, (Eds.), Handbook of Language and Literacy: Development and Disorders, 2nd Edition. New York: Guilford Press.

Apel, K., Wolter, J.A., & Masterson, J.J. (2012). Mental graphemic representations. In N.M. Seel (Ed.), Encyclopedia of the Sciences of Learning (Vol. 5, pp. 2185-2186). New York: Springer.

Apel, K., & Masterson, J. J. (2012). Beyond baby talk: From speaking to spelling: A guide to language and literacy development for parents and caregivers. New York, NY: Three Rivers Press.

Apel, K., Masterson, J.J., & Brimo, D. (2012). Spelling assessment and intervention: A multiple linguistic approach to improving literacy outcomes. In A.G. Kamhi & H.W. Catts (Eds). Language and reading disabilities (3rd ed.). (pp. 226 - 243). Boston, MA: Pearson.

Apel, K., Masterson, J.J., & Wilson-Fowler, E.B. (2011). Developing word-level literacy skills in children with and without typical communication skills. In S. Ellis, E. McCartney, & J. Bourne (Eds.), Insight and impact: Applied linguistics and the primary school. (pp. 229-241). London, UK: Cambridge University Press.


Student Opportunities

KOOL2 offers you an excellent opportunity to learn how to develop a research question, practice critiquing scholarly works, obtain permission to conduct the study (IRB application), consider and prepare for all factors associated with the study, recruit participants, run the study, analyze the data, and write related presentation proposals and manuscripts. Doctoral students are mentoring through the research program and also learn how to mentor other students. Initially, doctoral students work on the current lines of research (See front page); as they progress, they have the option of bringing in thei own ideas for research and, in many cases, implementing those ideas.

If you are seeking a doctoral program to obtain your PhD and enter into a research/academic career, this may be the place for you! Don’t hesitate to contact Dr. Kenn Apel ( for more information on the research being conducted out of this lab and the doctoral program in the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders at the University of South Carolina.

KOOL2 is a great place to complete your required research experience! Graduate students who are completing either a thesis or research requirement or undergraduate honors students completing an undergraduate honors thesis can work directly with Dr. Apel and his doctoral students on exciting investigations related to literacy development and disorders.

Do you like the idea of exploring how children acquire the ability to read and write or why children, adolescents, and adults struggle with these skills? Not quite sure, but it sounds like it could be interesting? Be KOOL2 and try a semester working in the KOOL2 and see what you think! It hooked the people working in the lab currently; it just might hook you, too! A few points of information if you believe you are interested:

  • You can be any class standing (freshman through senior).

  • We generally encourage students to have a GPA of 3 or above.

  • We prefer students work in KOOL2 for at least 1 year; however, we are open to 1 semester options.

  • Lab work may include any one or more of the following opportunities: Developing stimuli, assisting in data collection/running experiments, scoring tests, entering data into statistical analysis spreadsheets, making copies, help with editing work

  • For course-for-credit options, you must sign up for at least 2 credits which equals 6 hours of lab work per week. To fulfill these hours, you must have a few time slots where you are available for at least an hour and half.

  • If it is difficult to meet these options, we can always go the volunteer route!

Please email Dr. Apel at, if you have any further questions about the course-for-credit or volunteer options.


Useful Links

American Speech-Language-Hearing Association
Society for the Scientific Study of Reading

Challenge the conventional. Create the exceptional. No Limits.