Effective vocabulary teaching

A recent study in the Journal of Research on Educational Effectiveness looks at the effects of Rich Vocabulary (RVOC) teaching on primary pupils’ vocabulary and reading comprehension in a multi-cohort randomised trial.

Rich Vocabulary is an approach where children are exposed to frequent and varied encounters with specific vocabulary words incorporated into classroom teaching. The hope is that this carries over into increased reading comprehension.

The study took place over three years in fourth and fifth grade (Years 5 and 6) classrooms in the northwest US and Canada. A total of 1,232 pupils were assigned to treatment (n=627) or control (n=605) classes from 61 classrooms at 24 schools. This study used at least 12 exposures per word per week. Pupils were given vocabulary instruction 30 minutes per day for four days, with a 10-minute quiz on the fifth day using two novels, A Long Way from Chicago and Maniac Magee, over the course of 14 weeks each year. The pupils had seven weekly reading assignments per book, and teachers were provided with all necessary materials to teach related lessons (worksheets, overheads, etc).

Pupils were pretested in the autumn, and post-tested in the spring each year. Preliminary analysis showed that RVOC treatment pupils scored significantly lower at pretest than control students. Authors suggest this was due to the randomisation assignments, and that they controlled for this in their analyses. Results showed that on norm-referenced tests, the RVOC group scored better than controls in tests of targeted vocabulary, but did not improve general vocabulary knowledge or general reading comprehension.

Source: Efficacy of Rich Vocabulary Instruction in Fourth- and Fifth-Grade Classrooms (2015), Journal of Research on Educational Effectiveness, 8(3).

Teaching academic vocabulary knowledge

Children whose first language is not English have to cope with learning English and academic content in English at the same time. A new study has shown the benefit of specifically teaching academic vocabulary.

The randomised controlled trial (RCT) was carried out in 14 middle schools in California, where 50 teachers were assigned to treatment or control conditions. A total of 2,082 sixth-grade (Year 7) students participated, 71% of whom spoke another language (mostly Spanish) at home. They followed Academic Language Instructions for All Students (ALIAS), a 20-week programme teaching academic vocabulary – words that are not subject-specific but often appear in sixth-grade textbooks (such as expanse, integrated, generate, according to). The programme was supported with teaching materials and professional development.

Students improved their vocabulary knowledge, morphological awareness skills, and comprehension of expository texts that used the academic language that was taught. They also improved their performance on a standardised measure of written language skills (effect size=+0.19). The effects were generally larger for children whose home language was not English and for those who started the intervention with underdeveloped vocabulary knowledge.

Source: Effects of Academic Vocabulary Instruction for Linguistically Diverse Adolescents (2014), American Educational Research Journal 51(6)

What works for EAL pupils?

The US What Works Clearinghouse has released an updated practice guide on teaching academic content and literacy to pupils learning English as an additional language (EAL) in junior and middle school. It provides suggestions for teaching and supporting EAL learners as they acquire academic vocabulary, learn from increasingly complex informational texts, and engage in analytical writing activities. The recommendations, which are based on currently available research evidence and feedback from experts in the field, are as follows:

  • Teach a set of academic vocabulary words intensively across several days using a variety of instructional activities.
  • Integrate oral and written English language instruction into content-area teaching.
  • Provide regular, structured opportunities to develop written language skills.
  • Provide small-group instructional interventions to students struggling in areas of literacy and English language development.

For each recommendation, the guide provides examples of activities that can be used to support students as they build the language and literacy skills needed to be successful in school.

Source: Teaching Academic Content and Literacy to English Learners in Elementary and Middle School (2014), Institute of Education Sciences.

Mother’s reading level makes a difference

A new article published in the Early Childhood Education Journal shows that maternal reading level predicts both a child’s receptive vocabulary and reading proficiency prior to schooling, after maternal education is taken into account. The findings also controlled for ethnicity, number of children in the family, and marital and employment status.

The authors used a sample of 155 children (aged 3–5 years) and their mothers (aged 20–44 years) of low income and low educational background from Western Canada. Children and mothers were tested individually for their reading proficiency using standardised tests, and children’s receptive vocabulary proficiency also was tested. The mothers were also interviewed one-to-one for demographic information. All the families spoke English first and foremost, although some were bilingual.

The study concludes that both mothers’ measured reading levels and their reported educational levels were significant predictors of children’s reading proficiency, each over and above the other. However, in the case of children’s receptive vocabulary proficiency, they found that mothers’ reading levels were a significant predictor but that mothers’ educational level was not.

In the light of this, the authors recommend that early childhood educators may consider implementing programmes to support mothers in improving their reading, in order to raise their children’s language and literacy levels.

Source: Unique Contributions of Maternal Reading Proficiency to Predicting Children’s Preschool Receptive Vocabulary and Reading Proficiency (2014), Early Childhood Education Journal, online first January 2014.

Are low and middle income children ready for school?

We see a lot of research into the school readiness of the poorest children, but what about those from low to middle income (LMI) families? The Resolution Foundation has published a new report that uses data from the Millennium Cohort Study to explore this, and found that LMI children are five months behind their more affluent peers on vocabulary skills when they begin school and exhibit more behaviour problems.

A number of factors influence attainment for this group, including parental education, a powerful predictor of the school readiness of children in this group. The challenge is how to break this cycle, and research-based parenting programmes are one possibility.

Source: On your marks: Measuring the school readiness of children in low-to-middle income families (2011), Resolution Foundation

CPD to improve vocabulary teaching

The latest issue of Better: Evidence-based Education includes an article on using Teacher Study Groups to improve vocabulary teaching. This new approach to professional development for teaching vocabulary, uses year level team meetings as a forum for new learning and enhancing existing curricula to conform to evidence-based principles. This approach can lead to enhanced outcomes in vocabulary, and significant change in teaching practice.

Source: Improving vocabulary teaching through teacher study groups (2011), Better: Evidence-based Education, 4(1).