Developing Usable Vocabulary Knowledge William Nagy January 2008
Getting started:Some assumptions • Vocabulary knowledge is extremely important • Promoting vocabulary growth is a demanding task • Our goal is developing usable vocabulary knowledge
Vocabulary is important • A large vocabulary is essential for academic success • Reading comprehension • Writing • Content area learning • Smaller vocabularies are associated with academic risk • ELLs • Students from low-income families
Promoting vocabulary growth is a demanding task • The number of words students need to learn is immense • Traditional vocabulary instruction can be ineffective and boring • Effective vocabulary instruction can be time- and labor-intensive
We need to help students develop usable vocabulary knowledge Not all vocabulary knowledge is ‘usable’: • Almost any kind of vocabulary instruction can improve students’ performance on vocabulary tests • But many commonly-used methods of vocabulary instruction do not reliably increase reading comprehension
We need to help students develop usable vocabulary knowledge Usable vocabulary knowledge • Includes competence in the academic register • Involves procedural as well as declarative knowledge - learning a word is like learning to use a tool • Is generative – it supports the learning of additional words
Developing usable vocabulary knowledge • A theme question for the day: How does it change your approach to vocabulary instruction to think of word knowledge as procedural / strategic knowledge rather than only as declarative knowledge? • See handout “Elements of Effective Strategy Instruction”
Overview of the day: Four sections • Learning to understand and use vocabulary-rich language • Learning words well enough to use them • Learning to cope with new words • Putting it all together, with special attention to diversity
Learning to understand and use vocabulary-rich language • Understanding the differences between conversational and academic language • Providing students with rich and varied oral and written language experiences
Number of rare words per thousand words of text • Conversation (college educated) 17 • Prime-time television shows 23 • Preschool books • Children’s books • Comic books • Adult books • Popular magazines • Newspapers
Number of rare words per thousand words of text • Conversation (college educated) 17 • Prime-time television shows 23 • Preschool books 16 • Children’s books 31 • Comic books 54 • Adult books 53 • Popular magazines 66 • Newspapers 68
Why is the Vocabulary of Conversation so Impoverished? • Different communicative purposes and demands (Explanation can be at odds with solidarity – “Do I have to explain it to you?”) • Processing demands on production and comprehension (It takes too much time to think of ‘just the right word’ while you’re talking)
It’s not just oral vs. written language • Some uses of written language (e.g., text messaging, informal emails) have communicative purposes more like those of conversation • Some uses of oral language (e.g., storytelling) have communicative purposes more like those of academic language
Contextualized oral language (4-Year-Old & Adult Playing with Legos) Child: This is me and that’s you. Adult: Okay Child: No, This is me and that’s you and that’s me. Adult: No, No. That’s me. Wait. That’s me? Child: Yeah. Adult: All right.
Less-Contextualized Oral Language(Same Participants) Adult: Where did you find out about Star Wars? Child: I dreamed that I was in Star Wars and I saw this strange pack of ooie and I saw mud. Adult: You saw a strange pack of ooie? Child: I saw a big pack of stinky, ooie garbage. He lives in there, in a stinking pack of garbage. Adult: Who does? Child: Jabba!
Providing students with rich and varied oral and written language experiences • Using and evoking richer oral language • Increasing students’ exposure to written language • Calling students’ attention to the differences between written and oral language
Using and evoking richer oral language What works • Wasik, B., Bond, M., & Hindman, A. (2006). The effects of a language and literacy intervention on Head Start children and teachers. Journal of Educational Psychology, 98(1), 63-74. • Jordan, G., Snow, C., & Porche, M. (2000). Project EASE: The effect of a family literacy product on kindergarten students’ early literacy skills. Reading Research Quarterly,35(4), 524-546.
Using and evoking richer oral language Why a preschool intervention is relevant for older students 1) Well-documented principles of language development are unlikely to change completely as children get older 2) Patterns of teacher language use recommended in the preschool intervention have also been suggested on other grounds for improving the quality of classroom discussion for older students
Using and evoking richer oral language • Use more descriptive language when speaking • Elaborate on student language • Ask open-ended questions
Using More Descriptive Language When Speaking “Teachers were trained to expand their use of vocabulary and to provide elaborate explanations and descriptions of common activities and events. A simple comment of ‘good job’ was encouraged to become ‘I like the way you use the color blue to draw the sky.’ Similarly, ‘the glue is on the table’ becomes ‘The glue is on the round table next to the scissors.’” (Wasik et al., 2006, p. 67)
Elaborating on Student Language “The teacher acknowledged what the child said and tried to extend the child’s language about the concept about which the child was talking…. For example, if a child said, ‘I made a house,’ the teacher would respond with ‘Yes, you built a house with the 10 blocks,’ repeating or recasting what the child said using a more detailed explanation and vocabulary words” (Wasik et al., 2006, p. 67).
Asking Open-Ended Questions • “‘Why’ questions are the essence of inquiry.... Aside from being the basis of at least one side of science and of logic, ‘why’ questions also develop children’s persuasion and argumentation abilities, and logical thinking” (Johnston, 2004, p. 37).
Asking Open-Ended Questions “Teachers were trained to use various questioning starters such as, ‘Tell me about it!’ ‘I wonder how…?’ ‘How did that happen?’ and “What if..?’ in their everyday conversations with children, thus encouraging the use of vocabulary words and facilitating children’s use of language” (Wasik et al., 2007, p. 67).
Increasing students’ exposure to written language • Increase the amount of time students spend reading text at the appropriate level • Read aloud to students • Discuss what you have read aloud
Calling students’ attention to the differences between written and oral language • Model appreciation for well-crafted phrases and sentences • Have students collect and share examples of well-crafted writing • “Write down a line you wish you had written” (Johnston, 2004, p. 16) • Post examples of well-crafted writing in the classroom • Use these examples as models for writing
Additional Resources • Beck, I., & McKeown, M. (2001). Text Talk: Capturing the benefits of read-aloud experiences for young children. The Reading Teacher,55(1), 10-20. • Beck, I., & McKeown, M. (2006). Improving Comprehension with Questioning the Author. New York: Scholastic. • Johnston, P. (2004). Choice Words: How Our Language Affects Children’s Learning. Portland, ME: Stenhouse. • van Kleeck, A., Stahl, S., & Bauer, E. (Eds.) (2003). On reading books to children. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.
Section Wrap-up See Questions on Discussion handout: Learning to understand and use vocabulary-rich language
Learning words well enough to use them • Why to teach words thoroughly • How to teach words thoroughly • Which words to teach thoroughly
Why to teach words thoroughly Learning words well enough to use them • To understand text containing that word • To use that word in writing • To answer vocabulary items on new contextualized tests • The need for fluency of word knowledge
Understanding Text Containing Instructed Words • Definition-based vocabulary instruction does not reliably increase comprehension of texts containing the instructed words (McKeown, Beck, Omanson, & Pople, 1985; Stahl & Fairbanks, 1986)
Using Words in Writing • Knowing the definition of a word does not provide students enough information to produce meaningful, well-formed sentences using that word (McKeown, 1993; Miller & Gildea, 1987; Scott & Nagy, 1997)
Answering vocabulary items on new contextualized tests “Vocabulary items will function both as a measure of passage comprehension and as a test of readers’ specific knowledge of the word’s meaning as intended by the passage author.” (National Assessment Governing Board, 2005, p. iv)
Contextualized vocabulary item The citizens consumed their supply of gravel through wanton development. a) ate or drank b) used up c) spent wastefully d) destroyed (Pearson, Hiebert, & Kamil, 2007, p. 287)
The need for fluency of word knowledge • Fluent reading requires efficiency in retrieving word meanings as well as efficiency in word recognition • Fluency in retrieving word meanings is associated with depth of vocabulary knowledge • ELLs are likely to have less depth as well as less breadth of word knowledge • L2 fluency promotes transfer of L1 knowledge to L2 reading (Proctor et al., 2006)
How to teach words thoroughly • Three traits of effective vocabulary instruction • Providing sufficient scaffolding
Three traits of effective vocabulary instruction For students to learn words well enough to use them, instruction must include: • Both definitional and contextual information (what it means, and how it is used) • Activities that require depth of processing (meaningful use) • Multiple encounters (Stahl, 1986; Stahl & Fairbanks, 1986; Beck, McKeown, & Kucan, 2002)
Providing sufficient scaffolding For students to learn words well enough to use them, instruction must include activities that: • Require students to actually use the words (i.e., understand or produce language that uses them) • Are sufficiently scaffolded that students who didn’t already know the words can be successful
Learning words well enough to use them • Activity that doesn’t involve using the word meaningfully: Matching words with their definitions • Activity which could be meaningful but which isn’t sufficiently scaffolded: Asking students to write a sentence for a word for which they have been given the definition
Learning words well enough to use them Activities that involve using the word meaningfully, and are sufficiently scaffolded: • Asking students to answer questions that require using their knowledge of the word’s definition (“What is something you might need to confine?”) • Asking students to complete a sentence stem (“The two explorers decided they were not compatible because….”)
Learning words well enough to use them More activities that involve meaningful use of instructed words • Asking questions that involve pairs of instructed words (“If you assist some new students, will they appreciate it?”) • Encouraging and rewarding reports of seeing, hearing, or using instructed words outside of the classroom
Learning words well enough to use them More activities that involve meaningful use of instructed words • Asking students to choose which of two scenarios better fits a word, and to defend their choice (“Which is a better example of a strategy – thinking about whether to do your homework before or after you go to the movies, or thinking about what it would be like to have lived 100 years ago?)
Possible limitations of intensive vocabulary instruction • Time- and labor-intensive • Teacher-directed • Focuses on content (meanings and uses of specific words) rather than on strategies • Recommendations for activities and word selection may be biased towards narratives • Extent of transfer to uninstructed words is not known
Whichwords to teach thoroughly Teachers must be strategic in choosing: • which words to teach • what level of instruction is appropriate for words that are taught
Levels of intensity in vocabulary instruction • Providing exposure to rich language • Explaining a word in passing • Explaining what a specific instance of a word contributes to a specific text • Teaching a word so that students can use it flexibly and effectively in a variety of contexts
Choosing words for instruction / choosing level of intensity of instruction • Frequency: Does this word occur often enough in written language to make it worth spending time on? • Productive control: Do I want my students to be able to use this word? • Distribution: Does this word occur in a variety of genres and subject areas? • Role in the lesson / curriculum: Is this word important for what we are learning about? • Role in the text: Do I need to know this word to understand the main point of the text?
Why frequency is an important criterion for word selection • There are many words which seem like high utility (“Tier 2”) words, but which in fact occur so rarely that they are unlikely to warrant intensive instruction • Examples of words that occur less than once in a million words of text: anthem, assert, bribe, conjecture, crumple, doze, fraud, inquire, lease, oblong, parody, pounce, pretense, sedate, synonymous
Limitations of frequency as a (sole) basis for word selection • Frequency lists usually give frequency for the word form, not for specific meanings • High frequency words are more likely to have multiple meanings • High frequency words are more likely to already be known by many students