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Literacy is everywhere and needed to be successful in a global society. The concerns of literacy rates and necessary skills for the 21st century were addressed in the Common Core Standards in English Language Arts recently adopted by Pennsylvania in July 2010. Research suggests that vocabulary development can be compared with overall reading success. This reading success lends itself to competent, successful, literate adults. Vocabulary development is an interrelated part of the five elements of reading as stated by the Report of the National Reading Panel (2000). The NRP goes on to describe the five components in order to be strong readers. First, phonemic awareness is the ability to distinguish between the sounds of spoken words. Secondly, phonics is the relationship between the spoken sounds and written letters. Next, fluency is the capacity to read in an accurate and quick manner. Fourth, vocabulary includes the word knowledge students need to communicate effectively. Lastly, comprehension is the task of gaining meaning and to understand what was read. This is where it can be stated, based on research, that vocabulary is directly related to language skills and better comprehension of words in texts (Beck, McKeown, & Kucan, 2002). The knowledge of words enables readers to read fluently by using decoding strategies and forming meaning within the text.
In order to understand this relationship it is essential that we look closer at what research defines as vocabulary development and instruction. It can be separated into the four categories of listening, speaking, reading, and writing vocabulary of the children (NRP, 2000). It is believed that children's receptive language vocabulary is greater that the expressive counterpart. Children must then master connecting their thoughts with print. Prior knowledge and experiences are used for strengthening these processes. Research concludes that without the knowledge of vocabulary student will have difficulty comprehending the information text has to offer. The concern is very apparent when readers attempt to use background knowledge to understand information from context area text like mathematics and science related topics. It is hard to make a meaningful connection with such abstract thoughts from these subject areas typically not part of everyday experiences. The vocabulary in this type of text is unknown and not easily connected to other known words without guidance.
Review of the Literature
Research has stressed the importance of vocabulary in relationship to fluency and comprehension. When a reader knows and identifies more words the reading of a passage is more fluent. Again, the more words a reader can identify and understand actual word meanings relates to the amount of information is comprehended from the passage read. The review of literature concludes that children learn vocabulary by hearing and seeing words used in a variety of context. The indirect learning experience of vocabulary occurs with listening to stories be read and conversations with others. The direct learning experience is more specific and is strategically taught (Beck et al., 2002). Beck suggests that direct learning can be achieved through the use of classroom read-alouds. Several terms associated with this idea are text-talk and interactive read-aloud. The instruction is focused on the learning of target vocabulary words.
Before indirect and direct learning of vocabulary can be fully understood, it is necessary to become familiar with the different levels of knowing words. This concept of children knowing words at different levels was first introduced by Dale in 1965 and refined by Beck in 2002. The literature suggests that at the lowest level a child has no knowledge of a word. At the second level a child has a very limited sense of the word. Next, the child knows the word within context only. He is unable to understand the meaning of the word when applied in a different context. The idea of a student not able to recall a word quickly, but knows it when utilized brings us to the fourth level. This ultimate level of knowing a word relies on the aspect of how the word relates to other words and understanding the meaning. Readers use this vocabulary knowledge to strategically figure out unknown words within the passages. This strategy encompasses two processes as described by reading research. The first strategy is the method of recognizing a word when it is quickly viewed and not attaching any meaning to it. It is understood that these words are identified by patterns of shape and spelling. These sight words become part of a reader's visual vocabulary. The method of phonics enables this process to be more effective. Again, vocabulary is intertwined with another part of a reading component. As Bear, Templeton, Invernizzi, & Johnston (2004) describe the continuum of spelling development as beginning with alphabetic principles, then the features or patterns of words, and ending with meanings of words. Thus, it can be concluded that orthographic knowledge of words is part of knowing a word and making it a portion of a reader's vocabulary.
The knowledge of words and their meanings for instruction is described within three levels of difficulty. As a result of the summary of the literature according to Beck et al., (2002), they are sorted according to tiers.
"Tier One consists of the most basic words-clock, baby, happy-rarely requiring instruction in school. Tier Three includes words whose frequency of use is quite low, often being limited to specific domains-isotope, lathe, peninsula-and probably best learned when needed in content area. Tier Two words are high-frequency words for mature language users--coincidence, absurd, industrious-and thus instruction these words can add productively to an individual's language ability." (p. 15-16)
This information enables the teacher to identify which words and tier level will be the focus of instruction. By keeping in mind the goal of independence for the learner, the Gradual Release Model for reading instruction is utilized (Pearson and Gallagher, 1983). This model incorporates the ideal of releasing the responsibility from the teacher, to shared responsibility of teacher and student, then the student being the responsible party upon completion of instruction. This is not a stagnant mode of instruction as students move back and forth with this model. Literature concludes that shared reading lends itself to demonstration and modeling skills or strategies for vocabulary instruction. Guided practice should be used to guide the vocabulary development of students with shared responsibility. Independent reading should be used for the application of vocabulary development. Pearson and Gallagher (1985) utilized the concept of scaffolding learning by identifying the zone of proximal development which was developed by Vgotsky. This was the foundation for their Gradual Release Model for reading instruction. The idea described by L. Vgotsky (1962) suggests supporting skill development at the point where learning is instruction. This can be summarized as the point where new skills or concepts can be learned by building upon prior skills or knowledge of a learner. The teacher facilitates or guides the instruction to support the acquisition of the target skill or concept. The new skill or concept is added to the prior knowledge base by organizing the information obtained and connecting it to a related schema. Richard Anderson (1977) elaborated upon Piaget's schema theory and applied it to education. The end result was for students to add to their vocabulary knowledge by building upon prior knowledge at all age levels. The acquisition of vocabulary starts early in the form of oral language and advances to reading and writing. As children are listening to sounds around them before even speech occurs, they are building their listening vocabulary. Each time the same sound pattern is heard, the child will organize this information by connecting it to prior sounds and experiences. The same effect occurs with reading and writing vocabulary. Background knowledge and experiences will enable the student to organize the information about concepts learned, which include vocabulary development. Many studies have come to the conclusion that reading success is directly related to vocabulary knowledge and reading comprehension. These same studies concluded that socioeconomic status plays a major role in beginning vocabulary development. The number of words known by children from disadvantaged backgrounds and middle- class backgrounds was 1,800 compared to 2,700 words known. According to B.Hart and T. Risly (1995) this vocabulary gap, along with other reading skills, will continue to widen. Student's vocabulary increases at a rate of approximately 3,000 words per year with the English language having over 2 million words. The acquisition of vocabulary is another aspect of learning that is on-going and never ending. This does not mean that students should learn all vocabulary associated with the English language, it is suggested that vocabulary instruction should occur at all grade levels.
The review of literature suggests various types of programs, strategies, and materials for vocabulary development. Text-talk and the Interactive Read-Aloud was the most utilized by teachers and scientifically research based method. Both these programs utilize text as a means for vocabulary instruction and comprehension. Target vocabulary words and focused conversations about the text guide the instruction. Often the phrase "pair and share" is heard to prompt students to share information about the text with a peer sitting next to them. The teacher facilitates the focus of the paired conversation and the opportunity to discuss concepts that may be confusing to students. Vocabulary words from Tier Two are part of both these process and applied in multiple contexts and repeated readings. Research suggests that it is necessary for students to be exposed to vocabulary in wide readings and repetition. Vocabulary instruction should occur throughout the Balanced Literacy Framework day (NRP, 2000). This provides the opportunity of whole group, small group, and individual instruction time. The focus of instruction may be different within the aspects of this framework. The Gradual Release Model is illustrated with the modeling during Word Study and Read Alouds. Shared Reading and Small Group Instruction, which are mini-lessons, are part of the guided practice. Application of the learned concept is the focus of Independent Reading. Language and writing development opportunities are integral pieces of this framework also. The research supports the use of vocabulary words from Tier Three for instruction when it becomes necessary for comprehending the text passage.
The complex aspects of the English language is best clarified by a variety of active, meaningful, engaging, and motivational ways according to the research. This also supports our diverse group of learners. It is important for second language learners to have these opportunities also. By including wide readings as part of the curriculum, all learners will benefit.
Research suggests that assessing vocabulary knowledge in a variety of ways covering depths and breadth (Beck et el, 2002). The Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test is the most common for younger children. The child matches a picture to the word pronounced by the examiner or teacher. The Durrell Analysis of Reading Difficulty assesses the listening vocabulary of a student. The word pronounced is sorted into categories by the student. The Dynamic Indicator of Basic Early Literacy Skills (DIBELS) provides assessment materials and guidance for all five elements of reading. The vocabulary portion assesses words used within context. Informal Reading Inventories (IRIs) and running records enable to appropriate matching of text readability and small-group lessons. Graphic organizers and word sorts provide authentic assessment information within the context of classroom study. The assessment of students guides the instructional process for teachers. Teacher constructed tests and anecdotal records are included as part of a student's assessment of vocabulary development. The research concludes that it is important to adapt instruction or review assessment procedures according to the results of the tests.
The acquisition of vocabulary is necessary to become a fluent reader with the ability to comprehend text. Also, the knowledge of words is enhanced by comprehending a wide reading of texts and passages. According to M. McKeown (1985), an unknown word should be developed by the process of deriving word meaning. Children's listening vocabulary is greater than the expressive vocabulary. Children's reading vocabulary is greater than their writing counterpart. Using known vocabulary is critical when communicating verbally and in the printed format. The importance of vocabulary development and literacy skills before formal reading instruction begins is a factor for a student's reading comprehension proficiency. Many studies of research have concluded that students with a broader oral vocabulary repertoire are more likely to understand the meaning of text passages and read with better fluency.
The review of literature suggests that vocabulary instruction is necessary for proficiency in reading. This instruction must be engaging, meaningful, and varied. The Gradual Release Model provides a mode of acquiring independent reading by scaffolding learning. Teacher modeling, guided support by teacher, and independent opportunities are integral in word study and word meaning. Vocabulary knowledge is an interrelated feature with reading fluency and comprehension. Assessment information provides the mode of appropriate instruction and effectiveness for teacher. Vocabulary involves knowing a word by its connotative meaning, the spelling pattern, related meanings, and its parts. Proficiency in reading is a multi-faceted process. The knowledge of words or vocabulary adds to the complexity of this necessary skill for all of our learners.