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Vocabulary is critical to reading development

Posted Aug 26 2008 1:03pm
I have been asked my opinion about a difficult problem facing a learner in the US. Her tutor, Lynda, has done remarkable work in a short time, bringing up the girl's decoding skills. The problem seems to be language skills and vocabulary, now that decoding is in place. The girl repeated 2nd grade and Lynda is afraid her student won't pass the 3rd.



There is written test that students must take to pass the year, but this little girl's vocabulary and language skills are so weak she won't be able to cope with the demands of the test. Lynda feels she has an 8 month window to try to help this girl develop the language, grammar and vocabulary necessary to pass the test- never mind to function fully in her community. The test situation must be front and center as it can mean the difference between the girl being one or two years behind.This is unfortunate, but it seems to be the reality.



These are my opinions based on my own experience, and I would welcome anyone else out there who has some suggestions for Lynda. First, vocabulary is absolutely necessary for reading to develop properly. It doesn't matter how well someone decodes a word- if they have a limited vocabulary they won't recognize what they have read as a meaningful word. I call that recognition the "aha" in decoding. We sound out a word, trying different syllable divisions, vowel sounds, and then when we realize we have just said an English word that we know, there is a moment of triumph- a little "aha!" that's it! Children with poor vocab development don't experience the "aha" very much. This is sad of course because rich vocabulary is the colour in our reading!

Teaching vocabulary is really difficult the older a child gets. It is nearly impossible to take an inventory of what the child doesn't know. The little girl in question would be 8 or 9 years old I assume? So, it's important to jump on it now. Each year school children are introduced to roughly 3000 new vocabulary words. She has a long row to hoe!

I would suggest first testing her knowledge of basic concepts. Whether you use a test or a published program (Linguisystems has lots of material on Basic Concepts) it would be good to fill those in first.

Then, the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test might give you an idea of what words she is missing. It's hard to do much with that, but it would give you something definite to teach to.

The Folks Sentence Builder is a sentence and grammar building kit that I used to use in the public system. It teaches the different grammatical structures we use in our speech and writing. There would be a whole section on using the present progressive, for example. "I am running" "The dog is eating" and includes using adjectives, prepositions, objects etc. (I may be showing my age- there may be something more current than this!) I liked this kit because it worked from pictures and kids usually found it fun.

Of course, it will be hard to make up for the lack of reading to her that has occured, but this would be a must from now until March. If the mom doesn't have the time, perhaps an older student could be enlisted to help. I can't think of anything you could do with this other than to have the older child stop and ask frequently,

"do you know what that is?" and stop for a brief discussion.

I have had limited success using published vocabulary study books, as I mentioned before, it's hard to take an inventory of what someone doesn't know. Having said that, I have used vocabulary books by Stech-Vaughn, and they might help in this situation- it seems that the little girl is almost language deprived.



I am a learning consultant for a Distributed Learning (over the internet and some home visits) school called SelfDesign. I will ask for some assistance on this issue from some of my colleagues there, and report back if I find anything more!



This page had some good insights about teaching vocabulary. I am not advocating for their program, but this page had good info on it, particularly the info about the Matthew affect.



http://www.balancedreading.com/vocabulary.html



I hope I have represented your concerns accurately Lynda. If anyone wants to read the entire description of the issue, see comment #3 under Why don't teachers...
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