Academic journal article Journal of Research in Childhood Education

A Descriptive Study on the Use of Materials in Vocabulary Lessons

Academic journal article Journal of Research in Childhood Education

A Descriptive Study on the Use of Materials in Vocabulary Lessons

Article excerpt

Vocabulary knowledge is important because it is highly correlated with content area learning. Strategies for vocabulary instruction recommend using new words in multiple contexts as key to learning. To date, the term multiple contexts emphasizes written contexts, not three-dimensional concrete material contexts. This article describes the results of 507 observations of vocabulary lessons in K-3 classrooms to determine how often concrete materials were used to augment learning. The results of this descriptive study showed that teachers' use of concrete materials was greatest for mathematics and science lessons and lowest for language arts lessons. The use of concrete materials also varied among the districts' accreditation levels. Districts with the lowest accreditation levels also had the lowest number of lessons that included concrete materials.

Keywords: appropriate practices, vocabulary, materials, teaching aids, elementary


In the ebb and flow of topics that interest education researchers, the importance of vocabulary on reading achievement and how it is taught is once again a hot topic (Cassidy & Cassidy, 2010/2011). Perhaps spurred by Hart and Risley's (1995) landmark research that documented large

differences in vocabulary exposure among low, middle, and high socioeconomic groups by age 3, educators have responded to the challenge to find or develop strategies that would close these early word gaps among population groups. Hart and Risley (2003) referred to the gaps in vocabulary exposure as "the early catastrophe." The early catastrophe, caused by what they found to be a 30-rnillion-word gap between students who come from homes with extensive oral language exposure and homes with minimal language exposure, grows exponentially as the students advance through Grades K-12. "By age three, some children were so hopelessly behind in total language experience and resultant total vocabulary size that no later preschool or school intervention could catch them up" (Risley & Hart, 2006, p. 88). Stanovich (2000) labeled this phenomenon the Matthew effect, whereby the "rich get richer and the poor get poorer." Words beget new words. They become hooks that catch new words; new words, in turn, become hooks for learning even more words, and vocabulary learning trajectories widen. Because the size of a student's receptive vocabulary by age 3 is correlated with future reading achievement (Hart & Risley, 1995, 2003; National Reading Panel [NRP], 2000; Risley & Hart, 2006), the Matthew effect explains the seemingly intractable reading achievement gap between White, Black, and Hispanic students (National Assessment of Educational Progress, 2009).

Biemiller (2005) not only corroborated Hart and Risley's earlier findings, but also found that, unfortunately, little is being done to teach vocabulary in the primary grades. He found that young children are explicitly taught only 100 to 200 new words per year; furthermore, the children with small lexicons added words more slowly than those with larger lexicons. In primary classrooms where word learning is not emphasized through planned repeated exposures, the rate of learning is lower. For example, a child exposed to a new word one time only has a 15% chance of learning it (Nagy, 2005).

The shift from early informal vocabulary learning in the home environment to formal vocabulary learning in the K-3 classrooms warranted research into the types of materials that K-3 teachers used to build on early word learning. Specifically, we wanted to know whether the early word learning, accompanied by concrete materials, gestures, and real-world experiences, continued from the home into the classroom.

Children come to school to learn what is difficult to learn indirectly through informal interactions with language in their environment. Their learning at school is characterized by direct, purposeful instruction by the teacher. …

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