Academic journal article Exceptional Children

Vocabulary Word Instruction for Students Who Read Braille

Academic journal article Exceptional Children

Vocabulary Word Instruction for Students Who Read Braille

Article excerpt

Comprehension is often seen as the ultimate goal of reading instruction. In fact, the National Reading Panel wrote that "comprehension is critically important to development of children's reading skills and therefore their ability to obtain an education" (National Institute of Child Health and Human Development [NICHD], 2000, p. 4-1). However, it is important to understand that multiple distinct cognitive processes interact to create the construct we commonly refer to as reading comprehension.

Perfetti, Landi, and Oakhill (2005) created a cognitive model of reading that recognizes the interactions between a written text, word identification, comprehension, and background knowledge. In a recent review, Savaiano, Compton, and Hatton (2014) used the Perfetti et al. (2005) model to frame existing Braille reading research. They highlighted that the majority of researchers of Braille reading have concentrated on word identification processes, specifically focusing on the perceptual features of the Braille code itself and the rate at which students can decode Braille.

Although decoding is an integral part of the reading process, it is only helpful for comprehension if the resulting word is part of the reader's vocabulary (NICHD, 2000). The age of onset of blindness, visual diagnosis, and presence of additional disabilities are only a subset of factors that could potentially affect the quality and quantity of early learning experiences of Braille readers. There is a reciprocal relationship between vocabulary, comprehension, and amount of reading (Nagy, 2005). Fewer experiences lead to less complete concept development and vocabulary to draw upon during word identification. Bigelow (1990) showed that young children who are blind experience differences in concept and language development than sighted peers. However, Savaiano et al. (2014) found no research explicitly addressing the importance and role of vocabulary and concept development in the Braille reading process. This lack of information about vocabulary and concept development represents a substantial gap in our knowledge of Braille reading, because we know little about the individual differences in the development of conceptual knowledge in students who are blind.

Vocabulary Instruction

Vocabulary may be taught directly and indirectly (NICHD, 2000). However, research has shown that direct instruction is more effective for teaching word meanings (Jitendra, Edwards, Sacks, & Jacobson, 2004; Marulis & Neuman, 2010). During direct instruction, vocabulary is taught through an explicit presentation of a target word and its definition. This strategy was found to be more effective than learning words in context (Pany & Jenkins, 1978; Pany, Jenkins, & Schreck, 1982) and was also helpful in making decoding more meaningful by adding to the oral language of the reader (NICHD, 2000).

To store words in memory for later use and retrieval, associations are formed between the spelling, pronunciation, and meaning of a word (Ehri & Rosenthal, 2007). This way, when a word is read aloud, the pronunciation of the word triggers the association with its meaning. Likewise, when a word is read silently, the spelling of the word triggers the association. This association, when used during instruction, has proven to help children remember the meanings of words. Rosenthal and Ehri (2008) taught unfamiliar words to groups of second- and fifth-grade children by defining words, depicting words, and using words in sentences--all elements of direct instruction. One set of words had the spellings visible, and the other set did not. The spellings helped students remember the meanings of words compared to the words without spellings. Although this association has the potential to facilitate the efficiency of word learning, written words are not often included in vocabulary instruction (Ehri & Rosenthal, 2007).

Repeated exposures to targeted words is a component of vocabulary instruction highlighted by the National Reading Panel (NICHD, 2000); including the spellings of words during instruction is a simple method for incorporating this component. …

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