Academic journal article Education & Treatment of Children

The Effects of Morphemic Vocabulary Instruction on Prefix Vocabulary and Sentence Comprehension for Middle School Students with Learning Disabilities

Academic journal article Education & Treatment of Children

The Effects of Morphemic Vocabulary Instruction on Prefix Vocabulary and Sentence Comprehension for Middle School Students with Learning Disabilities

Article excerpt


A limited vocabulary is a substantial obstacle to success in reading comprehension (Graves, 2004). A morphemic approach to vocabulary instruction may be an effective method for increasing student outcomes in both word knowledge and reading comprehension (Kuo & Anderson, 2006; Reed, 2008). The purpose of this research was to examine the effects of a morphemic vocabulary intervention on word knowledge and reading comprehension for students with learning disabilities. In Study 1, participants were taught 60 root words and four prefixes and increased their accurate definitions for untaught prefixed words. Transfer to reading comprehension at the sentence level, however, was minimal. In Study 2, we replicated the procedures from Study 1 and then added an instructional component to teach students how to apply the meaning of the prefixed word to sentences. Three of four participants increased their reading comprehension scores following initial sentence context instruction. The last participant improved performance following repeated sentence context instruction. Implications for practice and future research are discussed.

Keywords: vocabulary instruction, reading comprehension, morphology, prefixes, learning disabilities


Vocabulary acquisition is critical for school success, especially for comprehending expository text (Fishley, Konrad, Ffessler, & Keesey, 2012; Graves, 2004; National Reading Panel [NRP], 2000; Spear-Swerling, 2006). Students may become vulnerable to difficulties with vocabulary due to increasingly high vocabulary and academic demands in the curriculum as they enter the middle elementary grades (Baker, Simmons, & Kame'enui, 1995; Oslund, Clemens, Simmons, Smith, & Simmons, 2016). In fact, in the Common Core standards, students in grades 3 to 5 are required to demonstrate both vocabulary acquisition and vocabulary comprehension in context (National Governors Association Center for Best Practices & Council of Chief State School Officers, 2010).

For most students, vocabulary is acquired incidentally and outside of formal teaching (Nagy & Herman, 1987). As students learn to read, instruction often focuses on decoding and reading fluency with less focus on explicit reading comprehension. Although fluency serves as a predictor of comprehension in the early stages of reading, vocabulary is a significant factor in developing comprehension in later elementary and middle school grades (Clemens & Simmons, 2014; Oslund et al., 2016). Cromley and Azevedo (2007) examined the effects of reading comprehension strategies, background knowledge, inferences, word reading, and vocabulary on reading comprehension with 177 ninth-grade students whose mean score on the Gates-MacGinitie[R] Comprehension subtest (MacGinitie, MacGinitie, Maria, & Dreyer, 2001) was in the 58th percentile. Vocabulary had the strongest total effect (d = 0.41) and the strongest direct effect (d-0.37), suggesting that an increase in vocabulary leads to an increase in reading comprehension. In a recent replication of this study with 140 diverse low-performing seventh- and eighth-grade students whose mean score on the Gates-MacGinitie[R] Reading Test (GMRT) was in the 32nd percentile, Oslund et al. (2016) discussed a similar relationship. In their findings, vocabulary significantly influenced sentence comprehension ([beta] = 0.46), inferential comprehension ([beta] = 0.46), and overall reading comprehension ([beta] = 0.40).

Students with low comprehension skills and students with learning disabilities have significant vocabulary deficits (Clemens & Simmons, 2014; Jitendra, Edwards, Sacks, & Jacobson, 2004). Because reading and oral vocabulary usage is lower for students with learning disabilities than their peers, strategic vocabulary instruction could have a positive impact on these students (MacLean, 2000). While it is clear that vocabulary, background knowledge, and inference skills are related to overall reading comprehension, there are few studies with low-performing students that examine the effects of vocabulary instruction on reading comprehension (Reed, 2008). …

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