Academic journal article New England Reading Association Journal

Language of Harry's Wizards: Authentic Vocabulary Instruction

Academic journal article New England Reading Association Journal

Language of Harry's Wizards: Authentic Vocabulary Instruction

Article excerpt

Adolescent literacy has received increased attention in recent years (Jacobs, 2009). There is a call for more attention on the literacy methods employed to help adolescent students gain more sophisticated mastery of reading skills (Wise, 2009). While much attention has been given to beginning reading, methods that are developed specifically for adolescents have gotten much less attention (Beers, 2007).

Over the past 25 years greater emphasis has been placed in preparing adolescents for post-secondary education (Rouse Sc Kemple, 2009; Balfanz, 2009). Consequently, middle and high schools have placed greater emphasis on developing academic skills (Rouse Sc Kemple, 2009; Balfanz, 2009; Jacobs, 2009). As the academic demands have increased so has the need for adolescents to navigate various texts and materials in their coursework (Rasinski & Fawcett, 2008). Given the increased demands for adolescents to read more complex and domain specific texts, strategies that can be used across domains may prove particularly useful.

One area critical to literacy achievement is vocabulary knowledge. The relationship between vocabulary and reading comprehension has a long tradition of study in the field of reading research. Reading research has established a strong link between vocabulary knowledge and comprehension ability (Davis, 1944, 1972; Farr, 1969; Harrison, 1980; Stahl Sc Fairbanks, 1986; National Reading Panel, 2000).

Carver (1994) found that the percentage of unknown vocabulary words in a text is a function of the relative difficulty of the text. Other researchers (e.g., Sternberg, 1987) assert that one can predict the ability to comprehend a text based on vocabulary knowledge. Following this reasoning, teaching unknown words prior to reading would directly assist the reader in reducing the relative difficulty of a text passage, thus enhancing comprehension. Several studies have shown that direct teaching of new vocabulary has a positive effect on comprehension (Beck, Perfetti, & McKeown, 1982; McKeown, Beck, Omanson, Sc Perfetti, 1983; McKeown, Beck, Omanson, Sc Pople, 1985).

While direct teaching of new vocabulary is a worthwhile method, other strategies are needed to help adolescents develop vocabulary knowledge. Graves's (2006) recommendations based on his review of many previous vocabulary studies include: wide exposure to words, direct instruction of specific words as well as transferrable strategies, and development of word consciousness. Other researchers have emphasized the need for a multifaceted approach to word learning. For example, Beck and McKeown's (1991) review of vocabulary instruction suggests that instructional approaches in vocabulary are more effective when they directly provide definitions using rich context, offering students repeated exposure to new words, and providing classroom experiences that encourage deep processing and active engagement of learners (National Reading Panel, 2000; Stahl &. Fairbanks 1986).

Morphological awareness has been identified as a key strategy to foster independent word learning, particularly for the academic vocabulary adolescents encounter in secondary texts (Stahl, 1999). Morphemic analysis involves teaching students the meaning behind common word parts such as prefixes, suffixes, affixes, and roots so students can infer the meaning of new terms. Many studies have explored the use of morphemic analysis in vocabulary learning and research indicates that this strategy is an effective tool for learning new words (Stahl, 1999). Research by Corson (1997) suggests that teaching morphemic analysis for vocabulary may be particularly useful in encouraging metacognition of academic word learning. Such methods help students to be independent word learners, and may foster increased word consciousness.

Introducing students to word parts is not enough to lead to increased growth in vocabulary and comprehension. As with any other strategy, the ability to teach morphology well is critical for student success. …

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