Magazine article Perspectives on Language and Literacy

Evidence-Based Vocabulary Instruction for English Learners

Magazine article Perspectives on Language and Literacy

Evidence-Based Vocabulary Instruction for English Learners

Article excerpt

All English learners (ELs) face the challenge of developing second language vocabulary skills comparable to their native English speaking peers. This is also challenging for students with dyslexia and other related learning disorders. Educators must understand how to foster opportunities and ensure accelerated second language vocabulary development. Evidence-based practices that can be integrated during vocabulary instruction among this population of students are now available. Many of the techniques for successful vocabulary instruction with native English speakers can also benefit ELs. However, some adjustments must be considered.

Schools today are discovering that there is a great need to understand how to best instruct ELs. A major reason this is true is because ELs represent one of the fastest growing student populations. During the past decade, public schools experienced a 32% increase of ELs in their schools. This is compared to a 4.9% growth in student population (U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Common Core of Data, 2014). Approximately 5 million ELs, representing more than 400 different home languages, attend public schools in the United States. However, 80% of ELs in the U.S. speak Spanish in their home. Teachers must be prepared to meet the educational needs of ELs, despite the fact that they may not have had the opportunity to study and learn how to differentiate instruction for this population of students.

ELs face many challenges. For example, they must develop first and second language and literacy skills. In addition, many ELs live in poverty and are twice as likely to drop out of high school (Dillow & Snyder, 2012). Living in poverty presents many challenges. Some of these challenges include attaining adequate nutrition and healthcare. Another challenge is the lack of opportunity for exposure to language and word learning (Hart & Risley, 2003). Therefore, it is not surprising that ELs' vocabulary levels lag behind their English speaking peers (Garcia, 1991; Geva & Ryan, 2006; Mancilla-Martinez, & Lesuax, 2010; Proctor, August, Carlo, & Snow, 2006). This finding is a cause for concern because students' vocabulary knowledge is a predictor for reading comprehension during the upper elementary grade levels (Mancilla-Martinez & Lesaux, 2010).

Vocabulary Instruction for Elementary and Middle School Students

Several intervention studies with ELs address vocabulary development and content knowledge in the elementary and middle school years (August, Branum-Martin, Cárdenas-Hagan, & Francis, 2009; Carlo et al., 2004; Lesaux, Kieffer, Faller, & Kelley, 2010; Vaughn, Martinez, Linan-Thompson, Reutebuch, Carlson, & Francis, 2009). These studies have included purposeful, explicit, systematic, and multifaceted vocabulary instruction that incorporates the use of morphemes (i.e., the smallest units of meaning in a language), cognates (i.e., words similar in meaning and spelling in a student's native language and English), bilingual glossaries, multiple meaning words, and extended discussions with much repetition and rehearsal. In addition, a meta-analysis or thorough review of existing research for effective vocabulary instruction recommends choosing engaging text that includes academic vocabulary and in-depth teaching of the academic vocabulary using multiple modalities such as writing, speaking, and listening (Baker et al., 2014). Therefore, it is the use of multiple strategies in a systematic manner that helps students with word learning and thus generates positive outcomes for vocabulary knowledge. Many of the strategies are described below.

Morphological Awareness

Morphemes, such as prefixes, roots, and suffixes are units of meaning. For example, the prefix pre- means before as in the word prekindergarten. The root vis means to see as in the word vision. In addition, the suffix -ist means the one who as in the word pianist. …

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