February 28, 2019
Researchers know that vocabulary knowledge is strongly linked to academic success. Understanding vocabulary is the cornerstone of accessing background knowledge, communicating effectively, and understanding and learning new ideas. Students with strong word knowledge and vocabularies are able to understand new concepts and ideas more quickly than students with more limited vocabularies.
While researchers have noted the importance of expanding vocabulary knowledge, research also suggests that students with language-based learning disabilities are not reading as much as their typically developing peers. In order for students to truly comprehend written material, they must know 90-95% of words on the page. According to the Texas Reading Initiative, a student who reads 21 minutes per day outside of school reads almost 2 million words per year. A student who reads less than a minute per day outside of school reads only 8,000-21,000 words a year (2002). Therefore, the gap of word knowledge only continues to widen as successful readers continue to build their reading skills and reluctant or struggling readers continue to avoid this difficult task. As early as 1986, researchers began referring to this idea as “The Matthew Effect,” based on the idea that the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. Leslie Rescorla, a licensed and school certified psychologist, supported this idea with a student of toddlers’ expressive vocabulary abilities. This study showed that students with language delays had an expressive vocabulary of fewer than 50 words compared to the 130-160 words of their typically developing peers. This gap only continued to widen as students continued their schooling.
With the importance of vocabulary, researchers have agreed that early intervention in language acquisition skills is essential to closing the achievement gap and for building foundational skills for later years. At any age, however, there are specific suggestions for ways that educators can teach and support the development of vocabulary skills. Vocabulary instruction should:
Froma Roth, Associate Director of Academic Affairs & Research at the American Speech-Language Hearing Association (ASHA), noted that vocabulary acquisition can be compared to the process of slow mapping in that it takes time and requires different levels of understanding. This idea relates to Landmark’s third Teaching Principle, “MicroUnit and Structure Tasks,” because vocabulary instruction should be structured and built upon over extended periods of time. Multiple exposures to vocabulary practice in a variety of formats are how students grow their lexicons. In order for this growth to occur, instruction should be structured and intentional, focusing on manageable chunks of information at a time. For the full text of the Landmark Teaching Principles™, including “MicroUnit and Structure Tasks,” click here.