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Early vocab lessons are too elementary

MICHIGAN STATE / U. MICHIGAN (US) — Kindergarteners aren’t learning enough new words to prepare them for long-term reading comprehension, say researchers.

The research, which appears in Elementary School Journal, analyzes commonly used reading curricula in US kindergarten classrooms. It finds that, generally, the programs do not teach enough vocabulary words, the words aren’t challenging enough, and don’t offer enough focus to make sure students understand the meaning of the words.


“Vocabulary instruction does not seem to have an important enough role in the curricula given how substantial it is for kids’ long-term academic success,” says lead researcher Tanya Wright, assistant professor of teacher education at Michigan State University.

The research by Wright and Susan Neuman, a professor at University of Michigan, comes on the heels of a National Assessment of Educational Progress report that showed poor and minority students struggle with vocabulary achievement. Low vocabulary scores were associated with low reading comprehension scores on the NAEP test.

Wright says low-income children may start school with 10,000 fewer words than other students and are then exposed to reading programs that teach as few as two vocabulary words per week. She says more than 10 vocabulary words should be taught every week—not just in reading class but across all subject areas including math, science, and social studies.

The words should also be more challenging, Wright says. For example, “hysterical” could be used instead of “funny.”

“We found that most of the words that are being taught are common words that the kids will learn in everyday language anyway,” Wright says.

Further, the study finds that not enough attention was given to reviewing vocabulary words—or going back over the words in different contexts—and to monitoring whether the students truly grasped their meanings.

“So you’re spending time teaching something,” Wright says, “but not spending time checking if the kids ever learned it.”

Source: Michigan State University

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