The Right Tool for the Job: Improving Reading and Writing in the Classroom

Melody Arabo, Jonathan Budd, Shannon Garrison, and Tabitha Pacheco (March 2017). The Right Tool for the Job Improving Reading and Writing in the Classroom. Washington, DC: The Thomas Fordham Institute.

This report presents in-depth reviews of nine promising online reading and writing tools for ELA classrooms. Overall, reviewers found these new resources mostly reflect the instructional shifts called for by Common Core (such as including a balance of text types and text-dependent questions for reading and writing). They also lauded the innovative nature and usefulness of text sets as instructional tools, as well as online resources’ student assessment and data reporting capabilities. However, our reviewers cite a lack of information regarding accessibility and accommodations for students with learning disabilities.

Job One: Build Knowledge. ESSA Creates an Opportunity— and an Obligation — to Help Every Child Become a Strong Reader

Hansel, L., Pondiscio, R. (May 2016) Job One: Build Knowledge. ESSA Creates an Opportunity— and an Obligation — to Help Every Child Become a Strong Reader. Knowledge Matters, Issue Brief #4.

Under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), policymakers have the flexibility to incentivize districts and schools to make long-term investments in building students’ knowledge and vocabulary. This brief offers seven flexible, adaptable recommendations that will lead to better reading comprehension. With ESSA, states have the flexibility to rethink how reading test results are used, and to support schools in developing children with both strong word-reading skills (e.g., decoding) and a substantial foundation of academic knowledge and vocabulary. Given the large knowledge and vocabulary gaps that already exist when children enter school, systematically building skills, knowledge, and vocabulary throughout the elementary grades is our best hope for closing the reading achievement gap.

How Listening Drives Improvement in Vocabulary and Reading Comprehension

Kylie Flynn, Bryan Matlen, Sara Atienza, and Steven Schneider. How Listening Drives Improvement in Vocabulary and Reading Comprehension: A Study of Promise Using Tales2Go (March 2016). San Francisco: WestEd.

WestEd, an educational research nonprofit, conducted this study on the use of audio books in a San Francisco Bay area school district. Students using Tales2go audio books attained 58% of the annual expected gain in reading achievement in just ten weeks, putting them three months ahead of control students. The increase in annual gain corresponds to a 33% improvement in the rate of learning for the period. The study evaluated the effect of just listening (i.e., no paired text). The treatment group outperformed the control group across all measures, by 3.0x in reading comprehension, nearly 7.0x in 2nd grade vocabulary, and nearly 4.0x in reading motivation. Greater impact on reading achievement is possible if Tales2go is used on a regular basis, both in a classroom literacy rotation and at home.

The Words Children Hear: Picture Books and the Statistics for Language Learning

Jessica L. Montag, Michael N. Jones, and Linda B. Smith. The Words Children Hear: Picture Books and the Statistics for Language Learning, Psychological Science 0956797615594361, August 4, 2015.

Young children learn language from the speech they hear. Previous work suggests that greater statistical diversity of words and of linguistic contexts is associated with better language outcomes. One potential source of lexical diversity is the text of picture books that caregivers read aloud to children. In this study, researchers looked at the language content of 100 popular picture books. In comparing the language in books to the language used by parents talking to their children, the researchers found that the picture books contained more “unique word types.” The text of picture books may be an important source of vocabulary for young children, and these findings suggest a mechanism that underlies the language benefits associated with reading to children.

24-Month-Old Children With Larger Oral Vocabularies Display Greater Academic and Behavioral Functioning at Kindergarten Entry

Morgan, P. L., Farkas, G., Hillemeier, M. M., Hammer, C. S. and Maczuga, S. (2015), 24-Month-Old Children With Larger Oral Vocabularies Display Greater Academic and Behavioral Functioning at Kindergarten Entry. Child Development, 86: 1351–1370. doi: 10.1111/cdev.12398

Data were analyzed from a population-based, longitudinal sample of 8,650 U.S. children to (a) identify factors associated with or predictive of oral vocabulary size at 24 months of age and (b) evaluate whether oral vocabulary size is uniquely predictive of academic and behavioral functioning at kindergarten entry. Children from higher socioeconomic status households, females, and those experiencing higher quality parenting had larger oral vocabularies. Children born with very low birth weight or from households where the mother had health problems had smaller oral vocabularies. Even after extensive covariate adjustment, 24-month-old children with larger oral vocabularies displayed greater reading and mathematics achievement, increased behavioral self-regulation, and fewer externalizing and internalizing problem behaviors at kindergarten entry.

The Magic of Words

Susan B. Neuman and Tanya S. Wright (Summer 2014) American Educator, Vol. 38, No. 2, American Federation of Teachers.

From the beginning of schooling, children from various socioeconomic groups differ greatly in their vocabulary knowledge; those from high-income families tend to know many more words than those from low-income ones. Research shows that certain practices for teaching vocabulary — an important building block for learning — such as making connections among words and repeatedly exposing students to content-related words, can accelerate young children's oral vocabulary development, regardless of family income.

Relationships Between Inferential Book Reading Strategies and Young Children's Language and Literacy Competence

Dunst, Carl, Williams, A, Trivette, C, Simkus, A, Hamby, D. (2012). Relationships Between Inferential Book Reading Strategies and Young Children's Language and Literacy Competence. CELLreviews 5(10), 1-10.

This meta-analysis looks at how different types of inferential book reading strategies used by adults are associated with young children's language and literacy behavior and development. Results showed that parents' and teachers' use of different types of inferencing strategies were related to variations in the child outcomes, and that the effects of inferencing were conditioned on the children's ages.

Effects of Reading to Infants and Toddlers on Their Early Language Development

Dunst, Carl J.; Simkus, Andrew; Hamby, Deborah W. (2012). Effects of Reading to Infants and Toddlers on Their Early Language Development. CELLreviews 5(4), Asheville, NC: Orelena Hawks Puckett Institute.

The effects of reading to infants and toddlers were examined in a meta-analysis of six intervention studies including 408 participants. Results indicated that interventions were effective in promoting the children's expressive and receptive language. The benefits of the interventions increased the earlier the interventions were started and the longer they were implemented. Implications of the findings for research and practice are described.

Children's Story Retelling as a Literacy and Language Enhancement Strategy

Dunst, C, Simkus, A, Hamby, D. (2012). Children's Story Retelling as a Literacy and Language Enhancement Strategy. CELLreviews 5(4). Asheville, NC: Orelena Hawks Puckett Institute, Center for Early Literacy Learning.

The effects of children's story retelling on early literacy and language development was examined in a meta-analysis of 11 studies including 687 toddlers and preschoolers. Results indicated that children's story retelling influenced both story-related comprehension and expressive vocabulary as well as nonstory-related receptive language and early literacy development. Findings also showed that the use of the characteristics that experts consider the important features of retelling practices was associated with positive child outcomes. Implications for practice are described.

Advancing Our Students' Language and Literacy: The Challenge of Complex Texts

Adams, M.J. (2011). Advancing Our Students' Language and Literacy: The Challenge of Complex Texts. American Educator, Winter 2010-2011, American Federation of Teachers.

The language of today's twelfth-grade English texts is simpler than that of seventh-grade texts published prior to 1963. No wonder students' reading comprehension has declined sharply.

Beyond Comprehension: We Have Yet to Adopt a Common Core Curriculum That Builds Knowledge Grade by Grade, But We Need To

Hirsch, E.D., Jr. (2011). Beyond Comprehension: We Have Yet to Adopt a Common Core Curriculum That Builds Knowledge Grade by Grade — But We Need To. American Educator, Winter 2010-2011, American Federation of Teachers.

Most of today's reading programs rest on faulty ideas about reading comprehension. Comprehension is not a general skill; it relies on having relevant vocabulary and knowledge.

Early Executive Function Predicts Reasoning Development

Richland, L. E., & Burchinal, M. R. (2013). Early Executive Function Predicts Reasoning Development. Psychological Science, 24, 87-92.

New research findings from the University of Chicago and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill demonstrate that children begin to show signs of higher-level thinking skills as early as 4.5 years of age. Using large-scale longitudinal data from the Study of Early Child Care and Youth Development study, the authors examined tests children took at age 4.5, when they were in first grade, third grade, and at age 15. Findings showed a strong relationship between high scores among children who, as preschoolers, had strong vocabularies and were good at monitoring and controlling their responses (executive function) to later ability on tests of understanding analogies. Research suggests that executive function may be trainable through pathways such as preschool curriculum, exercise, and impulse control training.

Talking to Children Matters: Early Language Experience Strengthens Processing and Builds Vocabulary

Weisleder, A. & Fernald, A. (2013). Talking to children matters: Early language experience strengthens processing and builds vocabulary. Psychological Science, November 2013 24: 2143-2152.

In this study, researchers explored how the amount of speech directed to infants in Spanish-speaking families low in socioeconomic status influenced the development of children’s skill in real-time language processing and vocabulary learning. Results showed that children who had experienced more child-directed speech were more efficient at processing language. The analyses revealed a cascade of effects — those toddlers who heard more child-directed talk became faster and more reliable in interpreting speech, and it was their superior skill in processing language that then increased their success in vocabulary learning. An important finding was that even within a low-SES group there were substantial differences among parents in verbal engagement with their children and in children's language outcomes.

Teachers' Instruction and Students' Vocabulary and Comprehension: An Exploratory Study With English Monolingual and Spanish–English Bilingual Students in Grades 3–5

Silverman, Rebecca D. , Patrick Proctor, C. , Harring, Jeffrey R. , Doyle, Brie , Mitchell, Marisa A. , & Meyer, Anna G. (2013). Teachers' Instruction and Students' Vocabulary and Comprehension: An Exploratory Study With English Monolingual and Spanish–English Bilingual Students in Grades 3–5. Reading Research Quarterly, 49(1), 31–60.

This study explored the relationship between teachers' instruction and students' vocabulary and comprehension in grades 3–5. The secondary aim of this study was to investigate whether this relationship differed for English monolingual and Spanish–English bilingual students. The researchers investigated how the frequency of different types of instruction was associated with change in students' vocabulary and comprehension across the school year. Teachers' instruction related to definitions, word relations, and morphosyntax was positively associated with change in vocabulary; teachers' instruction related to application across contexts and literal comprehension was negatively associated with change in vocabulary; and teachers' instruction related to inferential comprehension was positively associated with change in comprehension. The findings also revealed an interaction between language status and teachers' instruction, such that instruction that attended to comprehension strategies was associated with greater positive change in comprehension for bilingual (but not for monolingual) students.

Repeated Book Reading and Preschoolers' Early Literacy Development

Trivette, C. M., Simkus, A., Dunst, C.J., Hamby, D.W. (2012). Repeated book reading and preschoolers’ early literacy development. CELL reviews, 5 (5).

The effects of repeated book reading on children's early literacy and language development were examined in this meta-analysis of 16 studies including 466 child participants. Results indicated that repeated book reading influenced both story-related vocabulary and story-related comprehension. Findings also showed that the adults' use of manipulatives or illustrations related to the story, positive reinforcement of children's comments, explanation concerning the story when asked, and open-ended questions to prompt child verbal responses were associated with positive child outcomes. Implications for practice are described.

The Nation's Report Card: Vocabulary Results from the 2009 and 2011 NAEP Reading Assessments

National Center for Education Statistics (2012). The Nation's Report Card: Vocabulary Results From the 2009 and 2011 NAEP Reading Assessments (NCES 2013–452). Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education, Washington, D.C.

A National Assessment of Educational Progress report reveals gaps in vocabulary achievement among students from families of different income levels and students from different racial and ethnic backgrounds. While the assessment only recently began measuring vocabulary, officials say results already show connections between vocabulary skills and reading comprehension.

SES differences in language processing skill and vocabulary are evident at 18 months

Fernald, A., Marchman, V. A. and Weisleder, A. (2013), SES differences in language processing skill and vocabulary are evident at 18 months. Developmental Science, 16: 234–248.

This research revealed both similarities and striking differences in early language proficiency among infants from a broad range of advantaged and disadvantaged families. English-learning infants were followed longitudinally from 18 to 24 months, using real-time measures of spoken language processing. The first goal was to track developmental changes in processing efficiency in relation to vocabulary learning in this diverse sample. The second goal was to examine differences in these crucial aspects of early language development in relation to family socioeconomic status (SES). The most important findings were that significant disparities in vocabulary and language processing efficiency were already evident at 18 months between infants from higher- and lower-SES families, and by 24 months there was a 6-month gap between SES groups in processing skills critical to language development.

Trajectories of the Home Learning Environment Across the First 5 Years: Associations With Children's Vocabulary and Literacy Skills at Prekindergarten

Rodriguez, Eileen; Tamis-LeMonda, Catherine S. (2011) Trajectories of the Home Learning Environment Across the First 5 Years: Associations With Children's Vocabulary and Literacy Skills at Prekindergarten. Child Development 82(4).

A study that looked at the home environments of more than 1,850 children from households at or below the federal poverty line showed that factors such as levels of shared reading, exposure to frequent and varied adult speech, and access to children's books had an impact on school readiness skills. "As a parent, it is never too early to engage your child in learning," said Amber Story, a social psychologist and deputy director of the National Science Foundation's Division of Behavioral and Cognitive Sciences, which funded the study. "This research suggests that the degree to which parents read and talk to their infant; point and label objects in the environment; and provide engaging books and toys when their child is only 15 months old can have long-lasting effects on the infant's language skills years later."

How Words Can and Cannot Be Learned by Observation

Medinaa, TN, Snedekerc, J, Trueswella, J, & Gleitmana, G. (2011). How words can and cannot be learned by observation. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 108(22), 9014-9019.

"If language experiences are not rich, then where is your interest to retain them?" says Janice H. Im of Zero to Three: the National Center for Infants, Toddlers and Families. A new study from University of Pennsylvania and Harvard University suggests that understanding basic words may come from a flash of initial insight more than repetition. The study's findings suggest that children build concrete vocabulary by interacting with a complex, rich learning environment, not just repeated exposure to words in isolation.

The Effectiveness of a Program to Accelerate Vocabulary Development in Kindergarten

Goodson, B., Wolf, A., Bell, S., Turner, H., and Finney, P.B. (2010). The Effectiveness of a Program to Accelerate Vocabulary Development in Kindergarten (VOCAB). (NCEE 2010-4014). Washington, DC: National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education.

REL Southeast conducted a randomized control trial in the Mississippi Delta to test the impact of a kindergarten vocabulary instruction program on students' expressive vocabulary — the words students understand well enough to use in speaking. The study found that the 24-week K-PAVE program had a significant positive impact on students' vocabulary development and academic knowledge and on the vocabulary and comprehension support that teachers provided during book read-alouds and other instructional time.

Putting the Pieces of the Puzzle Together: How Systematic Vocabulary Instruction and Expanded Learning Time Can Address the Literacy Gap

White, C.E. and Kim, J.S., Harvard Graduate School of Education (2009). Putting the Pieces of the Puzzle Together: How Systematic Vocabulary Instruction and Expanded Learning Time Can Address the Literacy Gap. Washington, D.C.: Center for American Progress.

This report makes several recommendations to address disparities in vocabulary and spoken language based on children's family income and English-language proficiency. Schools should use systematic vocabulary instruction throughout the school day and during expanded learning time, sustain a school-wide program, regularly assess student knowledge, and help teachers target the right words during instruction. The report suggests that expanded learning time policies may enhance the effectiveness of systematic vocabulary instruction for low-income children and English language learners.

How to get recreational reading to increase reading achievement

Kamil, M. (2008). How to get recreational reading to increase reading achievement. In Y. Kim, V. J. Risko, D. L. Compton, D. K. Dickinson, M. K. Hundley, R. T. Jiménez, & D. Well Rowe (Eds.), 57th Yearbook of the National Reading Conference (pp. 31–40). Oak Creek, WI: National Reading Conference.

The conclusion from these studies is that recreational reading by itself has no effect on reading achievement — teachers and instruction are the critical variables in the relationship of recreational reading to reading ability. The current research provides a strong test of the notion that having students read a lot will produce reading achievement gains. This holds true for the entire range of measures used from alphabetics to comprehension. However, instruction can leverage recreational reading to produce some gains in reading achievement, most notably in fluency and comprehension. When recreational reading is encouraged in the context of improved instruction, there are improvements in fluency and comprehension, although not in vocabulary.

Integrated Vocabulary Instruction: Meeting the Needs of Diverse Learners in Grades K-5

Blachowicz, C.L.Z, Watts-Taffe, S. & Fisher, P. (2005).
Learning Point Associates.

The goal of this document is to provide the information that teachers and other educators need to implement an integrated and comprehensive approach to vocabulary instruction. Integrated means that vocabulary is a core consideration in all grades across the school and in all content areas across the school day. Comprehensive means that vocabulary instruction encompasses much more than a list of words to teach at the beginning of the week. Rather, it involves a common philosophy and shared practices, based on a solid understanding the knowledge base and supported by curricular considerations as well as classroom and school organizational procedures.

Closing the Gap: Addressing the Vocabulary Needs of English-Language Learners in Bilingual and Mainstream Classrooms

Carlo, M.S., August, D., McLaughlin, B., Snow, C.E., Dressler, C., Lippman, D.N., Lively, T.J., & White, C.E. (2004). Closing the gap: Addressing the vocabulary needs of English-language learners in bilingual and mainstream classrooms. Reading Research Quarterly, 39, 188-215.

Gaps in reading performance between Anglo and Latino children are associated with gaps in vocabulary knowledge. An intervention was designed to enhance fifth graders' academic vocabulary. The meanings of academically useful words were taught together with strategies for using information from context, from morphology, from knowledge about multiple meanings, and from cognates to infer word meaning. Among the principles underlying the intervention were that new words should be encountered in meaningful text, that native Spanish speakers should have access to the text's meaning through Spanish, that words should be encountered in varying contexts, and that word knowledge involves spelling, pronunciation, morphology, and syntax as well as depth of meaning.

Fifth graders in the intervention group showed greater growth than the comparison group on knowledge of the words taught, on depth of vocabulary knowledge, on understanding multiple meanings, and on reading comprehension. The intervention effects were as large for the English-language learners (ELLs) as for the English-only speakers (EOs), though the ELLs scored lower on all pre- and posttest measures. The results show the feasibility of improving comprehension outcomes for students in mixed ELL-EO classes, by teaching word analysis and vocabulary learning strategies.

Bringing Words to Life: Robust Vocabulary Instruction

Beck, I., McKeown, M., & Kucan, L. (2002). Bringing Words to Life: Robust Vocabulary Instruction. New York: The Guilford Press.

Three American educators and researchers from the fields of learning, language, and reading explain the rationale for robust vocabulary instruction, as a means of creating the beginning of students' lifelong fascination with words. The text provides K-12 teachers with examples of such instruction for early, intermediate, and later grades. Coverage includes criteria for selecting words for instruction, ways of introducing new vocabulary, developing vocabulary activities, using natural contexts to derive word meanings, and techniques for creating a rich verbal environment in the classroom.

Text Matters in Learning to Read

Heibert, E.H. (1999). Text matters in learning to read (Distinguished Educators Series). Reading Teacher, 52, 552-566. Retrieved June 28, 2005, from CIERA Rep. No. 1-001.

This report examines texts based on high-frequency and phonetically regular words as well as the trade books of current literature-based reading programs. It considers each type of text by examining the task it poses for beginning readers. What does a beginning reader need to know about written English to be successful with a particular type of text? What will a beginning reader learn about text if consistently presented with a particular type of text? From a task perspective, consistent reading of particular types of texts can be likened to a diet where children eat particular food groups but not others. Through experiences with particular texts, children may be acquiring some nutrients (or skills) and not others. This article addresses the diets provided to beginning readers by different instructional texts. To paraphrase Allington (1994), the three sections of the paper deal with (a) the texts used, (b) the texts had, and (c) the texts needed.

Teaching Children to Learn Word Meanings from Context: A Synthesis and Some Questions

Kuhn, M., & Stahl, S. (1998). Teaching children to learn word meanings from context: A synthesis and some questions. Journal of Literacy Research, 30, 119-138.

This article reviews 14 studies investigating approaches that aimed at teaching children to be more efficient at learning words from context. In nearly all of the studies reviewed, treatments were effective at improving children's skill in learning words from context compared to a no-treatment control. However, in the 4 studies that included a practice-only treatment, no significant differences were found between the strategy treatment and practice-only groups. These findings suggest that the effects of the treatments were due to the practice rather than to the specific strategies taught. Suggestions are made for improving research examining the effects of context-clue strategies.

Meaningful Differences in the Everyday Experiences of Young American Children

Hart, B. and Risley, T. (1995). Meaningful differences in the everyday experiences of young American children. Brookes Publishing Company

The landmark longitudinal study of parent-child talk in families. The researchers recorded one full hour of every word spoken at home between parent and child in 42 families over a three year period, with children from seven months to 36 months of age. Follow-up studies by Hart and Risley of those same children at age nine showed that there was a very tight link between the academic success of a child and the number of words the child's parents spoke to the child to age three. See summary

Reading Storybooks to Kindergartners Helps Them Learn New Vocabulary Words

Robbins, C., & Ehri, L. C. (1994). Reading storybooks to kindergartners helps them learn new vocabulary words. Journal of Educational Psychology, 86, 54-64.

In sessions conducted individually, 45 kindergartners who were nonreaders listened to an adult read the same storybook twice, 2-4 days apart, and then completed a posttest measuring their knowledge of the meanings of 22 unfamiliar words, half of which had appeared in the story. Children recognized the meanings of significantly more words from the story than words not in the story, indicating that storybook reading was effective for building vocabulary. Gains were greater among children with larger entering vocabularies.

Effects of Long-Term Vocabulary Instruction on Lexical Access and Reading Comprehension

Beck, I., Perfetti, C., & McKeown, M. (1982). Effects of long-term vocabulary instruction on lexical access and reading comprehension. Journal of Educational Psychology, 74, 500-512.

To examine the relationship between knowledge of word meanings and semantic processes, 27 4th-grade children were taught 104 words over a 5-mo period. Following instruction, Ss performed tasks designed to require semantic processes ranging from single word semantic decisions to simple sentence verification and memory for connected text. On all these tasks, instructed Ss performed at a significantly higher level than controls matched on pre-instruction vocabulary knowledge and comprehension. Thus, instructed Ss gave evidence both of learning word meanings taught by the program and of being able to process instructed words more efficiently in tasks more reflective of comprehension. Implications for vocabulary instruction and the role of individual word meanings in comprehension are discussed.

What's in a Word? On the Child's Acquisition of Semantics in His First Language

Clark, E. V. (1973). What's in a word? On the child's acquisition of semantics in his first language. In T. E. Moore (Ed.), Cognitive development and the acquisition of language (pp. 65-110). New York: Academic Press.

"There is more treasure in books than in all the pirate's loot on Treasure Island." — Walt Disney