Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Vocabulary Instruction: Wide Reading or Direct Instruction?

This article was meant for a threaded discussion. The purpose is to summarize debates around models for vocabulary instruction. Most of what I found recommended wide reading and exposure to oral language in combination with direct instruction:

Fountas and Pinnell (Guiding Readers and Writers) emphasized wide reading as a primary source of acquiring new vocabulary. As students encounter new words in reading, they can fit these new words into a schema of context. Learners tend to remember new words when they can be connected to the learner’s background knowledge. Rather than directly teaching children new words, Fountas and Pinnell encourage educators to explicitly teach children how to learn words. Students can learn about morphology to help them derive meanings of words with common affixes and roots. Teachers can also instruct children how to make connections between new words, and words that exist in a students vocabulary.

In The Mighty Word, Louisa C. Moats suggests that student acquire vocabulary in 3 ways: incidental encounters, direct instruction, and word consciousness. First, students encounter new vocabulary through oral language and exposure to literature (both reading, and being read to). Secondly, students can be directly taught new vocabulary. This often happens when teachers introduce new vocabulary before reading so that students can fit new words into their background knowledge. Direct vocabulary instruction also includes the use of semantic feature analysis and semantic maps (identifying a words definition, synonyms, antonyms, and etymology). Finally, word consciousness involves teaching word learning strategies. These strategies include finding context clues and performing morphological analysis (for example- studying the meaning of word parts such as affixes and roots).

Since I work closely with the ESL teacher at my school, I asked her for some research about vocabulary instruction. She lent me Reading, Writing, and Learning in ESL. In this text, authors Peregoy and Boyle suggest combining language exposure and direct instruction. When working with students who are learning English, it is important to use strategies that were also mentioned in Fountas & Pinnell (2001) and Moats (2009). However, it is also important to help English Language Learners draw connections between new English vocabulary, and similar words or concepts in their own language or culture. This goes back to the idea of activating background knowledge and helping students recognize a schema where they can file away new learning.

Very little of what I read left out direct instruction as a component of vocabulary instruction. Some research place greater emphasis on wide reading and exposure to oral language than direct instruction, but still had some room for direct vocabulary instruction. I noticed that a lot of the direct instruction in this research referred to direct instruction of word learning strategies rather than directly teaching word meaning. Almost everything I read mentioned that using a dictionary for direct instruction is not an effective way to teach vocabulary. Instead, teaching students morphology (the smallest unit of word meaning- prefixes, suffixes, roots, etc.) is a useful tool that can be directly taught. Researchers also emphasized teaching students how to solve new words and make connections between new vocabulary and familiar concepts.

Reference List:
Fountas, I. C. & Pinnell, G. S. (2001). Guiding readers and writers: Teaching comprehension, genre, and content literacy. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Moats, L. C. (2009). The mighty word: Building vocabulary and oral language. Boston, MA: Sopris West.

Peregoy, S. F. & Boyle, O. F. (2005). Reading, writing, and learning in esl: A resource book for k-12 teachers. Boston, MA: Pearson.

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