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Excerpted from pages xiii - xvii of Vocabulary Improvement Program for English Language Learners and Their Classmates: 4th Grade, by Teresa Lively, Diane August, MarÃa Carlo, Catherine Snow
Copyright © 2003 by Paul H. Brookes Publishing Co. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
WHAT IS THE VOCABULARY IMPROVEMENT PROGRAM?
The Vocabulary Improvement Program (VIP) is a research-based program designed to enrich the vocabulary of fourth-, fifth-, and sixth-grade students by utilizing a combination of strategies aimed at various aspects of vocabulary knowledge—word definitions, recognizing words in context, awareness of the multiple meanings of words, word associations, and cognates for native Spanish speakers.
The VIP was initially designed for classroom teachers working with heterogeneous groups of children, consisting of English-only students and Spanish-speaking English language learners; however, the program would be equally effective in English-only, Spanish-only, and English as a second language classrooms as well as for an extended age range.
In accordance with research indicating words are best learned from rich semantic contexts, the target vocabulary words are embedded in brief, engaging reading passages. Each lesson of the curriculum focuses on a relatively small number of vocabulary items (12–14 per lesson) that students at each level are likely to encounter repeatedly across texts in different domains, including literature, science, social science, and written material outside of the classroom. Although the focus is on only a few words each week, the curriculum's activities help children make semantic links to other words and concepts and thus attain a deeper and richer understanding of each target word's meaning as well as learn other words and concepts related to the target word. Thus, the curriculum is designed to increase students' breadth and depth of word knowledge. In keeping with research-based best practice, the lessons also teach students to infer meanings from context and to use roots, affixes, cognates, morphological relationships, and comprehension monitoring as tools to determine the meaning of unfamiliar words wherever they are encountered.
Throughout the lessons are features that research has found to effectively build children's vocabulary. First, teachers are encouraged to use the vocabulary-building strategies learned during the VIP lessons in subject-matter instruction throughout the day. The curriculum includes mini-lessons (Teacher Tips) for teachers to help them accomplish this. Minilessons include, for example, how to help students do the following: infer meaning from text; attain richer, deeper understandings of word meanings; use cognates; understand multiple word meanings; and use roots and affixes.
Second, most of the activities combine teacher-directed instruction and cooperative group learning, a format that works well with heterogeneous groups of students.The activity begins with teacher explanation and modeling of the activity, followed by whole group practice, and then cooperative group work. At the conclusion of each activity, or concurrently with the group work, the teacher pulls the students together to report on their work, with teacher feedback and help when necessary.
Third, the program uses Spanish-speaking English language learners' first language in a few lessons to bolster students' vocabulary knowledge and text comprehension. One of the homework assignments in the fifth-grade curriculum entails students asking their parents about family immigration experiences.These conversations take place in the home language.
Fourth, almost all of the lessons involve collaborative and cooperative learning between English language learners and English-only students. For example, in activities that require students to use contextual clues to select the correct target word to complete a sentence, heterogeneous groups of students work together to arrive at the correct answer.The cooperative group work on cognates depends on the expertise of the Spanish-speaking English language learners. One of the strongest features of the intervention is that it provides opportunities for English language learners to converse in English with fluent English speakers in a meaningful way.
Fifth, homework assignments reinforce class learning. For example, in Word Wizard, students record the use of target words encountered outside of class (at home, on the television, with friends), present the "found" sentences to their classmates, and may post the sentences in a class book. As homework assignments, students also generate new sentences, complete crossword puzzles, and work on contexting activities that use the target words.
Sixth, teachers assess students at the end of each lesson to monitor students" instructional progress. Finally, every fifth lesson is a review so students have an opportunity to consolidate what they have learned.
WHAT ARE THE COMPONENTS OF THE CURRICULUM?
The target words are drawn from and embedded in a variety of literary genres.The words for the fourth-grade curriculum are drawn from Arnold Lobel's Fables.The words for the fifthgrade curriculum are drawn from A Journey to the New World: The Diary of Remember Patience Whipple by Katheryn Lasky (from the Dear America series) and Immigrant Kids by Russell Freedman.The words for the sixth-grade curriculum are drawn from New Kids in Town: Oral Histories of Immigrant Teens by Janet Bode and The New York Times "Here and There" series on immigration, which has been modified for sixth-grade students. These texts were chosen both for their appeal and their ability to expose students to a variety of literary genres.
At each grade level, the curriculum consists of 10 lessons. Each lesson is composed of eight days, with the exception of two review lessons that are composed of five days each. The review lessons use new activities to review all of the words learned in the previous four lessons.
Each lesson follows a similar format. During the first day of each lesson, the teacher introduces a story and helps students predict the story line and connect the story to their background knowledge. During the second day, through teacher-directed classroom discussion, students learn the definitions for the target words and how to infer word meaning from text for a subset of these words.
The third day is devoted to building depth of word meaning through engaging activities that encourage students to process new word meanings. For example, in one "deepprocessing" activity from the fifth-grade curriculum, students interview each other using questions that contain the target words (e.g.,What has caused the most torment in your life? Name three things that commonly arouse a teacher's anger?) The fourth and sixth days provide students with tools that can be used in any setting to decipher the meanings of unfa- miliar vocabulary. For example, children work on cognates and morphological relationships and learn to use affixes, roots, cognates, and comprehension monitoring.
During the fifth day of the lesson, students work in heterogeneous cooperative groups on word contexting activities to build depth of word meaning.They are given sentences with a missing word and are directed to select the correct target word based on the sentence context and then to explain why they have selected that particular word.
During the seventh day, students share sentences they have recorded for Word Wizard, an activity that encourages students to listen and look for vocabulary outside the context of the classroom. During the eighth day, students complete an assessment of the lesson's target words so teachers can monitor the students' progress.
IN-DEPTH LOOK AT FOUR KEY COMPONENTS OF THE CURRICULUM
According to Stahl (1999), because most words are learned from context, good vocabulary instruction should simulate learning from context.Toward this end, each lesson begins with an exercise in which students infer the meaning of specific words from the text for that week. Words are deliberately selected to ensure there are enough clues for students to determine the meaning.
On the fifth day of the lesson, students further develop their inferencing skills by working in small, heterogeneous groups on contexting activities. Each group is challenged to figure out the correct target words for sentences that support the words' meaning and then to explain why the answer makes sense. Note that students have already learned the definitions of the target words.This activity is intended to give students practice inferring meaning from text and building depth of word meaning.Two examples follow (target words to be located by the students are italicized):
- "I think my teacher symbolizes Colombia. She represents the country, language, and the country's traditions."
- "When the new boy was asked a question in English, he felt foolish and embarrassed. The teacher humiliated the boy accidentally because he didn't know the boy had recently come from the Dominican Republic."
- Note context clues (if any)
- Determine if there are enough context clues to figure out a target word's meaning and, if so, provide a plausible meaning and explanation for why the meaning is plausible Introduction
- Ask a friend or use a dictionary if the context does not support the word's meaning. Ideally, teachers model this process throughout the day on a variety of sentences with different levels of supporting context.
One of the most difficult tasks in vocabulary instruction is to encourage students to process new words at a deep level. By this, we mean providing opportunities for students to make semantic links to other words and concepts and thus attain a deeper and richer understanding of a word's meaning. Beck and colleagues (1982, 1987) have suggested that one way to have students make these connections and process words more deeply is through answering questions about target words to indicate that they have a clear understanding of their meaning and then to write a sentence that uses the word in a related way. The curriculum modifies this strategy by selecting the target words from the curriculum text, teaching students the word meanings prior to the activity, and engaging students in activities to use the words in novel ways.
The curriculum also adapts well-known games in order to build depth of word meaning. For example, in Charades, students have to act out a target word's meaning for their team. In Word Bee, team members work together to define a target word given and then present the definition to classmates for approval. In Word Substitution, team members replace a target word presented in a sentence with another word or phrase that means the same thing. In Word Guess, the teams of students attempt to guess a target word with the fewest clues possible.
To help students process words more deeply outside the vocabulary activities, teachers are trained to use similar strategies in a less structured way throughout the day. For example, if teachers encounter the target word degree in science, they may ask for the definition of the word in its scientific context as well as what the word may mean in other contexts (math, literature, or geography).They may then ask students to think up new sentences on the spot using various definitions of the target word.
Using Cognates (for Spanish-Speaking English Language Learners)
Cognates are a rich source of information for many English language learners, especially those whose first language is Spanish. Research has found that among English language learners with equal English vocabulary knowledge, Spanish vocabulary knowledge and ability to recognize cognates predicted English reading comprehension, indicating students were making use of cognate relationships in English reading (Nagy, Garcia, Durgunoglu, & Hancin-Bhatt, 1993).
In one activity that helps students learn more about cognates, the class is divided into four heterogeneous groups. Each group is given four or five Spanish words and a passage from Fables. Students must locate the corresponding English cognates for the Spanish words. In each group, English-only students receive help from their Spanish-speaking classmates. Utilizing the Spanish-speaking students' knowledge of Spanish, the group verifies that the English word means the same thing as the cognate.
Some reading researchers (Dale & O'Rourke, 1986; Nagy & Anderson, 1984; Stahl, 1999) have argued that one of the best ways to expand a child vocabulary is through "structural analysis" or helping children recognize the parts of words and what these parts mean. For example, the word unfruitful has the prefix un-, the root fruit, and the suffix -ful. Other words, such as snowman, are compounds of two words. Because children enjoy word play and games with words, the curriculum includes a number of games to teach roots and affixes.
In teaching structural analysis, the curriculum keeps several issues in mind. It avoids "phantom" prefixes, such as re- in reality, so that students will not look for "little words in big words" (leading to such mistakes as finding moth in mother and fat in father). In developing the exercises, we recognized that some suffixes are relatively easy to teach, such as -ness and -ity. Others, such as -tion, have meanings that are more abstract and are difficult to convey. Finally, where possible, we begin with words that are already familiar to the students.
WHY USE THE VOCABULARY IMPROVEMENT PROGRAM?
There is no better predictor of school success than reading comprehension. Nor is there a better predictor of reading comprehension than vocabulary knowledge. Vocabulary development is a lifetime project in which we are constantly expanding and deepening our understanding of words. Children need to learn the definitions of words but also need to learn strategies to decipher meaning when they encounter unknown words.Therefore, in this program the students learn a relatively small number of vocabulary items (12–14 per lesson) while the focus is on strategies that will generalize to contact with other words.Through the course of this program, students learn strategies such as structural analysis (root words and affixes), multiple meanings, cognates, and inferring meaning from context.Teachers and students who participated in the project expressed their appreciation enthusiastically.
The ideas for the vocabulary improvement activities were initially drawn from the literature on vocabulary acquisition and from classroom teacher suggestions.They were further developed through pilot testing and extensive teacher–researcher collaboration. The curriculum was implemented in fourth- and fifth-grade classrooms for more than 2 years, rigorously tested, and found to be highly effective. More specifically, a multivariate analysis of variance was performed on the dependent measures for which scores were available in both the fall and spring of each year to test the effects of predictor variables—school in which the program was implemented, language status (English-only or English language learner), and treatment. VIP was found to improve children's performance in three areas: knowledge of the words taught, knowledge of word analysis, and comprehension of texts including challenging words. Furthermore, the curriculum was effective with children who speak English as a second language as well as with English-only children. Finally, 2 years of exposure to the vocabulary intervention had a greater effect on outcome measures than 1 year.