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IES Grant

Title: A Multi-Part Intervention for Accelerating Vocabulary Acquisition through Inductive Transfer
Center: NCER Year: 2009
Principal Investigator: Romance, Nancy Awardee: Florida Atlantic University
Program: Literacy      [Program Details]
Award Period: 3 years Award Amount: $1,414,605
Type: Development and Innovation Award Number: R305A090523

Co-Principal Investigators: Michael Vitale

Purpose: Research consistently shows that vocabulary knowledge is an important component of reading comprehension. Simply put, the more words a child knows, the better able that child is to understand what is being read. This research also indicates that children from lower socioeconomic backgrounds tend to know fewer words compared to their more advantaged peers, and thus are at greater risk for reading failure. How to enhance vocabulary knowledge for these at-risk children is a challenge because the rate at which children typically learn new words is far too rapid to be explained by either direct vocabulary instruction or by the indirect effects of reading alone. In this study, the research team will further develop and refine an instructional strategy that elementary school teachers can use with basal readers to help students make inferences about the meanings of words as they read texts.

Project Activities: Working with teachers and their students in third, fourth, and fifth grade classrooms, the research team will develop and iteratively refine a multi-component instructional strategy that teachers can use as a time-efficient add-on during basal reading instruction. The first two years of the study will be devoted to the iterative refinement of the intervention through a series of small-scale pilot studies addressing each component of the instructional strategy and the supports needed for implementation. In the final project year, the full intervention will be field tested to determine its impact on vocabulary knowledge and reading achievement.

Products: The primary product of this study is an instructional strategy that teachers can easily incorporate into their typical basal reading instruction in order to scaffold their third, fourth and fifth grade students' inductive learning of vocabulary. The team will develop both a generalizable framework for the instructional model such that teachers can adopt the instructional strategy to different vocabulary words or non-basal reading materials, as well as story-specific instantiations of the instructional strategy for all the basal stories used in grades three, four, and five in the participating school district. The team will also develop support tools, some of which will be web-based, to help teachers implement the instructional strategy. These support tools include teacher professional development, for example teacher guides with video modeling of strategies; follow-up teacher support (e.g., a listserv); measures to assess fidelity of implementation; and a database system to monitor implementation.

Structured Abstract

Setting: The study will take place in three elementary schools in a large school district in Florida.

Population: In each of the three schools, three teachers at each grade level (third to fifth), for a total of 27 teachers, and their students will participate.

Intervention: This intervention is an instructional strategy for teachers to scaffold their students' inductive learning of vocabulary when reading text. In this study, it is designed to be used during typical basal reading instruction in upper elementary classrooms (third to fifth grade). The strategy consists of four specific procedures or steps to guide inductive learning of vocabulary. In Step One, teachers jump start the inductive process during a typical basal reading lesson by asking students two types of questions as they read the story: What does this word mean? How does this word affect the meaning of the sentence, of the story? In Step Two, after the regular lesson is completed, teachers use direct instruction to introduce two additional words from the same semantic word family as the key word (e.g., glad and joyful for the key word happy). Teachers provide definitions for these two new words, and then students re-read the three-sentence passage in the story that contains the original word (the sentence with the word embedded in it along with the preceding and following sentences) but replace the original word with the two newly learned words. After re-reading this passage with each of the two related words, teachers again ask: What does this word mean? How does this word affect the meaning of the sentence, of the story? In Step Three, teachers indirectly teach semantically related words; students re-read the same passage with two additional semantically related words (e.g., delighted and pleased), but this time teachers do not provide definitions before students insert the new words. The re-reading is again followed by the two questions to scaffold induction, but this time another question is asked: How did the meaning of the three sentences in the story suggest what the meaning of the new word(s) should be? In Step Four, students apply what they have learned by telling the class about a personal experience in a single sentence that uses the original key word or one of the target words in the lesson.

Research Design and Methods: In Year 1, three teachers at each grade level (three, four, and five) in one school will participate in small-scale pilot studies of the different components of the 4-step instructional strategy using three different stories per grade level. In Year 2, the original school and a second school will participate in a year-long pilot of the intervention components using all stories in each grade level. In Year 3, these two schools and one additional school will participate in a year-long summative field test of the intervention, including all instructional and support components, for all stories per grade level.

Control Condition: There is no control condition.

Key Measures: The Vocabulary and Reading Comprehension subtests of the Iowa Test of Basic Skills (ITBS) and researcher-developed tests of vocabulary retention and inductive transfer will be used to assess student vocabulary learning. An observation checklist and teacher logs will be used to assess implementation fidelity. Participant surveys and interviews will be used to gather more informal, qualitative data on teacher and school administrator perspectives on the usability and feasibility of the classroom instructional strategy.

Data Analytic Strategy: In the participating study schools, 9-week cycles are used to report on student academic progress. Students will be assessed on the project-developed measures and the ITBS at the beginning and end of these 9-week cycles to assess pre-post changes in student vocabulary knowledge. Multi-level analyses will be used to assess cross-sectional (by grade) and longitudinal (by student, by teacher) trends for each achievement outcome measure and for teacher implementation fidelity.

Products and Publications


Vitale, M., and Romance, N. (2013). Inductive Use of Semantic Word-Families to Accelerate Vocabulary Development and Reading Comprehension in Grades 3–4–5. In Proceedings of the Annual Meeting of the Cognitive Science Society (Vol. 35, No. 35).