Vocabulary Development Through Writing: A Key to Academic Success
Purpose: The ability to read and write proficiently is critical to success in American schools. However, according to recent national reports, there is a significant and increasing gap in reading and writing scores between students in economically advantaged and economically disadvantaged schools. A pattern of disparity is also found for English language learners when compared with native English speakers. Although many factors contribute to the underperformance of low-income students and English language learners, research indicates that differences in students' knowledge of academic language is a key element in academic achievement. The purpose of the proposed study is to develop and obtain evidence of the potential impact of an academic register and vocabulary intervention for improving the reading and writing achievement of fourth graders.
Project Activities: The researchers will develop and evaluate an intervention for fourth grade teachers in reading and writing that focuses on developing strategies, techniques, and materials that can support an understanding of and appreciation for word use, thereby promoting vocabulary development among low-income students and English language learners. The hypothesis is that approaching vocabulary development through explicit attention to word use in children's literature, and integrating this word study into writing workshops, will develop word consciousness, leading to enhanced writing and reading ability according to multiple measures.
Products: The products of this project include an instructional program in writing for fourth graders, and published reports.
Setting: The schools are in Northern California.
Population: Researchers will work with fourth grade teachers and students in two school districts in California. One district is set in a large urban community and the other is a small district in a rural community. In the first district, 24% of students are limited English speakers, and 30% are economically disadvantaged. In the second district, 30% of the students are limited English speakers, and 39% qualify for free/reduced lunch.
Intervention: The goal of this project is to develop and evaluate an intervention for fourth grade teachers in reading and writing that focuses on developing strategies, techniques, and materials that can support an understanding of and appreciation for word use, thereby promoting vocabulary development among low-income students and English language learners. The hypothesis is that approaching vocabulary development through explicit attention to word use in children's literature, and integrating this word study into writing workshops, will develop word consciousness, leading to enhanced reading and writing abilities according to multiple measures. Researchers will introduce the intervention to teachers and collaboratively develop word study/word consciousness activities with them that are directed at academic language and content-specific vocabulary, and that are aligned with the teachers' fiction and nonfiction units of study. Teachers will integrate these activities into their teaching. Throughout the project, researchers will meet with the teachers to discuss their experiences, revise the activities, and provide support to them.
Research Design and Methods: In a quasi-experimental design, the reading and writing achievement of fourth grade students in intervention classrooms will be compared with the reading and writing achievement of fourth grade students in control classrooms in order to establish whether any literacy gains are due to the word study/word consciousness intervention. In Year 1 of the project, the researchers will recruit four 4th grade teachers from two school districts who are experienced with a unit of study/writing workshop approach to teaching writing. These four teachers will remain as intervention teachers for the duration of the three-year study. They will be matched according to years of experience, familiarity with a unit of study approach to writing workshop, and student demographics with four control teachers who work in the same districts. In Year 2, the four Year 1 control teachers will become intervention teachers, making a total of eight intervention teachers. Across the three years, it is estimated that a total of 600 fourth grade students will participate in the intervention.
Control Condition: Students in the control condition will receive the standard instruction in reading and writing normally offered by their schools. Over the course of the three-year study, there will be 20 matched control teachers (600 students).
Key Measures: Data for quantitative analysis will include the following: student scores on California Achievement Tests or English Language Arts and Writing; beginning and end of year writing samples (fiction and nonfiction) that will be analyzed for textual features, text structure, language use, word frequency use, and content accuracy; beginning and end of year teacher questionnaires; and classroom observations. Data for qualitative analysis will center on case studies developed on 24 randomly selected intervention students (12 per district), for whom the following data will be collected: final drafts of all writing; knowledge rating guides completed before and after units of study; lists of all books read; and interviews with both the case study students and their teachers.
Data Analytic Strategy: First, a hierarchical linear model will be employed to analyze the relationship between individual student gain scores in reading and vocabulary achievement from third to fourth grade and from fourth to fifth grade as within subject measures, and teacher treatment condition to distinguish between-group factors. Second, an interrupted time series model with a nonequivalent no-treatment comparison group will be employed to establish trends before and after the intervention.
Project Website: http://vineproject.ucsc.edu/
Related IES Projects: Measuring Vocabulary with Testlets: A New Tool for Assessment (R305A090550)
Lubliner, S., and Scott, J. (2008). Nourishing Vocabulary. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.
Samway, K. Davies, and Taylor, D. (2008). Teaching English Language Learners, 6–12: Strategies That Work. New York: Scholastic.
Scott, J., Skobel, B., and Wells, J. (2008). The Word Conscious Classroom: Building the Vocabulary Readers and Writers Need. New York: Scholastic.
Scott, J., Hoover, M., Flinspach, S., and Vevea, J. (2008). A Multiple-Level Vocabulary Assessment Tool: Measuring Word Knowledge Based on Grade-Level Materials. In Y. Kim, V. Risko, D. Compton, D. Dickinson, M. Hundley, R. Jimenez, K. Leander, and D. Rowe (Eds.), (pp. 325–340). Oak Creek, WI: National Reading Conference.
Scott, J., Nagy, B., and Flinspach, S. (2008). More Than Merely Words: Redefining Vocabulary Learning in a Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Society. In A. Farstrup, and J. Samuels (Eds.), What Research Has to Say About Vocabulary Instruction (pp. 182–210). Newark, DE: International Reading Association.
Scott, J., Flinspach, S., Miller, T., Gage-Serio, O. and Vevea, J. (2009). An Analysis of Reclassified English Learners, English Learners and Native English Fourth Graders on Assessments of Receptive and Productive Vocabulary. In Proceedings of the 58th Annual Yearbook of the National Reading Conference (pp. 312–329). Oak Creek, WI: National Reading Conference.