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Development of an Empirically Based Vocabulary Curriculum for Kindergarten and First Grade Students

Year: 2006
Name of Institution:
University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston
Goal: Development and Innovation
Principal Investigator:
Ciancio, Dennis
Award Amount: $1,105,785
Award Period: 3 years
Award Number: R305G060008

Description:

Co-Principal Investigators: Emily Solari (University of California Davis), Brian Wilhoit (University of Tennessee)

Purpose: The primary goals of this project are to develop an empirically based vocabulary curriculum embedded with writing instruction, and to evaluate the role of vocabulary instruction in the development of language arts proficiencies in young students. These goals stem from national concerns regarding school readiness among young children, and the vocabulary demands of comprehending written language. There is a high degree of consensus regarding the critical elements of learning to read: decoding skills, reading fluency, oral language development, vocabulary development, comprehension skills, and the ability to encode speech into writing. However, national reports on the adequacy of instruction in these critical elements concur on the dearth of effective interventions for oral language development, vocabulary development, comprehension skills, and writing. In this project, the researchers focus on vocabulary as a central component of oral language development, and on writing as one manifestation of literate language during the acquisition of literacy in the early grades.

Project Activities: The researchers will develop an empirically based vocabulary curriculum, and evaluate the role of vocabulary instruction in the development of language arts proficiencies in young students. This classroom-based project aims to: (a) develop a vocabulary curriculum for early primary grades that draws from an empirical base for word selection and also embeds opportunities for writing instruction into the curriculum approach; (b) explore the potential effects of the developed curriculum on reading outcomes; and (c) examine how professional development, teacher knowledge, and quality of teaching moderate relations between curriculum implementation and literacy outcomes.

Products: The products from this study include an instructional program to teach vocabulary to elementary grade students, and published reports.

Setting: The schools are located in Texas.

Population: Four hundred kindergarten and first grade students from public schools serving low-income populations will participate. The background of students in this school district are: 30% African American, 57 Hispanic, 9 European American, and less than 5% other. Eighty percent of students come from economically disadvantaged homes.

Intervention: The primary objectives of this project are to develop an empirically based vocabulary curriculum (the Vocabulary Enrichment Project), and to evaluate the role of vocabulary instruction in the development of language arts proficiencies in young students. Vocabulary curricula will be developed and piloted, and then implemented in kindergarten and first grade classes. The intervention will:(a) incorporate writing activities directly into the lessons so as to enhance transfer of decontextualized oral language to written language; (b) increase the number of lessons (weeks) per year from 20 to 30, thereby increasing the number of instructed words from 300 to 450 per year; (c) multiply the effect of instructed words on vocabulary learning by selecting root words that are rare in the basal reading programs but frequent in children's literature; when root words are known, the derivations and inflections are typically known as well, thereby multiplying the effect of teaching the root words; and (d) increase opportunity for incidental learning by providing challenging words related to the target words in a section of the curriculum lesson called "Scaffolding."

Research Design and Methods: During Year 1, vocabulary curricula will be developed and piloted with participation from teachers. In year 2, the curriculum will be implemented in ten kindergarten and ten first grade classes. In Year 3, an experimental group will implement the intervention, using the basal language arts curriculum (Open Court reading), plus the experimental vocabulary curriculum. Twenty kindergarten and 20 first grade classrooms will be randomly assigned to either the intervention or control condition and 10 students randomly selected from each class will be assessed. Thus, 400 students from these 40 classrooms will be assessed for instructional effects.

Control Condition: A comparison group will implement the same basal language arts program (Open Court reading), with professional development and support enhancing instruction in the existing vocabulary sections.

Key Measures: In kindergarten, listening comprehension will be measured with the Understanding Spoken Paragraphs from the CELF-4. Phonological sensitivity will be measured with the Comprehensive Test of Phonological Processing. Vocabulary will be measured using three different assessments: the Expressive Vocabulary Test, the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test, and the Word Association test from the CELF-4. In first grade, word reading will be measured with WJIII Letter word identification, and Reading Comprehension will be measured with WJ-III Passage Comprehension.

Data Analytic Strategy: Assessment of academic outcomes and growth will be based on within-year analyses from multilevel and multivariate perspectives.

Related IES Projects: Development of Integrated Text Level Curricula for Kindergarten Through Second Grade Students (R305A100270)