- This message from Molly Theus, first year Doctor of Veterinary Medicine student at the University of Georgia in Athens is Part 2 of a 3 Part Series; “Do Our A&P Students Know How to Read
(To review Part 1 visit the link: -PART 1 ).
Vocabulary comprehension is a crucial component of any student’s education. Research has been done about how to best teach content-specific vocabulary (Stinnett, 2012), and having competent instructors is certainly a key component. To teach non-content-specific vocabulary, teachers at the elementary level need to have “specialized linguistic knowledge” (Phelps & Schilling, 2004) to effectively teach reading. Reading comprehension is assessed primarily with standardized testing assessing Common Core standards (Fisher & Frey, 2014). These Common Core standards emphasize that “teaching to the test” will no longer work and that there is hope that reading improvement could be on the way (Hirsh, 2010). Content-specific subject tests, such as science and math tests, are also useful in assessing reading and vocabulary comprehension.
There is growing concern in the education community about an apparent lack of vocabulary mastery. A strong emphasis was placed on reading under the 2001 “No Child Left Behind Law” (Hirsh, 2010), which aimed to improve test scores across all subject areas. The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) reports that the nation’s average reading scores in 2009 for grades 4 and 8 are not statistically different from those in either 2007 or 2001. While there has been no marked improvement in reading scores, math scores “have seen an upward trend after the instatement of the law in 2001” (Hirsh, 2010). A study conducted in 1983 showed that students had difficulty comprehending assigned tests, seemingly due to issues with vocabulary comprehension, not content complexity (Moore, Readence & Rickelman). Content-specific comprehension could also be linked to reading strategies, as passive readers appear to have more difficulty comprehending science texts than active readers (Croner, 2003).
Vocabulary comprehension is not only important for success on individual scholastic tasks such as exams, but also for a student’s overall outlook for success. In an article written for the publication Principal, E.D. Hirsch Jr. states that “Verbal scores are highly correlated with a student’s life chances and contributions to society” (2010). It is crucial that students who appear to be struggling with vocabulary comprehension are identified and given supplemental assistance, as “Vocabulary growth rate differences accumulated over time such that the effect on vocabulary size was large” (Duff, Tomblin & Catts, 2015). This means that the gap between high-achieving students and underperforming students continues to widen over time.
Several instructional methods have been shown to be particularly effective in improving vocabulary comprehension in lower grades. One such technique is scaffolding. Scaffolding, or using complex texts written at a level higher than a student’s current grade level, can “build confidence and competency [in] decoding unfamiliar words” (Fisher & Fray, 2014). Encouraging teachers to read aloud to students can help students understand “text structure, word solving and comprehension strategies so that skills are built and habits are formed” (Regan & Berkeley, 2012). Teachers should also emphasize that their students “read widely from texts they want to read, building their background knowledge and vocabulary while developing morally, emotionally, and intellectually” (Ivey & Johnston, 2013). Furthermore, according to Patrick Croner who compared active to passive reading comprehension in science texts, active readers demonstrate more metacognition and utilize pre-reading and during-reading strategies to improve comprehension. Passive readers, on the other hand, tend to be much less engaged in the text. Consequently, Croner recommends using varied reading strategies to turn passive readers into active readers to improve their textual comprehension (2003).
Outside of the classroom, reading for pleasure is an indicator for vocabulary success. Students who read on their own are more likely to encounter low-frequency words and improve their vocabulary than their minimally-reading counterparts (Duff, Tomblin & Catts, 2015). It has also been demonstrated that reading aloud with preschoolers, and asking the children questions while being read stories, improves vocabulary acquisition (Senechal, 1997).
To give students the tools they need to be successful in college and beyond, steps need to be taken throughout development, beginning with preschool-age students at home and continuing throughout elementary and high school. The inability to understand basic vocabulary is an issue best solved before students reach the collegiate level. However, new developments and novel approaches of teaching content and reading comprehension to college students using adaptive computer software (Ray & Belden, 2007) could be promising for struggling students.
Come back next week to hear about a research project conducted within the microcosm of Southern Adventist University students last semester to further investigate the extent of this problem.
Croner, P. E. (2003). Strategies for teaching science content reading. The Science Education Review 2(4), 104-19
Duff, D., Tomblin, J. B., & Catts, H. (2015). The influence of reading on vocabulary growth: A case for a Matthew effect. Journal of Speech, Language & Hearing Research 58, 853-64.
Fisher, D., & Frey, N. (2014) Scaffolded reading instruction of content-area texts. Read Teach The Reading Teacher 67(5), 347-51.
Hirsch, E. D. (2010). Teaching content is teaching reading. Principal. (November/December) 10-14.
Ivey, G., & Johnston, P. (2013). Engagement with young adult literature: Processes and outcomes. Reading Research Quarterly, 48(3), 1-21.
Moore, D. W., Readence, J. E., & Rickelman, R. J. (1983). An historical exploration of content area reading instruction. Reading Research Quarterly, 18(4), 419-38.
Phelps, G., & Schilling, S. (2004). Developing measures of content knowledge for teaching reading. The Elementary School Journal, 105(1), 31-48.
Ray, R. D., & Belden, N. (2007). Teaching college level content and reading comprehension skills simultaneously via an artificially intelligent adaptive computerized instructional system. The Psychological Record 57, 201-18.
Regan, K., & Berkeley, S. (2012). Effective reading and writing instruction: A focus on modeling. Intervention in School & Clinic, 47(5), 276-282.
Senechal, M. (1997). The differential effect of storybook reading on preschoolers’ acquisition of expressive and receptive vocabulary. Journal of Child Language 24(1), 123-38.
Stinnett, M. (2012). Content area reading pedagogy and domain knowledge. Illinois Reading Council Journal, 40(3), 70-5.