Vocabulary and Reading               

So, youíve got kids coming into pre-school, kindergarten and first grade who are already behind the curve in vocabulary. Even if we could teach them to read print, what are they going to relate it to?  - Dr. G. Reid Lyon, Past- Chief of the Child Development and Behavior Branch of the National Institute of Child Health & Human DevelopmentNational Institutes of Health, Current senior vice president for research and evaluation with Best Associates.   Source: COTC Interview - http://www.childrenofthecode.org/interviews/lyon.htm#ImpoverishedVocabulary  

It turns out that I can't play phonemic awareness games when the word's aren't in my vocabulary.... I can't do it. I can't catch the syllables, I can't catch the phonemes.  - Dr. Marilyn Jager Adams, Chief Scientist of Soliloquy Learning, Inc., Author of Beginning to Read: Thinking and Learning About Print. Source: COTC Video Interview (Unpublished) COTC Phone Interview http://www.childrenofthecode.org/interviews/adams.htm

Index:


Related Video(s):

CLICK TO GO TO CHAPTER: We Have A Problem: What's At Stake
Reading Matters

Readiness: Early Life-Learning Trajectories
In the Beginning
Language Foundations
Meaningful Differences

See Also: Human Language - Early Language Development - Emotions, Language and Literacy - Language and Reading - Vocabulary - Phonemic Awareness - Limited English Proficiency - Adult Vocabulary

Return to Index of Topics  -  Notes: 1) This page is a work in progress and does not yet comprehensively cover its topic or include all the COTC and web resources its topic deserves.  2) Bold is used to emphasize our [COTC] sense of importance and does not necessarily reflect gestures or tones of emphasis in the original source. This color indicates COTC edits for brevity or flow. See referenced original for exact quotes.


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What Does it Take to Learn to Read?

If I had my druthers, instructional methods wouldnít be the big deal out there. What would be the big deal is if teachers could ask themselves what does it take to learn to read? It takes phonemic awareness, it takes phonics, it takes the rapid application of those print level skills to text - fluency, itís called. Even when they do all of those kinds of things, phonemic awareness and phonics and fluency, if kids donít have vocabulary they wonít understand what the heck theyíre reading. So, theyíve got to have vocabulary.

G. Reid Lyon, Past- Chief of the Child Development and Behavior Branch of the National Institute of Child Health & Human Development, National Institutes of Health, Current senior vice president for research and evaluation with Best Associates. Source: COTC Interview - http://www.childrenofthecode.org/interviews/lyon.htm#Teachersquestions

Vocabulary

Dr. Marilyn Jager Adams: 'The boy kissed the ji-girl.' That's the way it's supposed to work.  But if the word is not in your vocabulary, you go, ji-uh-erl, jurl, jurl.

David Boulton: Right. So we've got whatever is going on at the decoding level, we've got comprehension at the other end, we've got to haveÖ

Dr. Marilyn Jager Adams: Vocabulary.

David Boulton: The vocabulary has to be there.

Dr. Marilyn Jager Adams: Right.

Marilyn Jager Adams, Chief Scientist of Soliloquy Learning, Inc., Author of Beginning to Read: Thinking and Learning About Print. Source: COTC Interview - http://www.childrenofthecode.org/interviews/adams.htm#Vocabulary

Vocabulary and Reading

Children who donít have the underlying knowledge of vocabulary or cultural background have to not only make sense of the code, but also make sense of the words. Their lack of certainty about what the words mean gets in the way of their sense of assurance that the code has been cracked. So, these two problems support each other and together contribute to the childís sense that something is wrong here.

So, you need not only the code breaking exercises and all the practice that involves becoming fluent with that, but the experience with oral language and understanding what words mean in the conversations one has with other educated people and parents and teachers to be able to collect the knowledge of words and their meaning and understanding of the way the world works to disambiguate those aspects of the printed text as well.

Grover (Russ) Whitehurst, Ex-Director (2002-08), Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education. Source: COTC Interview:  http://www.childrenofthecode.org/interviews/whitehurst.htm#UnnaturalDisambiguation

Early Parent-Child Interactions and Early Literacy Development  

Walker and her colleagues (1994) found that children's vocabulary at age 3 years predicted their school achievement levels (reading and spelling) in kindergarten through third grade.  

Beverly J. Dodici,  Dianne C. Draper,  Carla A. Peterson, Topics in Early Childhood Special Education,  Fall, 2003 Source: Early parent-child interactions and early literacy development.

Vocabulary Correlations with Third Grade Tests

We followed these kids into the third grade. And you know what the third grade is because thatís the break point in terms of literacy. Itís in third and fourth grade that symbols begin to be the curriculum. The relationship of what we saw parents doing, the extra talk before the age of three, and the Peabody picture vocabulary test scores at age nine when they were in the third grade is .77. 

Todd Risley, Professor Emeritus of Psychology at the University of Alaska. Co-Author ďMeaningful Differences in the Everyday Experience of Young American Children.Ē  Source: COTC Interview - http://www.childrenofthecode.org/interviews/risley.htm#CorrelationswithThirdGrade

Impoverished Vocabulary

You know, if we just go back to the little kids we start withÖnow weíre starting at birth, as I mentioned, and by three years of age kids from poverty, disadvantaged, whatever their race or ethnicity, are already 30-40% percent behind in vocabulary development. You know, whereas your kids and my kids are going to learn about nine new words a day from eighteen months of age onward, kids from disadvantaged are going to learn about three.  Now what happens is, theyíre not learning or picking up the vocabulary, but theyíre also not getting those interactions that stimulate brain, that help kids understand that our language is composed of smaller units, and we can talk about how that is so important for reading development. So, youíve got kids coming into pre-school, kindergarten and first grade who are already behind the curve in vocabulary. Even if we could teach them to read print, what are they going to relate it to?"  

G. Reid Lyon, Past- Chief of the Child Development and Behavior Branch of the National Institute of Child Health & Human DevelopmentNational Institutes of Health, Current senior vice president for research and evaluation with Best Associates.   Source: COTC Interview - http://www.childrenofthecode.org/interviews/lyon.htm#ImpoverishedVocabulary  

Insufficient Oral Language Experiences

As we talk about the development of literacy skills, certainly we canít neglect vocabulary development, oral language experience. Itís probably one of the most difficult areas to work in and itís the one subject with the least amount of control. Most of it is not in the classroom; itís out of the classroom. And itís oral, itís not written; very difficult to control."

James Wendorf, Executive Director, National Center for Learning DisabilitiesSource: COTC Interview - http://www.childrenofthecode.org/interviews/wendorf.htm#InsufficientOralLanguageExperiences

The Head Start Family and Child Experiences Survey (FACES) What are We Learning about Program Quality and Child Development?

Programs should stress educational activities that promote childrenís development of increasingly varied and complex vocabularies. Vocabulary has been shown to predict strongly childrenís later general knowledge and comprehension skills. Reading to children in small groups with the promotion of discussion about stories, conversations with children, word games, and exposure to an increasingly wide variety of experiences can help to develop vocabulary. Encouraging parents to read to children daily using an interactive style is also important.  

Ruth Hubbell McKey, Winter 2003  (The author represents the FACES study research team) 

Language-Rich Home and School Environments Are Key to Reading Success  

The Home-School Study also documented a strong connection between early reading success among children and the amount of "decontextualized" talk they engage in with adults,  in both homes and preschools.

The study has shown that the level of vocabulary present in adult talk to children who are three and four years old, in the home setting and in preschools, is a strong predictor of the level of vocabulary that child will have attained by second grade. In other words, children who are exposed to more words in their conversations with adults, and more unusual words, tend to develop larger vocabularies.

  Leon Lynn, Harvard Education Letter  Source: http://www.edletter.org/past/issues/1997-ja/language.shtml

Vocabulary Enters Through Print

Consider the kids who we donít get to who still are having print problems that are labored, hesitant, and inaccurate as they come up through second grade, third grade, and fifth grade. Well, after fourth grade, or during fourth grade and beyond, vocabulary now enters through print. It doesnít enter through hanging out with your friends on the corner. So, now we start to get further behind in vocabulary, such that even when the kids are accommodated for, that is books are read to them through some platform or modality and they have some type of accommodations, they still do not have the background knowledge that should have been fostered by reading from day one and we have this constant trajectory of failure with the gap widening and widening.

G. Reid Lyon, Past- Chief of the Child Development and Behavior Branch of the National Institute of Child Health & Human Development, National Institutes of Health, Current senior vice president for research and evaluation with Best Associates. Source: COTC Interview - http://www.childrenofthecode.org/interviews/lyon.htm#VocabularyPrint

Reading Grows Vocabulary and Exercises Intelligence

David Boulton:  So, itís an exercise environment. Learning to read well, once youíre doing it, opens the door to this huge opportunity to exercise your intelligence that you donít have if you canít read.

Dr. Anne Cunningham: Right, and you wonít acquire the level of verbal intelligence in a technological society such as ours without print. Thatís what is fascinating about this line of research is that people such as Hays and Aarons have looked at the oral versus print distributions of words and what you can readily see is there are lexical items that are found in print that are not words we use in oral discourse. Because we tend to, as a society, dummy-down our language and so you would look pretentious if we began to use words such as dissipate or endeavor. Those are words that are found primarily in print.

So, where do you grow your vocabulary? You grow your vocabulary primarily in print (Fisher , Lyon) and not through oral discourse. And in order to become intelligent you have to engage in print. And so, so many children who didnít break the break the code early, who donít engage in it are shut out. Theyíre shut out of these opportunities to participate in a technological society such as ours.

Anne Cunningham, Director of the Joint Doctoral Program in Special Education with the Graduate School of Education at the University of California-Berkeley. Source: COTC Interview - http://www.childrenofthecode.org/interviews/cunningham.htm#ReadingExercisesIntelligence

Vocabulary Growth and Print

Then the other work that's kind of a fun exploration is a paper that appeared in an IRA journal a few years ago by Lawrence Baines (From page to screen: When a novel is interpreted for film, what gets lost in translation. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 39, 612-622.) What he did was to take text that had been made into movies, things like To Kill a Mockingbird, or something like that. He has the transcript of the movie, and then he has letter by letter - like here are all the words beginning with U in the movie, and here are all the words beginning with U in the book. Of course, one is a huge long list and the other is this emaciated list of fairly frequent words. And that's important literature. Of course it's tied to the print exposure literature that we are into, because as I said, if vocabulary is to grow beyond a certain point, by definition, there has to be exposure to words of a certain  rarity.

Keith Stanovich, Canada's Research Chair of Applied Cognitive Science at the Department of Human Development and Applied Psychology, University of Toronto.  Source: COTC Interview - http://www.childrenofthecode.org/interviews/stanovich.htm#VocabularyGrowth

Matthew Effect and Vocabulary Development (Downward Spiral of Shame)

In our study what we found was that children who made this break through, who broke the code early on in first grade, not only became better readers in high school, which is what weíd predict, but they engaged in print more. So, one of the phenomenal findings of this particular study was that ten years later we could see that those children who broke the code early on began this Matthew Effect, this cycle of engaging in print and because they engaged and were successful in it they enjoyed it and because they enjoyed it they had positive affect and so presumably they practice it more and more. Because they practice it more and more their vocabulary grew, their level of verbal intelligence increased and so when they came upon some complex ideas or complex words, vocabulary items they may not have known, they had the cognitive space to think about, well what does that word mean and then attach it to a similar word so that they can then build their lexicon in a way that allows them to progress through out time."

Anne Cunningham, Director of the Joint Doctoral Program in Special Education with the Graduate School of Education at the University of California-Berkeley.  Source: COTC Interview - http://www.childrenofthecode.org/interviews/cunningham.htm#DownwardSpiralofShame

Amount of Reading Can Predict Vocabulary
     

...The amount of reading a person does can predict vocabulary independent of the education that they've had.

Keith Stanovich, Canada's Research Chair of Applied Cognitive Science at the Department of Human Development and Applied Psychology, University of Toronto.  Source: COTC Interview - http://www.childrenofthecode.org/interviews/stanovich.htm#VocabularyGrowth


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Dr. Grover (Russ) Whitehurst  Director, Institute of Education Sciences, Assistant Secretary of Education, U.S. Department of Education
Dr. Jack Shonkoff Chair, The National Scientific Council on the Developing Child; Co-Editor: From Neurons to Neighborhoods
Dr. Edward Kame'enui Commissioner for Special Education Research, U.S. Department of Education; Director, IDEA, University  of Oregon
Dr. G. Reid Lyon  Past Director, National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) at the National Institutes of Health (NIH)
Dr. Keith Stanovich  Canadian Chair of Cognitive Science, University of Toronto
Dr. Mel Levine Co-Chair and Co-Founder, All Kinds of Minds; Author: A Mind at a Time, The Myth of Laziness & Ready or Not Here Life Comes
Dr. Alex Granzin  School District Psychologist, Past President, Oregon School Psychologists Association 
Dr. James J. Heckman Nobel Laureate, Economic Sciences 2000; Lead Author: The Productivity Argument for Investing in Young Children
Dr. Timothy Shanahan President (2006) International Reading Association, Chair National Early Literacy Panel, Member National Reading Panel
Nancy Hennessy  President, 2003-2005, International Dyslexia Association
Dr. Marilyn Jager Adams Senior ScientistSoliloquy Learning, Author: Beginning to Read: Thinking and Learning About Print
Dr. Michael Merzenich Chair of Otolaryngology, Integrative Neurosciences, UCSF;  Member National Academy of Sciences
Dr. Maryanne Wolf Director, Center for Reading & Language Research; Professor of Child Development, Tufts University
Dr. Todd Risley  Emeritus Professor of Psychology, University of Alaska, Co-author: Meaningful Differences
Dr. Sally Shaywitz  Neuroscientist, Department of Pediatrics, Yale University, Author: Overcoming Dyslexia
Dr. Louisa Moats  Director, Professional Development and Research Initiatives, Sopris West Educational Services
Dr. Zvia Breznitz Professor, Neuropsychology of Reading & Dyslexia, University of Haifa, Israel 
Rick Lavoie Learning Disabilities Specialist, Creator: How Difficult Can This Be?: The F.A.T. City Workshop & Last One Picked, First One Picked On
Dr.Charles Perfetti Professor, Psychology & Linguistics; Senior Scientist and Associate Director, Learning R&D Center, U. of Pittsburgh, PA
Arthur J. Rolnick Senior V.P. & Dir. of Research,  Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis;  Co- Author: The Economics of Early Childhood Development  
Dr. Richard Venezky  Professor, Educational Studies, Computer and  Information Sciences, and Linguistics, University of Delaware
Dr. Keith Rayner  Distinguished  Professor, University of Massachusetts, Author: Eye Movements in Reading and Information Processing
Dr. Paula Tallal  Professor of Neuroscience, Co-Director of the Center for Molecular and Behavioral Neuroscience, Rutgers University
Dr.John Searle  Mills Professor of the Philosophy of Mind and Language, University of California-Berkeley, Author: Mind, A Brief Introduction
Dr.Mark T. Greenberg Director, Prevention Research Center, Penn State Dept. of Human Development & Family Studies; CASEL Leadership Team
Dr. Terrence Deacon  Professor of Biological Anthropology and Linguistics at University of California- Berkeley
Chris Doherty  Ex-Program Director, National Reading First Program, U.S. Department of Education
Dr. Erik Hanushek Senior Fellow, Hoover Institution, Stanford University

Dr. Marketa Caravolas Director, Bangor Dyslexia Unit, Bangor University, Author: International Report on Literacy Research
Dr. Christof Koch Professor of Computation and Neural Systems,  Caltech - Author: The Quest for Consciousness: A Neurobiological Approach
Dr. Guy Deutscher Professor of Languages and Cultures of Ancient Mesopotamia, Holland; Author: Unfolding Language
Robert Wedgeworth  President, ProLiteracy, World's Largest Literacy Organization
Dr. Peter Leone  Director, National Center on Education, Disability and Juvenile Justice
Dr. Thomas Cable  Professor of English, University of Texas at Austin, Co-author: A History of the English Language
Dr. David Abram Cultural Ecologist and Philosopher; Author: The Spell of the Sensuous
Pat Lindamood and Nanci Bell  Principal Scientists, Founders, Lindamood-Bell Learning Processes
Dr. Anne Cunningham  Director, Joint Doctoral Program in Special Education, Graduate School of Education at University of California-Berkeley
Dr. Donald L. Nathanson  Clinical Professor of Psychiatry and Human Behavior at Jefferson Medical College, Director of the Silvan S. Tomkins Institute 
Dr.Johanna Drucker  Chair of Media Studies, University of Virginia, Author: The Alphabetic Labyrinth
John H. Fisher  Medievalist, Leading authority on the development of the written English language, Author: The Emergence of Standard English
Dr. Malcolm Richardson   Chair, Dept. of English, Louisiana State University; Research: The Textual Awakening of the English Middle Classes  
James Wendorf  Executive Director, National Center for Learning Disabilities
Leonard Shlain Physician; Best-Selling Author: The Alphabet vs. The Goddess
Robert Sweet  Co-Founder, National Right to Read Foundation

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The Children of the Code is a Social Education Project and a Public Television Series intended to catalyze and resource a social-educational transformation in how we think about and, ultimately, teach reading. The Children of the Code is an entertaining educational journey into the challenges our children's brains face when learning to read. The series weaves together archeology, history, linguistics, developmental neuroscience, cognitive science, psychology, information theory, reading theory, learning theory, and the personal and social dimensions of illiteracy. 


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