Thursday, 21 September 2017

More than Words

Working with struggling readers, we see evidence every day that the mechanics of word recognition fluency and vocabulary knowledge are closely linked to the comprehension of text. A reader needs to process words and phrases quickly enough so that it's almost automatic, freeing up cognitive resources for comprehension. At the same time, understanding the meaning of words in context enables the reader to extract information and make inferences about the material.

It's somewhat intuitive that struggling readers would also be very likely to have a deficit in vocabulary knowledge. The less reading you do, the fewer words you encounter. Research supports that correlation: Nagy and Anderson (1984) estimated that the average child enters first grade knowing some 6,000 words, rising to about 45,000 by high school graduation – acquiring an average of 3,000 words per year. White, Graves, and Slater (1990) found that below-level readers learn just 1,000 words a year.

Getting over the 4th grade slump

The vocabulary deficit grows over time, but it also becomes more critical as material gets increasingly complex. It's not surprising that the "4th grade slump" is where we often start to see the gap growing as students grapple with less common, more academic and technical words.

Developing a richer vocabulary can have a positive impact on both fluency and comprehension. Knowing more words leads to more accurate, fluent reading while understanding their meaning is necessary to comprehending text.

The goal is to challenge students with grade-level appropriate rigor so that they can develop and improve their vocabulary while building their reading skills. Direct instruction and practice using words in different ways can help to build both vocabulary and confidence. That doesn't mean making it easy, but rather challenging and rewarding students for their efforts, providing constructive feedback and support along the way.

Learn more about the BrightFish approach to word recognition and vocabulary.

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