Vocabulary is the KEY to unlocking Comprehension Skills!

February 22, 2021 2 Comments
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If we don’t start teaching vocabulary now the learning gap for children will increase. Use these vocabulary comprehension skills to improve learning in your classroom! 

According to the National Assessment of Education Progress, only about a third of 4th graders are proficient in reading. When focusing on early childhood learning, the debate has been whether it is better to teach whole language or phonics. Whatever your belief, research shows that kids don’t always comprehend what they read.

There are some experts who state that there really are two different schools of thought regarding reading. One is phonics – decoding words by matching sounds to letters. The other is whole reading – learning through memorization of the word. English Language Arts and reading teaches both ideas directly. But kids who don’t have the vocabulary knowledge to read the passage, won’t understand the main idea.

“Wanting students to be able to ‘analyze, synthesize and evaluate’ information sounds like a reasonable goal,” writes Daniel Willingham, a professor of psychology at the University of Virginia. “But analysis, synthesis, and evaluation mean different things in different disciplines.”

“But the bigger problem is that critical thinking varies so much. “We use critical thinking when playing chess, designing a product, or planning strategy for a field hockey match,” Willingham wrote. “But there are no routine, reusable solutions for these problems”.

Research Based Evidence with vocabulary comprehension skills 

 Natalie Wexler, author of “The Knowledge Gap: The Hidden Cause of America’s Broken Education System–and How to Fix It,” states that most ‘elementary schools teach reading and vocabulary comprehension skills as free-floating skills, detached from the content a child is reading. Regardless of the topic, the focus is on teaching students how to make inferences or find the main idea’. Researching the cognitive science of reading Wexler found that ” cognitive scientists have agreed for decades” that the most important element of reading comprehension is knowledge and vocabulary about the topic (Jill Barshay, The Hechinger Report)

An experiment cited mostly by researchers is about baseball. In this experiment researchers chose a topic that kids who may be average readers would know something about, baseball. General reading skills or knowledge of the topic was the main goal of the study.

“What they found was the kids who knew about baseball did very well, regardless of whether they tested as good or poor readers,” Wexler said.  The kids identified as “poor” readers but knew more about baseball, performed well on the baseball-focused reading comprehension task. In the study children deemed “good” readers but didn’t know much about baseball, performed lower. This study has been replicated in other contexts.

You will love this vocabulary activity to help your middle school students become better readers!

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In her research, Wexler also contends that the knowledge gap is directly related to the achievement gap in that it follows a growing income inequality. The gap looms wide even though the efforts to close it have increased, thus pointing to the evidence of the level of education of the parents. Highly educated parents are more likely to be wealthier.

Lisa Anderson

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    I'm a 20+ year veteran of teaching! My experience has led me to teach students in rural to urban schools and loved every minute! From teaching kids to teaching adults to mentoring teachers (and some administrators), it is a blessing to help move learning forward! I love my career! Read More

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