Sunday, December 21, 2014

Vocabulary Development is key!

How do you introduce your child to new words?  What do you do when you encounter an unknown word when reading together?  Consider the learning opportunities you're presented with when you stumble across an unknown word in print or in conversation - establishing that understanding will be a well of knowledge children will continue to draw upon!  Check out the article below.

Vocabulary Development As the Key to Closing the Achievement Gap

            “To grow up as the child of well-educated parents in an affluent American home is to hit the verbal lottery,” says Robert Pondiscio in this Education Gadfly article. “In sharp contrast, early disadvantages in language among low-income children – both the low volume of words they hear and the way in which they are employed – establish a verbal inertia that is immensely difficult to address or reverse… When it comes to vocabulary, size matters.” A robust vocabulary correlates strongly with school achievement, SAT scores, college attendance and graduation, and higher adult earnings even among those who don’t attend college.

            So how do less-fortunate students build vocabulary? Not through studying and memorizing decontextualized word lists, says Pondiscio, but through repeated exposure to unfamiliar words in context – especially Tier 2 words like verify, superior, and negligent. These middle-tier words “are essential to reading comprehension,” he says, “and undergird more subtle and precise use of language, both receptive (reading, hearing) and expressive (writing, speaking)… There is a language of upward mobility in America. It has an expansive and nuanced vocabulary that it employs to nimbly navigate the world of organizations, institutions, and opportunities.”

            Consider the word durable. Here’s how a student might gradually master the word and add it to long-term memory by encountering it in four content-area texts:

-    The Egyptians learned how to make durable sheets of parchment from the papyrus plant.

-    With this lightweight and durable telescope, young scientists can explore the natural wonders of the earth or the craters of the moon and beyond.

-    Many durable Roman concrete buildings are still in use after more than 2,000 years.

-    Instead of having to find caves to create makeshift shelters for protection from the weather, man started to look for more durable materials with which to build long-lasting dwellings.

In each case, context is vital to figuring out the meaning of durable and gradually solidifying it in long-term memory. So is background knowledge. “This is the Matthew Effect in action,” says Pondiscio. “Those who have the broadest general knowledge, whether acquired at home, school, or elsewhere in their lives, are most likely to possess the ‘schema’ necessary to intuit the meaning of the word in context and ultimately incorporate the new words into their vocabulary; those who do not fall further behind. The language-rich grow richer; the poor get poorer.”

            Students’ knowledge base is the “context-creating engine of language growth,” he continues. “In short, schools that hope to educate for upward mobility should be doing all they can to make children as rich as possible in knowledge and language – so that they can grow richer still… Low-income children most specifically need more science, social studies, art, and music to build the necessary ‘schema’ that drive comprehension and language growth.”

            “Without a common body of knowledge and its associated gains in vocabulary and language proficiency as a first purpose of American education,” Pondiscio concludes, “the achievement gap will remain a permanent fixture of American society, and the odds of upward mobility – already depressingly long – will become nearly insurmountable.”


“It Pays to Increase Your Word Power” by Robert Pondiscio in The Education Gadfly, December 10, 2014 (Vol. 14, #50),

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