Complex issues of academic language (e.g. vocabulary, syntax, grammar, semantics) impact the choices teachers must make about literacy instruction. Increasing evidence suggests that academic language is today’s “hidden curriculum” – rarely explicitly taught, but essential to success in the academic world. This has enormous implications for all educators, from pre-kindergarten to college. The following websites support inquiry into this complex topic.
Applied Linguistics and Literacy Development
Teaching Vocabulary: Early, Direct, and Sequential is an article by noted researcher/author Dr. Andrew Biemiller that demonstrates the power of directly teaching vocabulary.
TextProject, sponsored by Dr. Elfrieda (Freddy) Hiebert and colleagues, provides downloadables of papers, chapters, presentations, etc. Details on the QuickReads program based on Dr. Hiebert’s research are also available here.
What Early Childhood Teachers Need to Know about Language, drawn from a commentary on a discussion paper by Lily Wong Fillmore and Catherine Snow, sketches out the linguistic knowledge base we all need to be familiar with to help students become proficient language users.
The Center for Applied Linguistics (CAL) is a private, nonprofit organization working to improve communication through better understanding of language and culture. Established in 1959, CAL is headquartered in Washington, DC. Their website has many excellent resources.
CREATE (Center for Research on the Educational Achievement and Teaching of English Language Learners) is funded through the National Center for Education Research (NCER), Institute of Education Sciences (IES), U.S. Department of Education. It is a partnership of researchers from several institutions, including some of the best minds in our field. Check this site often!
Dr. Robin Scarcella, from UC Irvine, is a leader in promoting the development of academic English. In addition to the Web pages from her classes, take a look at her paper on academic language and how to teach it, Academic English: A Conceptual Framework, which is available for download from the National Clearinghouse for English Language Acquisition (NCELA).
Academic Language Lists and Vocabulary Tools
The Academic Word List is an interesting site hosted by New Zealand linguist Dr. Averil Coxhead. The central idea is to identify critical academic vocabulary used across disciplines – words like compare, similar, vary – that is essential for students to understand in academic reading and writing.
Word Generation was developed by Dr. Catherine Snow and colleagues at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. The site provides a wealth of information and practical tools for middle school literacy development using academic language.
This online vocabulary profiler is available thanks to linguist Tom Cobb. Users can import any digitized text and it will be instantly analyzed into four categories of words: 1) First 1000 most frequent words in English, 2) Second 1000 most frequent words in English, 3) Academic Word List terms (from the Coxhead list, referenced above), and 4) other words.
Word Sift is a vocabulary tool for teachers and students. It was created by Kenji Hakuta and colleagues at Stanford University to allow quick text analysis for Academic Word List terms and easy access to various free Web-based vocabulary enhancements.
Richard Lederer’s Verbivore site is loaded with both humor and valuable resources for teachers and other language lovers. As Lederer reminds us, ours is the only language in which you drive in a parkway and park in a driveway and your nose can run and your feet can smell.
Longman and Heinle offer free access to excellent “learner dictionaries” that provide student-friendly definitions. This is especially useful to teachers in preparing lessons for abstract academic terms (e.g. predict, variable, subsequent).
The Online Etymological Dictionary is a useful resource that provides teachers with rich context in terms of word origins/history.
Lexile Power Vocabulary is an interesting electronic resource for vocabulary instruction. This tool is linked to specific titles that are commonly found on core literature lists, basal anthologies, etc. It also provides the identification of key vocabulary and tools for teaching and assessment.
Free Rice is vocabulary development game that donates 10 grains of rice to the World Food Programme to end hunger for every correct word.
Tag Galaxy, powered by Flickr, connects images to vocabulary to provide visual support for word learning.
Books on Vocabulary Instruction
The Vocabulary Handbook from CORE is one of the most practical how-to books for classroom teachers concerned with enhancing their vocabulary instruction.
Bringing Words to Life: Robust Vocabulary Instruction (Second Edition) by Isabel Beck et al. at the University of Pittsburg is one of the very best books on the teaching of vocabulary.
Vocabulary Development, by Steven Stahl, is another very practical book on effective vocabulary instruction.
Andrew Biemiller’s classic book, Language and Reading Success, makes the clear case for effective early vocabulary instruction and provides practical examples of how to enhance beginning reading programs in terms of “value added” lexical work.
Other Vocabulary Resources
Pacific Region Education Lab (PREL) hosted a vocabulary forum in 2004 with leading researchers, then released a paper summarizing their findings, A Focus on Vocabulary (pdf).
Narrowing the Language Gap: The Case for Explicit Vocabulary Instruction (pdf) is a monograph by Dr. Kate Kinsella and Dr. Kevin Feldman that provides a clear foundation for what words to teach, how to teach them, and strategies to ensure that students use academic vocabulary in their speaking and writing.
Teaching Vocabulary to Adolescents to Improve Comprehension describes a 16-week intervention by Mary Longo and Ann Marie Curtis in which the comprehension of middle and high school students reading below grade level was improved significantly by instruction that developed their vocabularies through listening, speaking, reading, and writing. Guiding principles for the intervention are discussed and sample activities are provided. It is one of the most interesting and practical research studies to focus on vocabulary instruction with adolescents and is posted at the International Reading Association's website, Reading Online.
Poor Children’s Fourth-Grade Slump, an article in the Spring 2003 issue of American Educator, highlights the importance of vocabulary knowledge and related instructional challenges/solutions.
Research about Reading Comprehension
The RAND Reading Study Group (RRSG) is charged with defining a core problem of reading education and mapping out a comprehensive, long-range program of research and development. The RRSG is composed of 14 experts representing a range of disciplinary and methodological perspectives on the field of reading. Their report, Reading for Understanding, summarizes the state of research and research-based practice in the field of reading comprehension, with a goal of generating a well-motivated agenda for future research that will inform practice in this area.
Comprehension Instruction: What Makes Sense Now, What Might Make Sense Soon by cognitive psychologist and literacy expert Michael Pressley explores the research on reading comprehension. The article provides a summary of well-validated ways to increase comprehension skills through instruction.
Comprehension and Primary Students
Improving the Reading Comprehension of America’s Children: 10 Research-Based Principles is a list of key principles that research suggests boost comprehension. It was compiled by CIERA (Center for the Improvement of Early Reading Achievement).
Utility of Comprehension Strategy Teaching
Dr. Daniel T. Willingham writes a regular column for AFT’s American Educator magazine. His article on the role of comprehension strategy instruction, The Usefulness of Brief Instruction in Reading Comprehension Strategies (pdf), is a must-read for educators concerned about building comprehension.
Peer-Assisted Learning Strategies
PALS, Peer-Assisted Learning Strategies, combines proven instructional principles and practices with peer mediation so that research-based reading activities are effective, feasible, and enjoyable. PALS is a version of classwide peer tutoring in which all students within a classroom are paired with an appropriate peer to practice the key reading strategies. Pairs are changed regularly and, over a period of time, all students have the opportunity to be “coaches” and “players.” There are research-validated PALS curricula available for kindergarten, first grade, grades 2-8, and high school.
Sopris West provides Kindergarten and First Grade PALS programs, along with teacher-directed versions of these programs. These are appropriate for use with well-trained para-educators or volunteers providing pre-teaching support for at-risk students.