A sponsored post from Mrs. Wordsmith
With great freedom comes great responsibility. How can homeschooling parents ensure their children are learning new words in the most effective way possible?
Schools are falling short of meeting the required milestones in a child’s development. In the US, only 34% of 4th graders are reading and comprehending proficiently (Connor et al., 2014) and in the UK the numbers are not much more encouraging.
It does not come as a surprise then, that homeschooling has seen an incredible rise in recent years. A study by the BBC which asked government authorities to provide data, reports that the number of homeschooled children increased by 40% in the last three years (Issimdar, 2018).
However, as it is commonly acknowledged, with great freedom comes great responsibility, and it is the parents’ job to make sure their children develop into well-rounded, sharp and capable individuals. Given that reading comprehension and vocabulary have been identified as strong predictors of future academic success (NICHD, 2000) as well as overall school and life outcomes (Beck, McKeown, & Kucan, 2002), it is imperative for children to become proficient in these areas.
A good way to achieve this outcome is to focus on explicit vocabulary instruction using materials that have been developed especially for this purpose.
Reading alone is not enough
Although many people believe that reading stories with their children is enough to help them learn new words, explicit instruction has been shown to yield significantly better results. In fact, children acquire 80% of the words they learn in the first 10 years of their life through direct explanation (Beck, McKeown & Kucan, 2002). It has also been shown that direct vocabulary instruction increases metalinguistic awareness which in turn increases the likelihood that children will infer the meaning of unknown words they come across in different contexts (Coyne et al., 2010).
The literature supporting that explicit instruction is incredibly effective has gathered very strong and convincing evidence that keeps piling up (Beck & McKeown, 2007; Biemiller & Boote, 2006; Coyne, McCoach, Loftus, Zipoli, & Kapp, 2009; Justice, Meier, & Walpole, 2005; Silverman, 2007; Coyne et al., 2010). So, which is the best way to teach children vocabulary? The most robust evidence points towards extended instruction with distributed practice, a methodology upon which Mrs. Wordsmith’s products were created.
The extended method consists of rich, direct instruction in which kids are given simple definitions of words in a context-rich format followed by activities that promote deep processing of word meanings. Later, these words are integrated into a story that is read aloud to the children, but there is no longer a need to pause for explanations. A more widespread method for vocabulary teaching is embedded instruction, which skips the activities to focus simply on reading out a story to the child and giving a brief explanation of the new words they encounter. But studies have shown that the extended method is more effective in achieving both breadth and depth of vocabulary knowledge than the embedded method (Loftus-Rattan & Mitchell, 2016).
Coyne and colleagues’ study (2010) suggest that the extended method facilitates the development of metalinguistic awareness, especially in young students who may not have systematically attended to words and their meanings before. The reason this method is not commonly used in schools is that it is more time-consuming than the embedded method. Fortunately, this is not an issue for homeschooling, as one of its main benefits is that educators and children are owners of their own time. Now, this method is very effective for learning, but what is the most effective way to engrave knowledge into long-term memory? Experts have always argued for what they call “distributed practice”.
The distributed practice involves learning few concepts every day, as opposed to attempting to learn a large number in a single go. A study found that distributed learning was significantly more effective for 90% of participants than “massed learning”, which is known in this day and age as “cramming” (Kornell, 2009). A possible explanation for these results is related to the child’s ability to access long-term memory: distributed learning provides children with the opportunity to practice recalling the learned material after some time has elapsed (Bloom and Schuell 1981). As they learn new concepts, they remember and build on the concepts they previously learned. It is possible then, that the ability to retrieve information from long-term memory improves with practice, which is encouraged through distributed learning.
The ‘bit-by-bit’ approach to vocabulary
Other studies also support that the “bit-by-bit” approach is a much more efficient way of learning (Marulis & Neuman, 2010; Smith, 2008). Put simply, it seems that vocabulary learning is similar to leading a healthy lifestyle. If you exercise heavily once a month and only eat a balanced and healthy diet for a day, you are unlikely to lose weight. The key to success is consistency and perseverance. The same principles apply to learning.
In sum, for children to reach their full academic potential and all the future prospects that come with it, they need to develop their literacy skills. Vocabulary is crucial in achieving this, and the best method to teach it consists of short and frequent episodes of rich and direct instruction. Mrs. Wordsmith’s Narrative Journey and Social Journey are developed based on these guidelines, and the best part about them is that they can be easily incorporated into a homeschooling schedule.
Issimdar, M. (2018). ‘Thousands more children are homeschooled.’ BBC News. Available at: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-42624220 [Accessed 26 Jul. 2018].
Beck, I., McKeown, M. and Kucan, L. (2002) Bringing words to life: Robust vocabulary instruction. New York: Guilford Press.
Beck, I., McKeown, M. (2007). ‘Increasing Young Low-Income Children’s Oral Vocabulary Repertoires through Rich and Focused Instruction.’ The Elementary School Journal, 107(3): 251-271.
Biemiller, A. and Boote, C. (2006) ‘An Effective Method for Building Meaning Vocabulary in Primary Grades.’ Journal of Educational Psychology 98: 44-62.
Bloom, K. & Schuell, T. (1981). ‘Effects of Massed and Distributed Practice on the Learning and Retention of Second-Language Vocabulary’.The Journal of Educational Research 74(4): 245-248.
Coyne, M., McCoach, B., Loftus, S., Zipoli Jr., R., Kapp, S. (2009). ‘Direct Vocabulary Instruction in Kindergarten: Teaching for Breadth versus Depth.’ The Elementary School Journal 110(1): 1-18.
Coyne, M., McCoach, B., Loftus, S., Zipoli Jr., R., Ruby, M., Crevecoeur, Y., & Kapp, S. (2010) ‘Direct and Extended Vocabulary Instruction in Kindergarten: Investigating Transfer Effects.’ Journal of Research on Educational Effectiveness 3(2): 93-120. DOI: 10.1080/19345741003592410
Connor, C. M., Spencer, M., Day, S. L., Giuliani, S., Ingebrand, S., McLean, L., Morrison, F. (2010). ‘Capturing the Complexity: Content, Type, and Amount of Instruction and Quality of the Classroom Learning Environment Synergistically Predict Third Graders’ Vocabulary and Reading Comprehension Outcomes.’ Journal of Educational Psychology 106(3): 762-778.
Justice, L. M., Meier, J., & Walpole, S. (2005). Learning New Words From StorybooksAn Efficacy Study With At-Risk Kindergartners. Lang Speech Hear Serv Sch, 36(1), 17-32. doi: 10.1044/0161-1461(2005/003).
Kornell, N. (2009). ‘Optimising learning using flashcards: Spacing is more effective than cramming.’ Applied Cognitive Psychology 23: 1297-1317. doi:10.1002/acp.1537
Loftus-Rattan, S. & Mitchell, A. (2016). ‘Direct Vocabulary Instruction in Preschool: A Comparison of Extended Instruction, Embedded Instruction, and Incidental Exposure.’ The Elementary School Journal 116(3): 391-410.
Marulis, L., & Neuman, S. (2010). ‘The Effects of Vocabulary Intervention on Young Children’s Word Learning: A Meta-Analysis.’ Review of Educational Research 80(3): 300-335. http://www.jstor.org/stable/40927284
National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. (2000). Report of the National Reading Panel. Teaching children to read: An evidence-based assessment of the scientific research literature on reading and its implications for reading instruction. (NIH Publication No. 00-4769). Washington, DC: National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.
Silverman, R. (2007). A Comparison of Three Methods of Vocabulary Instruction during Read-Alouds in Kindergarten. The Elementary School Journal, 108(2), 97-113.
Smith, T. (2008). ‘Teaching Vocabulary Expeditiously: Three Keys to Improving Vocabulary Instruction.’ The English Journal 97(4): 20-25. http://www.jstor.org/stable/30047242