Teaching and Learning Vocabulary: Bringing Research to Practice

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Reading in a Foreign Language

Volume 18, No. 1, April 2006

ISSN 1539-0578

Reviewed work:

Teaching and Learning Vocabulary: Bringing Research

to Practice.  (2005).  Elfrieda H. Hiebert & Michael L.

Kamil (Eds.).  Mahwah, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum

Associates. http://www.erlbaum.com/  Pp. 288.  ISBN

0-8058-5286-7.  $39.95

Reviewed by

YouJin Kim

Northern Arizona University

Teaching and Learning Vocabulary: Bringing Research to Practice edited by Hiebert and Kamil

is a collection of twelve chapters dealing with vocabulary instruction for a variety of student

populations such as young children, English language learners, and young adolescents.  The

book's core chapters are contributions from presenters at the 2003 Pacific Resources for

Education and Learning (PREL) forum, which focused on vocabulary.  To illustrate the

relationship between vocabulary and literacy, all authors in the volume describe work showing

that vocabulary experiences support conceptual learning and comprehension of text.  The main

feature of this book is that virtually all chapters draw implications for vocabulary instruction

from research.

After introducing the origin and purpose of the book in the preface, Kamil and Hiebert start the

volume with a chapter on perspectives and persistent issues on teaching and learning vocabulary.

After the introductory chapter, the eleven remaining chapters comprise three sections: first,

Chapters 2 through 4 deal with issues related to how words are learned and taught as a function

of word features, content areas, and developmental levels; second, Chapters 5 through 9 deal

with how vocabulary interventions differ from different age groups and content areas; and

finally, Chapters 10 through 12 deal with word selection for vocabulary instruction (p. ix).

In Chapter 1, Kamil and Hiebert emphasize that among different components of reading (e.g.,

phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, comprehension), vocabulary takes a special role in

reading comprehension.  They introduce a review of fifty vocabulary research studies that the

National Reading Panel (NICHD, 2000) identified, and then discuss concluding remarks about

vocabulary instruction in light of the complexity of determining what it means to know a word.

Additionally, they present four persistent issues on the teaching and learning of vocabulary: 1)

RFL 18.1 – Kim review of Teaching and Learning Vocabulary: Bringing Research to Practice



the number of words that should be taught; 2) the particular words that should be taught; 3) the

needs of English learners and potential at-risk students; and 4) the role of independent reading in

vocabulary learning.

The first section opens with Chapter 2 in which Nagy discusses the complexity of the causal

relationships between vocabulary knowledge and reading comprehension.  Based on this

complexity, he argues for the establishment of a comprehensive and long-term program which

includes rich and multifaceted vocabulary instruction.  According to him, such instruction should

increase not only students' individual word knowledge, but also their generative word knowledge

as students are exposed to rich oral language as well as wide reading (Graves, 2000).

In Chapter 3, Cunningham points to the importance of exposure to written language in children's

vocabulary development.  However, a child's limited ability to read texts makes it difficult to

find appropriate reading materials.  This would also limit the opportunity for young children to

be exposed to written texts.  Therefore, he suggests that reading aloud to children is the most

important activity for developing the knowledge that is necessary to succeed in reading (Backer,

Scher, and Mackler, 1997).  Reading aloud to young children who are not independent readers

can expand their vocabulary beyond everyday conversational language.  Knowing words before

reading them in print facilitates vocabulary learning prior to reading the words in texts, and this

will lead to positive and enjoyable reading experiences in the long run.

In Chapter 4, Scott provides a literature review regarding vocabulary learning through reading

texts with discussion of the implication of this research for teachers, publishers, and researchers.

She argues that, because words are unique, a variety of instruction techniques should be

implemented in classrooms, especially for academic discourse.  She pinpoints necessary steps to

promote vocabulary learning: designing materials intentionally, teaching word knowledge in

conjunction with world knowledge and recognizing those words that are likely to be learned

incidentally in texts and those that need more active instruction.

Part Two starting with Chapter 5 addresses the manner in which instruction is implemented.  In

Chapter 5, Stahl discusses four problems of teaching word meaning: the sheer number of words

to be learned; the gap in word knowledge among children; early differences in vocabulary

knowledge among children; and problems with traditional instruction.  He then points out

common characteristics of how to integrate vocabulary learning into a knowledge curriculum: 1)

frequent reading aloud to children; 2) the use of different methods to teach different kinds of

words; 3) point of contact teaching (i.e., pointing out unknown words with their synonyms); 4)

extensive teaching to ensure that word meanings "stick"; 5) teaching complex concepts; and 6)

concerted efforts to help children acquire an appreciation for the power of words.

Chapter 6 by Calderón, August, Slavin, Duran, Madden and Cheung and Chapter 7 by Carlo,

August and Snow summarize empirical studies that deal with Spanish speakers learning English

as a Second Language (ESL).  The purpose of the research by Calderón and colleagues was to

evaluate an intervention (e.g., cooperative learning plus extensive teaching of vocabulary

strategies) for children transitioning from Spanish to English reading.  The results indicate the

importance of explicit vocabulary instruction on word knowledge consisting of phonemic and

phonological awareness, and understanding the multiple meanings of words as a part of a

RFL 18.1 – Kim review of Teaching and Learning Vocabulary: Bringing Research to Practice



comprehensive language/literacy program.  In Chapter 7, Carlo et al., present the benefits of the

Vocabulary Improvement Project (VIP) curriculum which uses second language learners'

linguistic knowledge of their first language (i.e., Spanish) as a starting point of instruction.  Their

data driven evaluation shows the positive aspects of the program on improving second language

children learners' knowledge of and about words.

Chapters 8 and 9 continue to present instructional interventions at two ends of the developmental

continuum.  In Chapter 8, Schwanenfluegel, Hamilton, Bradley, Ruston, Neuharth-Pritchett and

Restrepo address the requirements of vocabulary programs with preschoolers.  They also discuss

the success of the program, PAVEd for Success (Phonological Awareness and Vocabulary

Enhancement), which was designed to improve the vocabulary of prekindergarten children.

Chapter 9 by Baumann, Font, Carr Edwards and Boland presents two studies which examine the

effectiveness of the teaching word-part and context clues to fifth grade students in promoting

word knowledge.  They also provide useful information regarding different types of strategies

that teachers can utilize to expand students' reading vocabulary in the middle grades and beyond.

According to them, in order to read the many rare words occurring in different content area texts,

students need to use strategies and skills like figuring out word meaning based on how affixes

affect root word meaning.  They illustrate four sequenced sample lessons which reflect their

empirical explorations and the strategies and guidelines they recommend for teaching students

word-part and context clues.

Part Three deals with more challenging issues which address domains of words that students

need to learn.  It starts with Chapter 10, in which Beck and Kucan propose three principles for

choosing words to teach: usefulness of the word; the relatedness with other vocabulary; and the

contribution of the word in understanding reading text.  In Chapter 11, Biemiller reviews a

number of studies which conclude that every learner from different populations (e.g., normative-

English speaking, advantaged, and ESL) acquires new vocabulary in a predictable order.  Thus,

he argues, it is important to fill in the words that have been partially learned by students.  In

Chapter 12, Hiebert suggests the underlying principles for identifying an effective and efficient

component of vocabulary curriculum for first through fourth grade students.  According to her,

effective vocabulary curriculum refers to a curriculum that supports students to be ready for a

significant portion of texts in Grades 5 and beyond by acquiring the foundational vocabulary that

accounts for a substantial portion of academic, written discourse.  Additionally, vocabulary

curriculum can be efficient by addressing words that have the widest possible application within

texts, such as words that are in semantic families with many members.

Teaching and Learning Vocabulary: Bringing Research to Practice provides a rich overview of

previous research for effective vocabulary instruction and policy making in the school system.

The strength of the book is that it presents scientific evidence from a variety of leading research

programs that address perennial issues regarding the role of vocabulary in text comprehension.

The supportive empirical data for the success of certain vocabulary instruction programs bridge

research and practice in vocabulary instruction.  However, from a researcher's perspective, the

various studies presented in this volume are not discussed precisely enough to gather information

regarding the validity or reliability of the research.

RFL 18.1 – Kim review of Teaching and Learning Vocabulary: Bringing Research to Practice



This volume tries to reach a broad audience including researchers, publishers, in-service reading

specialists, and curriculum directors who deal with vocabulary learning and instruction as a vital

component of reading proficiency.  However, children are the target learners that most chapters

focus on.  Therefore, if one attempts to implement any of the program policies or lessons

presented in the volume to educational settings for different groups of learners, special attention

would need to be paid to learner-specific factors.  The volume presents second language-related

issues only in Chapters 6 and 7; however, guidance from the rest of the chapters can be easily

transferable to second language learners.  For instance, reading aloud to children who are limited

in word recognition in English will also be beneficial to second language learners who have

limited vocabulary and word recognition skills in terms of providing rich opportunities for

exposure to the target language in context.

In sum, this book provides an instructional framework for both young first-language and second-

language English learners.  The authors successfully address the critical role of vocabulary in

reading texts and their reciprocal relationship.  The discussions of the instruction and

interventions that enhance vocabulary presented in Part Two provide useful examples of

vocabulary programs.  Furthermore, the authors' suggestions about adjusting the programs or

instructions seem helpful for those who might wish to implement them in different settings.  I

recommend this book as a guide for designing vocabulary programs or instruction; as a resource

for teaching vocabulary for reading comprehension; and as a detailed discussion of previous

research based in school settings.  The volume is scholarly and inviting and conveys a great

respect for the powerful teaching of vocabulary that is needed to comprehend written texts.


Baker, L., Scher, D., & Mackler, K.  (1997).  Home and family influences on motivations for

reading.  Educational Psychologist, 32(2), 69-82.

Graves, M.  (2000).  A vocabulary program to complement and bolster a middle-grade

comprehension program.  In B. Taylor, M. Graves, & P. van den Broek (Eds.), Reading

for meaning: Fostering comprehension in the middle grades (pp. 116-135).  Newark, DE:

International Reading Association.

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:

Reports of the subgroups.  Washington, DC: National Institute of Child Health and

Human Development.

About the Reviewer

YouJin Kim is a PhD student in Applied Linguistics at Northern Arizona University.  She has

taught English to middle school and high school students in Korea and ESL composition at

university settings in the U.S.A.  e-mail: youjin.kim@nau.edu

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