See the full chat transcript below
by Anna Gratz Cockerille
There has been much buzz about the findings of a Stanford University study on vocabulary development that suggests that the number of words that children have acquired by the age of two is a crucial indicator of their future language success. The study findings suggest that children’s socio-economic status is a key indicator of the number of words they acquire. Children from wealthier families acquire on average 30% more words between eighteen and twenty-four months of age than children in lower socio-economic households. This gap has cascading effects throughout children’s school, careers, and beyond.
The reality, is that many children begin their school careers in dire need of vocabulary acquisition. In the early grades, children need a great deal of language-rich experiences. They need to be read to, and to engage in meaningful talk in a variety of settings, such as with a teacher, the whole group, or with a partner. They need to engage in play in which they use language in meaningful ways.
One of the tenets of balanced literacy instruction is that literacy skills work hand in hand, and growth in one area supports growth in another. Put more simply: reading leads to stronger writing, writing leads to stronger talk, and talk leads to stronger thinking about books. There is much evidence to support the theory that the act of reading itself supports vocabulary growth. As children become readers, they need to spend plenty of time reading at an appropriate level as a key way to expand their vocabularies.
Reading workshop lends itself well to vocabulary acquisition.
Vocabulary acquisition becomes particularly important when the reading is nonfiction. The purpose of reading nonfiction is to learn about a topic, including the terms specific to the topic that are needed for full understanding. For example, as students read about soil conservation, they are learning terms such as slash-and-burn, erosion, acidification, and salinization. And likely, they won’t see these words just once, but repeatedly within one text and across multiple texts. As they read and determine the meaning of new words such as these, they not only learn the meanings of the words, they learn how to determine meaning from contextual clues, a skill they will need always in their reading lives.
Reading workshop, with its built-in time for in-depth reading, opportunities for talk and writing to make meaning, and emphasis on reading multiple books on a similar topic, lends itself well to vocabulary acquisition. Students engaged in a thriving reading workshop, particularly when the focus is nonfiction, will acquire a great deal of vocabulary in the course of the natural flow of the work. Of course, when teachers take the time to focus specifically on vocabulary acquisition either with the whole class or in small groups, the learning potential only grows.
Tomorrow’s Twitter chat will be on how to make the most of vocabulary development in the reading workshop classroom. Mike Ochs, TCRWP staff developer and facilitator of tomorrow’s chat, is co-author of Reading the Weather, Reading the World, in the fourth grade Units of Study for Teaching Reading series. Vocabulary development is a major focus in this unit.
Join Mike and the TCRWP community tomorrow to chat about ways to support and nurture your students’ vocabulary development.
Each Wednesday night at 7:30 p.m. eastern, The Teacher's College Reading and Writing Project hosts a Twitter chat using the hashtag #TCRWP. Join @readwritemike tomorrow evening to chat about nurturing vocabulary development in the reading workshop.
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Anna Cockerille is a staff developer, literacy coach, and writer based in New York City. She has taught in K–8 classrooms all over the world in places such as Sydney, Australia; San Pedro Sula, Honduras; and Auckland, New Zealand. Anna has been a staff developer for the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project at Columbia University (TCRWP) and an adjunct instructor for the Literacy Specialist Program at Teachers College. She writes at Two Writing Teachers.
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