Vocabulary Assessment and Instruction
Oral vocabulary, or knowledge of word meanings, plays a key role in reading comprehension. If children are unfamiliar with the meanings of words in a text, their comprehension will suffer, even if they can decode the words. For example, if a child can sound out the printed word scarlet in a sentence but does not know that scarlet means red, some comprehension will be lost; if this experience is repeated with a number of important words in the text, then comprehension will be seriously impaired.
Although vocabulary is critical to reading at all stages of development, the vocabulary demands of the texts used in school escalate greatly beginning at about a fourth-grade level. Therefore, children with vocabulary weaknesses are especially vulnerable to difficulties with reading comprehension from the middle elementary grades onward. Furthermore, vocabulary weaknesses may affect school achievement in many areas beyond reading, including written expression, mathematics, and performance in content subjects such as social studies and science.
Vocabulary and Learning Disabilities
Vocabulary knowledge varies greatly in individuals with learning disabilities (LDs). For some youngsters with LDs, vocabulary can be an area of strength. For instance, children with dyslexia or specific reading disabilities may have above-average oral vocabularies despite having phonological weaknesses that adversely affect the development of decoding skills. These youngsters may have excellent listening comprehension, as well as the ability to dictate stories with strong verbal content. For other children with LDs, such as those with more generalized language difficulties (but typically average or better nonverbal abilities and social functioning), vocabulary weaknesses can be part of a broader language impairment. Of course, vocabulary knowledge for individuals with LDs also is affected by experience and opportunities to learn new words, just as it is for all children. For example, whether or not they have learning disabilities, children who are often read to at home and whose teachers address vocabulary in instruction will have more exposure to words and better prospects for vocabulary development.
Reprinted with the permission of LD OnLine. © 2008 WETA. All Rights Reserved.
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