Vocabulary Assessment and Instruction (page 2)

— LD Online
Updated on Apr 24, 2014

Vocabulary Instruction

Researchers interested in vocabulary instruction have examined direct and indirect approaches to teaching vocabulary. Direct approaches involve explicit teaching of new word meanings, whereas indirect methods encourage inferring word meanings from context. Currently there is considerable consensus that explicit vocabulary instruction is highly desirable for children in general, and especially important for youngsters with learning disabilities. Vocabulary instruction should involve many opportunities to use new words, to discuss words, and to compare new words with previously learned words. In addition, children should be taught how to employ resources such as glossaries, dictionaries, and thesauruses, including electronic and online resources. Although direct instruction in vocabulary is imperative, students also benefit from learning to use context to determine word meanings, as well as from opportunities to see and hear how words tend to be used. For example, the words segregate and sequester both mean to isolate, but sequester is often used in a legal context (sequestering a jury) and segregate in the context of separation by race or gender. Similarly, students need to understand different connotations of words; thrifty and miserly have related meanings but quite different connotations. Vocabulary instruction should target at least two broad categories of words: unfamiliar vocabulary with high generalizability across texts (i.e., words that are likely to recur in different contexts), and those necessary for understanding specific texts used in school (e.g., key terms necessary for comprehension of context area textbooks).

Studies that have focused specifically on vocabulary instruction for students with LDs have found a number of approaches to be helpful for this population, including teaching keyword mnemonic strategies (i.e., a "word clue" involving imagery for each vocabulary word); meanings of word parts such as common roots, prefixes, and suffixes; and mapping techniques, such as drawing word maps to illustrate central concepts. As students advance beyond beginning levels of reading, vocabulary instruction should be integrated with decoding and spelling instruction. For example, at the same time that students learn that the prefix tele means distant (as in telephone, telegram, telepathy, telemarketing, etc.), they also read it and learn that its spelling is generally stable; therefore, the word for the object on which they watch their favorite shows must be television, not telivision or telavision.

Students whose learning disabilities affect broad language and vocabulary acquisition will need a particular emphasis on vocabulary learning. For other students with LDs, vocabulary may be a strength upon which instruction should capitalize. Nevertheless, as a fundamental component of literacy and content learning throughout formal schooling, vocabulary must be addressed as part of the curriculum for all students. Ongoing assessment of vocabulary and appropriately targeted instruction are therefore essential, whether or not students have learning disabilities.

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