Why is it important to teach vocabulary and comprehension

By Vivian Ferguson,2014-11-13 18:00
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Why is it important to teach vocabulary and comprehension

    Supporting, Engaging and Enhancing Comprehension for

    Students in High School (SEECs)

    Frequently Asked Questions

    Why is it important to teach vocabulary and comprehension strategies to high school students?

    By high school, students with a diversity of backgrounds and skills are immersed in content area instruction. Yet all students, and particularly those who are struggling, are confronted with vocabulary and concepts that are unfamiliar or misunderstood. Those misunderstandings interfere with comprehension of content area curriculum. Robust vocabulary instruction and comprehension strategy instruction can combine to create depth and breadth in understanding words, concepts, topics, and themes of high school content area materials.

    How can I fit teaching vocabulary and comprehension strategies into my already full curriculum?

    High school teachers are responsible for meeting a vast list of curriculum standards in their content areas. Because comprehension of topics, themes, and concepts are part of state curriculum standards, comprehension and vocabulary strategy instruction seems like an add-on to an already full curriculum. However, when vocabulary and strategy instruction is embedded into the content, students’ depth of understanding of content area increases.

    Given that this approach may be new to content area teachers, there is an expectation that initial learning curve may be steep; however, the payoff for students understanding will be beneficial. It is suggested that you begin with a topic area that is challenging for many of your students and begin to embed effective strategies for developing vocabulary and applying comprehension strategies to this content.

    What does research say about effective vocabulary instruction?

    Research shows that methods of vocabulary instruction used in the paststudents viewing

    definitions before reading a text and having a quiz at the end of the week, or having students figure out new vocabulary meaning from contextare less effective than once

    thought. These methods are effective neither for teaching word meaning or enhancing reading comprehension, (Beck, McKeown, & Kucan, 2002) and may, in fact, lead to misunderstanding of word meaning (Beck,, 2002).

    Teaching the meaning of vocabulary words prior to reading the text is an effective component of traditional vocabulary instruction. The challenge is choosing the appropriate words. Tiering or prioritizing words into one of three tiers is a particularly effective strategy to use (Beck & McKeown, 1985). Tiers range from the most basic (Tier 1) to those words necessary for passage understanding (Tier 2) to words less frequently encountered (Tier 3). Beck and her colleagues recommend focusing on the Tier 2 words, words that

    The FAQ section of the SEECs toolkit was made possible by the generous support

    of the Arthur Vining Davis Foundations.


should become a part of the student’s oral, written, and reading language (Beck et al.,


    Additionally, instructional strategies that bring new vocabulary into a student’s existing conceptual framework are effective in teaching vocabulary meaning and conceptual understanding (Nagy, Herman, & Anderson, 1985). Better conceptual understanding of words within the text reduces the cognitive load as the text is read, and actually assists readers in comprehending meaning. The most critical component of this instruction is to teach the concept and context of words and to create ways in which the learner interacts and actively uses the word meaning.

    What does research say about effective comprehension strategy


    Twenty years of research shows that comprehension is more than responding to teacher-initiated questions during teacher lead class discussions or responding to end of chapter questions. Students must actively engage in constructing meaning from text, video, audio clipwhatever medium they are usingto effectively comprehend material. Using

    comprehension strategies encourages this active involvement.

    The Reciprocal Teaching Method, developed and empirically validated by Palincsar and

    Brown (Palincsar & Brown, 1984; 1989; Palincsar, Brown, & Campione, 1991); Rosenshine & Meister, 1994) is a highly effective form of comprehension strategy instruction. Students learn to read strategically by partnering with teachers and mentors who demonstrate and make explicit the thinking processes used to construct meaning from text. Students are prompted to stop and think about what they have read using questioning, predicting, clarifying, and summarizing techniques. As teachers describe what they are thinking, they model the mental processes good readers use, showing learners both how they make sense of text and what kind of sense they are trying to make (Davey, 1983). These reciprocal teaching strategies have been researched and successfully applied in expository and narrative text across age grades including high school settings. How does UDL help me address the varied backgrounds and skills that my high sSchool students bring to my classroom?

    Typical high school classes are highly diverse and teachers have found that teaching the same way for all students does not lead to success for all. The three principles of Universal Design for Learning (UDL) provide a framework to adjust curriculum and teaching practices to address the diversity of student needs and backgrounds.

    ; The first UDL principle encourages teachers to present curriculum (goals, methods,

    materials, and assessment) through multiple means of representation to give

    students various ways of acquiring information and knowledge.

    ; The second principle, multiple means of expression, encourages students to use

    alternative means to demonstrate what they know, and what they are learning.

    ; The third principle, multiple means of engagement encourages teachers to tap into

    students’ interests and challenge them appropriately.

    The FAQ section of the SEECs toolkit was made possible by the generous support

    of the Arthur Vining Davis Foundations.


How does UDL help me integrate vocabulary and comprehension

    strategy instruction into my teaching practices?

    By incorporating the three principles of Universal Design for Learning into instructional practice, teachers increase their ability to customize curriculum (goals, methods, materials, and assessment) to meet the needs of the diverse learners in their classes. To ensure that all students succeed it is necessary for vocabulary instruction

    1. to take advantage of effective research based practices for teaching vocabulary and

    2. to be guided by the three UDL principles of representing vocabulary in flexible and

    multiple ways, allowing students to express their understanding in varied ways, and

    engaging students in the process of increasing vocabulary in multiple and flexible


    Similarly, in order to support students’ understanding of content it is recommended that

    teachers explicitly teach and apply effective comprehension strategies within the context of teaching the content and that the methods of instruction be guided by the UDL principles.

    The FAQ section of the SEECs toolkit was made possible by the generous support

    of the Arthur Vining Davis Foundations.


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