When we read, it is through words that we build, refine, and modify our knowledge. What makes vocabulary valuable and important is not the words themselves so much as the understandings they afford.Marilyn Jager Adams (2009, p. 180)The importance of students acquiring a rich and varied vocabulary cannot be overstated. Vocabulary has been em-pirically connected to reading comprehension since at least 1925 (Whipple, 1925) and had its importance to compre-hension confirmed in recent years (National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, 2000). It is widely ac-cepted among researchers that the difference in students’ vocabulary levels is a key factor in disparities in academic achievement (Baumann & Kameenui, 1991; Becker, 1977; Stanovich, 1986) but that vocabulary instruction has been neither frequent nor systematic in most schools (Biemiller, 2001; Durkin, 1978; Lesaux, Kieffer, Faller, & Kelley, 2010; Scott & Nagy, 1997).Research suggests that if students are going to grasp and retain words and comprehend text, they need incremen-tal, repeated exposure in a variety of contexts to the words they are trying to learn. When students make multiple connections between a new word and their own experiences, they develop a nuanced and flexible understanding of the word they are learning. In this way, students learn not only what a word means but also how to use that word in a variety of contexts, and they can apply appropriate senses of the word’s meaning in order to understand the word in different contexts (Landauer & Dumais, 1997; Landauer, McNamara, Dennis, & Kintsch, 2007; Nagy, Herman, & Ander-son, 1985).Initially, children readily learn words from oral conversation because such conversations are context rich in ways that aid in vocabulary acquisition: in discussions, a small set of words (accompanied by gesture and intonation) is used with great frequency to talk about a narrow range of situations children are exposed to on a day-to-day basis. Yet as children reach school age, new words are introduced less frequently in conversation, and consequently vocabulary acquisition eventually stagnates by grade 4 or 5 unless students acquire additional words from written context (Hayes & Ahrens, 1988).Written language contains literally thousands of words more than are typically used in conversational language. Yet writing lacks the interactivity and nonverbal context that make acquiring vocabulary through oral conversation rela-tively easy, which means that purposeful and ongoing concentration on vocabulary is needed (Hayes & Ahrens, 1988). In fact, at most between 5 and 15 percent of new words encountered upon first reading are retained, and the weaker a student’s vocabulary is the smaller the gain (Daneman & Green, 1986; Hayes & Ahrens, 1988; Herman, Anderson, Pear-son, & Nagy, 1987; Sternberg & Powell, 1983). Yet research shows that if students are truly to understand what they read, they must grasp upward of 95 percent of the words (Betts, 1946; Carver, 1994; Hu & Nation, 2000; Laufer, 1988).
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- Qualitative Research, Educational years, Technical Subjects, Text Complexity