Title

Clever talk : using literature to boost vocabulary through explicit teaching in early childhood

Date of Award

2013

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

School

School of Education

Faculty

Education and Arts

First Advisor

Dr Lorraine Hammond

Second Advisor

Associate Professor Tony Fetherston

Abstract

Vocabulary knowledge is an important predictor of literacy and broader academic outcomes. Children’s literature is a rich source of sophisticated vocabulary, and this study investigated the efficacy of boosting word learning by incorporating explicit instruction approaches into story-book read-aloud sessions. This design-based research study sought to compare two models: teaching a greater number of word meanings more briefly and teaching fewer words in greater depth. Six schools from low SES areas participated, with the main intervention program running for three 6 week blocks.

Overall, both of the explicit approaches were more effective in improving word learning for Grade One students than a traditional, student-centred or constructivist approach. Teaching more words briefly (greater breadth) was just as effective overall as teaching fewer words in a robust manner (greater depth). Students made larger gains on more difficult words than on simpler words, although the pattern of word learning was affected by the students’ vocabulary knowledge at the outset. Students with the highest initial vocabulary scores made greater gains, and learnt more of the most difficult words, than students with lower initial scores. While the intervention resulted in large effect size gains on target vocabulary words as assessed by researcher-developed measures, there was no impact on standardised vocabulary measures (PPVT and EVT) when compared to a control group.

Explicit instructional approaches have not been widely used in Western Australian classrooms, so the study used group interviews to investigate teachers’ responses to the programs. Mitigating and facilitative factors influencing the adoption of vocabulary instruction practices in schools were explored. Student engagement, ease of use, time efficiency and the provision of prepared materials were important factors in teacher responsiveness to the programs.

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