Month: November 2013

“Vocabulary Instruction Failing U.S. Students”

An article in “Science Daily” caught my eye recently adding to my ever growing “G.I.” (Grumpiness Index). The headline said, “Vocabulary Instruction Failing U.S. Students, Experts Say.”

As noted:

Vocabulary instruction in the early years is not challenging enough to prepare students for long-term reading comprehension, argues a study led by a Michigan State University education researcher.

“‘Vocabulary instruction does not seem to have an important enough role in the curricula given how substantial it is for kids’ long-term academic success'” stated Tanya Wright MSU assistant professor of teacher education (Science Daily:

The remainder of the article in Science Daily stated that low-income children may start school with 10,000 fewer words than other students and are then exposed to reading programs that teach as few two vocabulary words per week.

My Grumpiness Index is rising because this is article is right on the money. I see its effects every day with the kids that I evaluate or within school situations with whom I consult. More and more, children are routinely given deadening worksheets that do not enhance their understanding of the language one iota. These exercises tend to do nothing but produce a bunch of children totally failing a class. Yet, we seem to believe in giving children very difficult text material that they can’t handle and frequently test “higher-order thinking skills” repeatedly and wonder why their comprehension is not adequate.

From my vantage point from the parade of struggling children seen, there is very little joy of language or literature being conveyed in the work that I preview. This is especially true of the children who have reading disabilities (dyslexia), who effectively have one channel of language cut off or drastically reduced based on their challenges in managing the text.

Approximately 15 years or ago, The National Reading Panel noted vocabulary as one of the five major branches needed for successful readers (see: Within that report, there was much credible research reviewed by the panel emphasizing the need for good vocabulary instruction. However, in the very short term view of what constitutes “evidence-based instruction” the NRP report is in the “way back machine,” largely forgotten and very rarely cited (even though the work was not done all that long ago). All of us should go back to the NRP report and revisit the findings on vocbulary instruction.

Yes, I feel the G.I. rising.

The Stress Over Dyslexia

The stress over dyslexia (reading disability) goes on.

Two recent examples seen recently exemplify the issues.

As part of a larger assessment, seventh grader, Justin, read this little piece of text to me, The orchestra leader tried to organize the musicians. Instead, Justin read, The ostrich leader tried to organize the musicians.

It took him a couple of sentences later until Justin stopped and said, Wait, that doesnt make sense. Whats an ostrich leader? After a little time, he went back in the text and corrected himself, a very inefficient process. Ultimately, he answered the comprehension question about the passage correctly, in fact he was able to derive a score that placed him in the dreaded average range, thereby leading the school to conclude that he, comprehends fine, so whats the problem? Well if it came to Justin wanting to enlist in the military, if he was to take the ASVAB Paragraph Comprehension Test, he could actually fail, leaving him to be unable to take the apllication further to get into a military position. Justin would, however, benefit greatly from an ASVAB Paragraph Comprehension Practice Test before applying.

Kate, age 8, also is struggling without any legitimate support. At the start of our assessment, Kate wrote that one of her wishes was to be famis. None of Kate’s three wishes were written in complete sentences. For Kate, open-ended writing causes her a great deal of stress. Daily, she faces the imposition of the imposing Common Core State Standards resulting in activities targeting the development of three to five paragraph essays with “higher order” concepts. Kate is hard pressed to write one adequate sentence, no less a three to five paragraph essay.

The stress with reading disabilities/dyslexia resides primarily with children being asked to do tasks that are beyond their developmental level. Both Justin and Kate are children not adequately understood.

For Justin, the school believes he should be on medication to help him focus better. While Justin may be a candidate for medication, his primary issue is the fact that the reading and writing process are very inefficient for him resulting in him feeling depleted. With Kate, asking her to write essays when she is not close to that level of skill development is fundamentally unfair. People in their adulthood looking to pick up writing seriously or even as a profession, but who also struggle with their dyslexia, may benefit from utilizing Proofreading services when they’re in the final stages of the writing process.

On some level, these were children who were functioning well enough to receive adequate grades in school. They both had extra time as an accommodation. For both Justin and Kate, just giving them extended time, is not going to cut it. (What children want more time on tasks that they find detestable and that they cant manage?)

Above all, the Justins and the Kates need closer contact with a supportive teacher who can deliver skills in an encouraging manner, targeting their zone of skill level and development. It’s no wonder that more children and teenagers are using a paper writing service to keep on top of their work when they can’t get teachers who will understand their condition and help them with their work. The skill development should be scaffolded in a way that allows mastery to develop in a logical sequence. One step and skill should lead to the next. Ideally, the work should also be as multisensory as possible, to simultaneously and systematically engage the child in ways that the regular curriculum cannot.

Then the stress will reduce.


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