Academic language and academic vocabulary: theory, instruction, and text

Academic language and academic vocabulary: theory, instruction, and text

First Author: Jeff Elmore -- MetaMetrics
Additional authors/chairs: 
Jill Fitzgerald
Keywords: Print Exposure, Vocabulary, Instruction, Knowledge Building
Abstract / Summary: 

The purpose of the symposium is to explore academic language/vocabulary from theoretical, text exposure, and instructional perspectives. Theoretically, academic language/vocabulary is central to students’ knowledge and scholarly development. Students learn academic language/vocabulary through text exposure and through instruction, but researchers rarely address issues of text exposure and instruction in a single study. Further, text research and instructional research on academic vocabulary generally involve variant paradigms and analytical forms. Because of the different interests and epistemological stances, text researchers and instructional researchers do not commonly converse with each other. By convening research on academic language/vocabulary from theoretical, text, and instructional perspectives, the potential is enhanced for locating intersections that could seed better understanding of, and enhance research on, academic language/vocabulary. To that end, the symposium opens with a theoretical stance on academic language/vocabulary, followed by text and instructional studies. A discussant will address connections/disjunctures.

Symposium Papers: 

Academic language: empirical exploration of dimensionality

First Author/Chair:Young-Suk Grace Kim -- University of California, Irvine
Additional authors/chairs: 
Yaacov Petscher

Purpose:
The goal of the present study is to explore dimensionality of multiple features of academic language, using data from children in elementary grades. Academic language, the kind of language demanded in schools and literacy acquisition, has been defined and operationalized in multiple ways, including vocabulary (mental verbs, adverbs, cross-disciplinary words) and grammatical features (syntactic density, nominalization; Bailey & Butler, 2002; Scarcella, 2003; Schleppegrell, 2004; Snow, 1983; Snow & Uccelli, 2009).

Method:
Children in Grades 2 (N = 350), 3 (N = 150), and 4 (N = 120) were assessed on the following multiple language skills using standardized and normed tasks and experimental tasks: vocabulary, academic vocabulary, grammatical knowledge, listening comprehension, academic register, tracking ideas, tracking referents, knowledge of connectives, understanding modal verbs, and understanding arguments. Confirmatory factor analysis was used to examine the extent to which item responses in these tasks converged on a single or multidimensional constructs.

Results:
Preliminary results revealed that the bi-factor model fit the data best – children’s performances on the various language tasks captured a common underlying ability as well as specific abilities such as lexical, text, and register factors. In other words, the different language tasks captured a common ability and at the same time, these tasks differentially tapped children’s knowledge about lexical, text, and register factors.

Conclusions:
These findings provide important information for theory, operationalization, and assessment of academic language. The present work extends previous work by demonstrating the structure of various operationalizations of the academic language construct.

Domain-specific academic vocabulary development in elementary grades core disciplinary textbooks

First Author/Chair:Jeff Elmore -- MetaMetrics
Additional authors/chairs: 
Jill Fitzgerald; Jackie Eunung Relyea; Melody Kung

Purpose:
The purpose was to examine the manner in which elementary core textbook domain-specific academic vocabulary is introduced, and academic meanings are enriched, through the grades. Development and growth of computationally created topical networks of academic vocabulary in textbooks was modeled within and across domain from first through fifth grade (see Figure).
Children’s vocabulary learning is facilitated when a preexisting network of associated vocabulary has been mentally constructed (Borovsky et al., 2016), and children’s academic vocabulary learning is likely to be facilitated when textbooks gradually build networks of associated academic words.

Method:
The data source was twelve digitized first- through fifth-grade textbook programs for science, mathematics, and social studies.
Domain-specific academic words were identified computationally (c.f. Gardner and Davies, 2014). Reliability of computational determination and two judges’ decisions was .82. Academic vocabulary networks were created computationally (Mikolov et al., 2013), and each word was tagged with its first appearance by grade.
Multilevel modeling addressed the development of networks. The outcome measure was, for each focal topical academic word, the number of associated words in a network accumulated at each textbook-grade, with textbook-grade nested within textbook-program nested within domain.

Results:
On the whole, associated words tended to be introduced simultaneously rather than gradually over time. Differences between domains were observed.

Conclusions:
Little evidence of gradual network elaboration in the textbooks implies that educators may bear a greater burden to consider ways to scaffold students’ academic vocabulary learning. Publishers could structure textbooks to gradually develop academic networks.

Exploring a year-long intervention to develop primary-grade students’ vocabulary knowledge during word study

First Author/Chair:Kathy Ganske -- Vanderbilt

Purpose:
The longitudinal study explored advances in children’s knowledge of both everyday words (EW) and academic vocabulary (AV) through an instructional intervention during word study, a time for developing children’s orthographic knowledge.
Although vocabulary knowledge is critical for children’s school and reading success, children of poverty and English learners often lack such vocabulary (e.g., August, et al., 2005; Graves, et al., 2012). The sooner children learn sophisticated vocabulary the easier it is for them to access it later (Beck & McKeown, 2007). Foorman and colleagues (2016) call for AV instruction starting in kindergarten. In addition to knowing words such as justify, evidence, and analyze, learners need to deepen their understandings of EW like pond, plug, and ring (Hadley, et al., 2016).

Methods:
Teachers implemented weekly researcher-created lessons, approximately 20 minutes each for 20 weeks, with one to two small groups of letter-name spellers (N = 34). Lessons focused on increasing children’s orthographic knowledge through categorization activities which were augmented to include attention to AV and multiple meanings of the EW used in the categorizations. Students were from classes with high populations of English learners and lower SES. Field notes and audio recordings of lessons were data sources. Assessments for vocabulary and encoding and decoding of orthographic features were conducted pre/post and mid-study.

Results:
There were statistically significant gains in vocabulary and orthographic knowledge.

Conclusion:
Word study can be a time for advancing even young children’s knowledge of AV and EW without detracting from orthographic instruction.

Academic vocabulary and reading in the disciplines: influences of adolescents’ reading level and text density

First Author/Chair:Dianna Townsend -- University of Nevada, Reno
Additional authors/chairs: 
Hannah Carter; Julie Degbie; Darl Kiernan; Matthew Ochs

Purpose:
Building on academic vocabulary research (Nagy & Townsend, 2012) and disciplinary literacy (Goldman et al., 2016), the following research questions were addressed:
- Do students at different reading levels respond differently to disciplinary academic texts and instruction?
- Do the type and quantity of academic vocabulary impact students’ reading experiences?

Methods:
High school students (N = 167) were observed and subsequently surveyed in three reading-focused lessons in each of the three disciplines. Survey responses were coded for emergent themes. For analyses, students were grouped by reading level, and texts were grouped by type and density of academic vocabulary. The themes were clustered into meaningful groups, and Chi Square analyses were conducted to address the relationships between theme and student reading level, academic vocabulary type, and academic vocabulary density in text.

Results:
Significant relationships resulted among theme and each of the predictors. For example, higher-achieving readers were more likely to articulate purposes for reading (e.g., developing science literacy) that went beyond learning about a specific topic. Lower-achieving readers requested more direct instruction support with academic texts, while higher-achieving readers asked for more opportunities for discussion.

Conclusions:
As adolescents engage in disciplinary texts, they are likely impacted by their reading proficiency, their instructional environment, and the characteristics of the texts. This study shares findings on these three intersections with both research and practice implications.

DISCUSSANT

First Author/Chair:DISCUSSANT Donald Compton