Scaffolding of support and individual differences in contextual word learning

Scaffolding of support and individual differences in contextual word learning

First Author: Leslie Hodges -- Georgia State University
Additional authors/chairs: 
Gwen Frishkoff; Kevyn Collins-Thompson
Keywords: Vocabulary, Word Learning, Individual Differences, Retention, Semantic context
Abstract / Summary: 

In late childhood, growth in word knowledge increasingly depends on the ability to infer meaning from context. Importantly, learning in other domains benefits from initial support that decreases over time (scaffolding). The present study tested whether this holds true for contextual word learning (CWL). We predicted that sustained highly supportive contexts in training would lead to better immediate learning, but worse retention, and that scaffolding would produce optimal outcomes due to fast errorless learning followed by practice retrieving new word meanings. Finally, we predicted that less-skilled readers would benefit most from scaffolding.

Learners completed a pretest (S1), training with an immediate post-test (S2), and a delayed post-test (S3). During training, novel words were presented in multiple written contexts. Each context provided strong, moderate, or weak cues to meaning, and each word was assigned to one of four context conditions: AllHigh, AllMedium, Descending (scaffolded high-to-low), or Ascending (low-to-high). Changes in word knowledge were assessed on a multiple-choice synonym test. Reading skill was assessed using Nelson-Denny.

Results showed an interaction between session and condition (p < .05). Compared to the AllHigh condition, AllMedium resulted in lower scores on the immediate posttest but higher scores on the delayed posttest. There was a trend towards maximal gains (S1 to S3) in the Descending condition. Reading skill was associated with greater short-term (S1 to S2) gains, but was unrelated to forgetting (S2 to S3).

Results suggest that scaffolding in CWL may be effective for promoting robust gains in Tier 2 word knowledge.