kitchen table math, the sequel: teach your babies to spell, part 2: spelling a word helps you learn its meaning

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

teach your babies to spell, part 2: spelling a word helps you learn its meaning

Teaching children how to spell new vocabulary words helps them learn the meaning of the word:
In summary, the results of both experiments yield several important findings. Elementary school students learned and remembered the pronunciations and meanings of new vocabulary words better when they were exposed to written forms of the words during study periods than when they only heard and repeated the words.

note: Fluenz is based on this principle. Using Fluenz, you never hear a word without also seeing -- and practicing -- how to spell and type it.

good readers versus poor readers
Higher level readers outperformed lower level readers, and the advantage provided by seeing written words over not seeing written words was much greater among higher readers than among lower readers.

Bear this in mind: strong readers learn from print.
The present findings show the importance of students’ acquisition of strong orthographic knowledge to benefit vocabulary learning. Fifth graders with better orthographic knowledge outperformed those with weaker knowledge on the training measures as well as on the posttests. Most impressive were the increasingly large gains over trials that higher level readers made when the pronunciations of words were learned with spellings compared to the gains made with no spellings and compared to the gains made by lower level readers (see Figure 2). The fact that higher level readers showed a much steeper slope in learning the pronunciations of words with spelling aids than lower level readers suggests a Matthew effect (Stanovich, 1986), with the rich getting richer in expressive vocabulary during the course of learning as a result of superior orthographic knowledge.

If you are lucky enough to have a child who is a strong reader, this may be a problem because attention to the written word appears to be ebbing in public schools. Here in my own district, $25K per pupil funding, posters reign supreme. Posters in Spanish, posters in math, posters in Honors English at the high school. So many posters! The "kick-off" for the new Strategic Plan, which includes environmental stewardship as a character ed goal, is -- you guessed it -- a call for posters. About the environment.

So few books are assigned that the PTSA has filed an official proposal with the administration and school board asking that district schools require students to read good books and plenty of them. The administration responded at once with a plan to have the AP Photography class take staged photographs of teachers reading books, which will be posted throughout the halls of the high school. Some photos will be "authentic," meaning teachers will be captured reading books they are actually reading in real life; others will have a humorous slant, which apparently means they'll be reading books they aren't reading in real life. (Shakespeare? The Bible? The telephone directory?)

Parents are going to have to put together their own afterschool reading programs, I fear.

the NCTM on 21st century literacy
In the 1990s, the National Council of Teachers of English and the International Reading Association established national standards for English language arts learners that anticipated the more sophisticated literacy skills and abilities required for full participation in a global, 21st century community. The selected standards, listed in the appendix, served as a clarion call for changes underway today in literacy education.

Today, the NCTE definition of 21st century literacies makes it clear that further evolution of curriculum, assessment, and teaching practice itself is necessary.

Literacy has always been a collection of cultural and communicative practices shared among members of particular groups. As society and technology change, so does literacy. Because technology has increased the intensity and complexity of literate environments, the twenty-first century demands that a literate person possess a wide range of abilities and competencies, many literacies. These literacies—from reading online newspapers to participating in virtual classrooms—are multiple, dynamic, and malleable. As in the past, they are inextricably linked with particular histories, life possibilities, and social trajectories of individuals and groups. Twenty-first century readers and writers need to

• Develop proficiency with the tools of technology
• Build relationships with others to pose and solve problems collaboratively and
• Design and share information for global communities to meet a variety of
• Manage, analyze, and synthesize multiple streams of simultaneous
• Create, critique, analyze, and evaluate multimedia texts
• Attend to the ethical responsibilities required by these complex environments

The Definition of 21st Century Literacies

These are the people calling the shots.

a comment from a reviewer of Rosenthal's & Ehri's study:
The research conducted in this study makes a significant contribution to reading theory and practice in that it ties together the orthographic/phonological system with the meaning system in ways not previously thought. The researchers show quite clearly that students who see the spellings of words actually learn the meanings of the words more easily. This is quite a remarkable finding. I know of no research on vocabulary learning or vocabulary instruction that rests on such a claim. The emphasis in the vocabulary literature is on learning the meanings of words, not on the value of seeing the words and tying together knowledge from the different systems. Because of this connection, the research makes a significant contribution to reading theory and also has specific and practical application to everyday practice in a way that few research studies do.

The Mnemonic Value of Orthography for Vocabulary Learning
Julie Rosenthal and Linnea C. Ehri
Journal of Educational Psychology
2008, Vol. 100, No. 1, 175–191


Anonymous said...

i have lots of these anecdotal bits related to this stuff.

I subverbalize EVERY WORD in I read. That is, I hear in my own mind, every single word I read. (Apparently, this is not common. and also apparently, it makes people slow readers, but I'm quite a fast reader, so I'm not sure if I'm just an outlier in this.) I am incapable of separating reading from hearing words. I have a fantastic memory for words, and for their spellings because I always do both. For years, I even had the experience that when I spoke, I would imagine typing the word too--meaning, literally, I would imagine where my fingers would go to hit the individual letters.

that said, the failures I had when i learned words without learning all of the three--spelling, meaning, pronunciation-at once are funny.

I was raised in CA. I was in college before i found out that that national park called "Yo-sem-itty" was that national park spelled Yosemite. I had been calling it Yo-sem-ITE for so long in my own head when I read it that I didn't even recognize my error. I thought they were two different parks.

I know from experience in reading that when I read a name that I can't pronounce, I never learn how to spell it. This is especially true in reading fiction where names are sometimes made up. As a child, one set of fantasy books I liked had a main character named Menolly. I called her "Melon-ly" in my own mind for months before realizing that that wasn't how it was spelled--because I didn't have confidence in the phonetics of "menolly", my brain made some odd substitutions. If you'd asked me to spell her name, I would have spelled it Melonly, too, I'm sure.

on a somewhat related note,
My son is learning to read. he spells a word out loud, asks me to tell him what it says, and then says "oh,"up", like go up the escalator," "' children', like the children's museum", "'exit', oh that's the exit, mommy"

i don't know how you teach someone to read without having hooks for the concepts already. How hard is it to get fluency, no matter how good your decoding is, if the only time you;ve ever met that concept before is in the book you're reading at the time?

Anonymous said...

Allison, I read the same way. And I write that way too. If it doesn't 'sound' right to that little voice in my head, the backspace key gets a workout.

I have a vague memory of reading somewhere that reading is actually processed through the part of your brain responsible for speech, listening too.

That's why students talking in class are incapable of listening. You can't listen (truly listen) and talk at the same time.

Can anyone add to my fuzzy recollection?

Anonymous said...

I remember once we had an ELL student who got dropped on us midterm. Nobody could decipher his writing. It looked like cryptography that you could almost figure out. You could get tantalizingly close but never quite there.

Turns out, he was spelling English phonetically with Spanish rules for alphabet sounds. His ELA teacher cracked the code and after that was able to get him on track.

He was one of those poor kids on the U.S. Puerto Rico merry-go-round; 6 mos. here, one year there, back for 9, then gone for 5. He couldn't read or write in either Spanish or English, only his own, invented language rules worked for him.

Tracy W said...

Twenty-first century readers and writers need to

• Develop proficiency with the tools of technology

As opposed to Shakespeare, who got by just fine by eating his pen and drinking his ink.

• Build relationships with others to pose and solve problems collaboratively and

Ah yes, collaboration. Never noted before, except in all the examples of trading across cultures, or working together in hunter-gatherer tribes. The Allies in WWII acheived their success by fighting with each other all the time.

• Design and share information for global communities to meet a variety of purposes

Sir Issac Newton's work on calculus is being used by global communities to meet a variety of purposes.

• Manage, analyze, and synthesize multiple streams of simultaneous information

This is a skill necessary for that 20th century skill of flying a plane. Or the 19th century one of driving a car.

• Create, critique, analyze, and evaluate multimedia texts

Why do we all need to do this? And what's the difference between critiquing, analysing or evaluating a text?

I also note that science textbooks have often been multimedia dating back before the 19th century (in less fancy language, they include pictures).

• Attend to the ethical responsibilities required by these complex environments

Because ethics only started to matter in the 21st century. Never mind all the debates amongst the Ancient Greeks about the good life.

On the whole I think the complexity of the literate environment we handle nowadays has reduced, because of better design of books and newspapers, cheaper printing allowing for more use of white space, typing standardising writing far more than handwriting is standardised, the rise of English as a second language not merely in Europe but in distant places like Asia and countries that were never colonised by the British, and other factors. Also, practice in solving problems cross-culturally has been making this easier - not perfect, but easier. Every case of successful cross-cultural trading makes the next step easier.

Crimson Wife said...

I wonder if the individual's preferred learning style matters. I'm very much an auditory learner while one of my brothers is very much of a visio-spatial learner. When I'm trying to think of how to spell a word, I have to verbalize it letter-by-letter (not necessarily out loud though) to see if it "sounds" correct. My brother, by contrast, has to write it down to see if it "looks" correct.