January 26, 2013

Kindergarten Students Aren’t Learning Well Enough

Should you ever find yourself after reading Facebook status updates wondering if America’s public school systems have failed children when it comes to teaching them vocabulary, you may be right. One education researcher at Michigan State University has now conducted a study which claims America’s education system is not challenging its students when it comes to long-term reading comprehension and vocabulary.

Tanya Wright, MSU assistant professor of teacher education led the study that found that kindergarten curriculum runs thin when it comes to teaching vocabulary words. Those words that are taught at the grade level are often easily understood — words that these children would learn from everyday conversation. Further still, Ms. Wright found that teachers weren’t taking the time to make sure their students actually understood the meaning of the words they were learning.

“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,” said Ms. Wright in a statement.

Ms. Wright’s study also found that minority students and those from poorer economic levels are the most underserved when it comes to teaching comprehension and vocabulary. In her study, Wright found that these students started school with as many as 10,000 words fewer than other students who had spent the previous years in reading and vocabulary programs. When these lower income and minority students do enter school with their peers, they’re entered into programs wherein they only learn two new vocabulary words a week. According to Ms. Wright, these students should be able to learn no less than ten new vocabulary words a week. These new words could even be taught across all core curriculums; such as math, science and social studies.

Those ten words that are taught should also be more challenging, according to Ms. Wright. As an example, Wright says these students should learn to use the word “Hysterical” as opposed to simply “funny.”

“We found that most of the words that are being taught are common words that the kids will learn in everyday language anyway,” explained Wright.

In addition to claiming these students should be learning more challenging words, Ms. Wright also says teachers should spend time ensuring these students are retaining the meanings of these words, rather than introducing them to the students and quickly moving on. Ms. Wright has also suggested that these teachers could spend time using these words in different contexts to help the students get a better grasp of the actual meanings of the words. Once these students are taught these words, teachers should take the time to review these students and ensure that they’ve fully absorbed the word meanings.

“So you’re spending time teaching something,” Wright said, “but not spending time checking if the kids ever learned it.”

Ms. Wright’s study has now been published in the Elementary School Journal.

Image Credit: Photos.com

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