Tes talks to…Anne Fernald

The importance of building up pupils’ vocabulary can’t be overstated, according to this eminent US psychologist. But vocabulary isn’t about just recognising words – it’s about understanding them in context, too. Here, she tells Zofia Niemtus how children need to be exposed to complex texts, rather than just learning to ‘decode’ with simple books

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Anne Fernald must have had mixed feelings last year as the vocabulary debate peaked in education once more. Teachers were recognising the value of vocabulary and how it influenced education outcomes, and this has been her career’s focus. But the simplification of the debate, on occasion, as being about simply “recognising words” must have grated. She says there is much more to vocabulary than that – those words need to be understood in context, too

“Early differences in oral language skills are important because they predict later school success,” explains the American psychologist, who is ...

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