Spending time teaching vocabulary yields limited results, study finds

4th August 2016 at 18:48
Vocabulary, teaching, students, school

Dedicating more time to teaching children vocabulary has a limited impact on students' learning, research suggests.

The new study, conducted by Ann Arthur and Dawn Davis, from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, found that there was a limited link between how much time pupils spent learning vocabulary and how much new vocabulary they learn. 

The academics observed 278 pupils, between the ages of 4 and 9, in 56 classrooms in four US states. They provided four, 30-minute vocabulary-booster sessions to a third of the children. These children’s vocabulary improved in comparison with those children who were simply given general language-comprehension lessons.

A third of the children, however, were given a double dose of booster sessions: eight 30-minute sessions a week. These children’s vocabulary improved the same amount as that of the children who were given four booster sessions a week.

Previous research has shown that children from high-income families are exposed to roughly 30 million more words over four years than those in disadvantaged families.

A worthwhile investment?

The academics behind the latest study said that their findings suggested “that increased instructional time devoted to vocabulary development only may not provide enhanced outcomes…and thus may not be a worthwhile investment of school resources”.

They said that this may be in part because those teachers offering the single dose of booster sessions supplemented the official lessons with other vocabulary-enhancement activities.

A study in England published last month showed a significant minority of boys already lag behind their peers  by the time they start school. Many struggle to follow simple instructions or to speak in full sentences.

The Nebraska-Lincoln researchers said that it would be worth exploring whether, while the additional vocabulary-booster sessions were not effective for the pupils as a group, they might be of benefit to particularly low academic performers.

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