New Tools Help Teachers To Teach “Academic Vocabulary"

Grantees in this story

A pair of new reports from the Strategic Education Research Partnership or SERP analyzes a new set of tools and classroom interventions designed to help teachers incorporate academic vocabulary into their teaching.  The reports are part of a broader five-year study on reading comprehension initially supported by Carnegie Corporation of New York.

Content area teachers are often faced, for example, with presenting science text to English Language Learners and students who struggle with reading.  Teachers do not always feel comfortable teaching language and vocabulary, and may require instructional prompts and examples of sentences in which specific vocabulary appear to scaffold their role as language teachers.

The first report, WordSift: Supporting Instructional Learning Through Technology, details the development, implementation, and early efforts to evaluate WordSift, a web-based visualization tool designed to address the practical and logistical challenges of identifying, teaching, and learning academic vocabulary in the context of content area instruction.  The report’s author, Dr. Kenji Hakuta, a professor of education at Stanford University worked in conjunction with the San Francisco Unified School District to develop and implement the online tool.

The second report, Word Generation in Boston Public Schools: Natural History of a Literacy Intervention, by Harvard Graduate School of Education professor Catherine Snow, explores the key school-level features impacting the quality of implementation of Word Generation, a cross-content academic vocabulary program organized around weekly civic dilemmas selected to motivate students and to provide opportunities for writing and discussion. Dr. Snow also presents findings from a quasi-experimental study of the impact of participation in the Word Generation program on student vocabulary development, long term vocabulary maintenance among different student groups, and scores on state assessments.

Last year SERP launched a five-year program of research and development on reading comprehension, thanks to a $19,352,000 award from the Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences (IES). The SERP study, Catalyzing Comprehension through Discussion and Debate, aims to explore the cognitive processes underlying reading comprehension and to develop promising interventions in an area of reading that many consider poorly understood.

The researchers will study critical processes that contribute to reading comprehension but are often overlooked: perspective taking, complex reasoning, and academic language skill. They will craft extensive supports for teachers to use promising strategies that capitalize on structured classroom discussion and debate.

The project represents an extension of work that members of this research team have been conducting for several years under the auspices of the SERP Institute and with support from the Carnegie Corporation of New York.