Sunday, October 23, 2011

How do children learn new words? by: Warwick B. Elley/University of Canterbury

MOST CHILDREN IN SCHOOL learn the meanings of more than a thousand new words each year. Yet few teachers deliberately set out to drill their pupils systematically on selected word lists. Nor do children consult their dictionaries a thousand times a year. Even if they did, it is unlikely that they would remember what they read so that it became permanent part of their lexicon.
The prevailing assumption underlying practice in the classroom is that children acquire most of their new words from context during silent reading.
The trouble with learning from silent reading is that many pupils do not read widely or quickly enough. The avid reader goes on growing, the slow reader gets left behind, and we have yet another case of "the rich get richer"syndrome.
A recent study was undertaken by the Research Committee of the Canterbury Council of the New Zealand Reading Association, to explore how much new vocabulary children do learn from context while listening to stories, how much difference it made if the teacher discussed new words in passing, how permanent the learning was, and how much the weaker readers learned relative to the good ones.
The findings reported confirmed the fact that much vocabulary acquisition does occur during the enjoyable experience of listening to suitable stories read aloud to the class. It was clear too, that the teacher explanations add substantially to the level of acquisition, that the lower ability children learn as many new words, or more, than the bright, and that learning is long-term.
The essential point here is that story time is frequently productive, and not a frivolous waste of time." Now for a story" is a popular one in most classrooms. It is encouraging to realise that it is also a productive learning exercise.

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