What Counts as Success in Vocabulary Instruction?

I’ve discussed in previous posts (here and here) the inefficiency of academic vocabulary teaching programs such as Word Generation. In one evaluation of the program, Snow, Lawrence, and White (2009) found that after 30 hours of instruction, Word Generation students learned fewer than three extra words compared to a control group. That’s a whopping one new […]

Is Synthetic Phonics Instruction Working in England? (Updated)

Since originally posting this analysis back in September, 2017, I have shortened it for publication in Margaret M. Clark’s new edited volume, Teaching Initial Literacy: Policies, Evidence, and Ideology (2018). But here I’m posting a somewhat longer version than the one included in Clark’s book, with updates to my original post. Is Synthetic Phonics Working in England? A […]

Don’t Believe What You Read in the Papers: American Kids Are Getting Better at Reading

Kevin Drum at Mother Jones magazine has an excellent take on the so-called “failure” of American students to improve their reading scores. It’s a quick but important read now that the annual NAEP Nonsense Season is once again in full swing, in which the media tells us how awful American schools are doing (e.g. here, […]

Krashen Responds to the International Literacy Association’s “Explaining Phonics Instruction”

The International Literacy Association recently published a report, Explaining phonics instruction: An educator’s guide. It is incomplete and misleading, but that comes as no surprise to anyone who subscribes to an ILA journal. Steve Krashen has responded with an alternative report called Phonics and reading: Some basics. As usual, he cuts through the fog and provides […]

The Failure of Phonics in England: Letter in Times of London (Jan 12, 2018)

The Backseat Linguist jumped across the pond today for a letter in the Times of London about phonics teaching in England. Sir, In her article, Alice Thomson claims that the teaching of phonics has led to “a big improvement” in the number of fluent readers since 2010. I disagree. A 2016 analysis by Stephen Machin […]

A Trial of Tiers: Why Silent Reading Beats Other “Tier 1” Interventions All Day Long

Studies reviewed: Krashen, S. & Mason, B. (2017). Sustained silent reading in foreign language education: An update. Turkish Online Journal of English Language Teaching (TOJELT), 2(2), 70-73. (open access) Swanson, E., Stevens, E. A., Scammacca, N. K., Capin, P., Stewart, A. A., & Austin, C. R. (2017). The impact of tier 1 reading instruction on […]

We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Exercises*: Listening to Stories is More Efficient Than Direct Instruction for Vocabulary Acquisition

Study reviewed: Loftus-Rattan, S. M., Mitchell, A. M., & Coyne, M. D. (2016). Direct vocabulary instruction in preschool: A comparison of extended instruction, embedded instruction, and incidental exposure. The Elementary School Journal, 116(3), 391-410. (pay wall) Everyone agrees that reading storybooks to young children helps them build vocabulary. But lots of researchers think they can […]

Do Good Scrabble® Players Read More Than the Rest of Us?

Protzner, A. B., Hargreaves, I. S., Campbell, J. A., Myers-Stewart, K., van Hees, S., Goodyear, B. G., … & Pexman, P. M. (2016). This is your brain on Scrabble: neural correlates of visual word recognition in competitive Scrabble players as measured during task and resting-state. Cortex, 75, 204-219. I’m a sucker for academic clickbait. This […]

How Reading ‘The Martian Chronicles’ Can Improve Your Scientific Vocabulary: Rolls & Rodgers (2017)

Rolls, H., & Rodgers, M. P. (2017). Science-specific technical vocabulary in science fiction-fantasy texts: A case for ‘language through literature’. English for Specific Purposes, 48, 44-56. In my last post, I presented evidence that when high school students read books for pleasure related to their school subjects, their test scores in those subjects go up. Rolls and Rodgers […]

Reading Science Books for Pleasure Will Help You in Science Class: Chen, Chang, & Yang (2017)

Study discussed: Chen, S.Y., Chang, H.Y, and Yang, S. (2017). Content-Based Recreational Book Reading and Taiwanese Adolescents’ Academic Achievement. Journal of Education and Learning, 6(1). (Open Access) One of the current fixations of the reading field is teaching “academic language,” especially academic vocabulary, via direct instruction. Most of these efforts have produced very meager results, […]

Academic Vocabulary Instruction II: Learning 1 Word in 5 Hours Shouldn’t Count as a Success

Study reviewed: Townsend, D., & Collins, P. (2009). Academic vocabulary and middle school English learners: An intervention study. Reading and Writing, 22(9), 993-1019. In a previous post, I noted that one of the studies often cited for the success of academic vocabulary instruction, Snow, Lawrence, and White (2009), is in fact an example of its questionable effectiveness. […]

The New York Times Goes Back to the Future: The New Literacy Crisis, Writing Edition

The New York Times education reporter Dana Goldstein on the rather silly notion that most kids are not “proficient” in writing: Three-quarters of both 12th and 8th graders lack proficiency in writing, according to the most recent National Assessment of Educational Progress. And 40 percent of those who took the ACT writing exam in the […]

Academic Vocabulary Instruction: Does Word Generation Really Teach You Two Years’ Worth of Words in 22 Weeks?

Study reviewed: Snow, C., Lawrence, J., & White, C. (2009). Generating knowledge of academic language among urban middle school students. Journal of Research on Educational Effectiveness, 2(4), 325-344. One of the hot topics of the past decade or so in language education research has been the teaching of “academic language” and “academic vocabulary.” I have […]

Closing the Books on Open Court Reading

Back in the 1990s, the Los Angeles Times was a big fan of the scripted reading curriculum, Open Court, designed to teach reading in the elementary grades through a heavy dose of explicit, systematic phonics. The Times reporters wrote lots of favorable articles about phonics instruction in general, especially then-education reporter, Richard Lee Colvin. Others […]

Carpe Vinum: Does Drinking Help Vocabulary Retention?

Carlyle, M., Dumay, N., Roberts, K., McAndrew, A., Lawn, W., & Morgan, C. (2017). Improved memory for information learnt before alcohol use in social drinkers tested in a naturalistic setting. Nature. (Open Access) If you thought my previous discussion on the benefits of sleeping on vocabulary acquisition was a bit “out there,” consider the latest […]

Carpe Noctem: Is it Time for Chronolinguistics?

Williams, S. E., & Horst, J. S. (2014). Goodnight book: Sleep consolidation improves word learning via storybooks. Frontiers in psychology, 5. (open access) A few months ago, I read a wonderfully-written and informative book called Rest by Alex Pang. Pang reviews recent research on the benefits of taking breaks, napping, and sleeping on learning, creativity, and productivity. So […]

The Color of Dictation

One of my favorite lines on Twitter is “Not The Onion,” meaning that the headline or story linked to is not supposed to be funny or satirical, like news site, The Onion, but is (bizarrely) true. We need an academic equivalent of this – perhaps, “Not The Journal of Irreproducible Results” (a “science humor” magazine). […]

The Goldilocks Corollary to the Input Hypothesis

Zoe M. Flack, Jessica S. Horst. Two sides to every story: Children learn words better from one storybook page at a time. Infant and Child Development, 2017; e2047 DOI: 10.1002/icd.2047 (paywall) The Input Hypothesis (more generally referred to now as the Comprehension Hypothesis) states that we acquire language by understanding messages (Krashen, 1981, 1982). How exactly do we […]

This Week In Language Education (June 30, 2017)

In Case You Missed It: College Students “Don’t Have Time” to Read, Researchers Claim Do ELLs Need More Grammar and Spelling Instruction? Quick Takes: A Map of Language Diversity – Shows the areas on Earth where the most languages are spoken: “The main locations of each entry from the database were used to calculate the […]

College ESL Students “Don’t Have Time” to Read in English, Researchers Claim

From a recent issue of Language Teaching Research (open access) dedicated to vocabulary teaching: For the past decade, we have been witnessing a heated debate between the advocates of ‘vocabulary-through-input’ position and the proponents of word-focused instruction. The most recent example is the discussion between Cobb, Nation, and McQuillan in the October 2016 issue of Reading in […]

Do ELLs Need More Grammar and Spelling Instruction?

Swanson, H. L., Orosco, M. J., & Kudo, M. F. (2017). Do Specific Classroom Reading Activities Predict English Language Learners’ Later Reading Achievement? Reading & Writing Quarterly, 33(3), 199-210. Swanson and colleagues observed reading instruction in 50 elementary classrooms with 270 Spanish-speaking English-language learners (ELLs) over a period of two school years. Three grade levels were […]

This Week In Language Education (June 23, 2017)

It’s been a slow week, so just a few links: Why You Should Sit Next to a Crazy Person at Starbucks – Researchers found that hearing “meaningful irrelevant speech” in the background caused Chinese readers to re-read words more often than when hearing  “meaningless irrelevant speech.” Who knew there were classifications for “irrelevant speech”? New Journal […]

Converging Evidence on Vocabulary Acquisition: Another Look at Reynolds (2016)

In a previous post, I reviewed a recent study by Reynolds (2016) on the impact of frequency and “congnativeness” in vocabulary acquisition. It is worth discussing his data a bit further in order to compare his findings with Paul Nation’s (2014) estimates on the time efficiency of vocabulary acquisition through reading. Nation analyzed a series […]

I Know What You Shouldn’t Have Done Last Summer

Rachel R. Romeo, Joanna A. Christodoulou, Kelly K. Halverson, Jack Murtagh, Abigail B. Cyr, Carly Schimmel, Patricia Chang, Pamela E. Hook, John D.E. Gabrieli. Socioeconomic Status and Reading Disability: Neuroanatomy and Plasticity in Response to Intervention. Cerebral Cortex, 2017; 1 DOI: 10.1093/cercor/bhx131 (paywall) I admit that the opening paragraph of the MIT press release last week for […]

This Week In Language Education (June 16, 2017)

We’ll try doing This Week In Language Education a bit differently from now on. I find it more useful to post reviews and observations throughout the week rather than in one post, so I’ll use this weekly post for very short comments and quick takes/links that may be of interest. What is “Translanguaging”? I have come […]

Frequency and Cognate Effects in Vocabulary Acquisition

Reynolds, B. (2016). The effects of target word properties on the incidental acquisition of vocabulary through reading. TESL-EJ, 20(3), 1-31. Reading is the most powerful tool available to language acquirers for expanding and broadening vocabulary knowledge. Studies have found that while you have a low probability (around 5-15%) of picking up the meaning of an unknown […]

Does Vocabulary Instruction Improve Reading Comprehension?

Elleman, A. M., Lindo, E. J., Morphy, P., & Compton, D. L. (2009). The impact of vocabulary instruction on passage-level comprehension of school-age children: A meta-analysis. Journal of Research on Educational Effectiveness, 2(1), 1-44. One of the most widely-cited articles in the past 40 years on the impact of first-language vocabulary instruction on English reading […]

The IBM Computer Cloud of Unknowing

This press release is making the rounds this week, announcing a collaboration between Sesame Street and the letters I, B, and M. Big Bird and Big Blue are teaming up to do “learning in the cloud” with Jeopardy! champion Ken Jennings Watson the Super-Computer. Their first project together is called a “cognitive vocabulary learning app”: Watson’s augmented […]

The Existential Fallacy: If It Exists, It Must Be Taught

I stumbled across the following observation this morning from a 1983 technical report on reading comprehension by David Pearson and Margaret Gallagher: Existential Proofs The logic of existential proofs seems to be something like this: “If I can prove that a variable affects reading comprehension, then it becomes a candidate for future instructional manipulation. Even better, if […]

Forced “Pleasure Reading” May Get You Neither

Milliner, B (2017). One year of extensive reading on smartphones: A report. JALT Call Journal, 13(1), 49-58. Back in the 1980s, I spent my first year out of college working as a clerk in small clothing company (I majored in ancient history). There was a sign in the break room meant to provide a little […]

This Week In Language Education – May 19, 2017

An abbreviated edition of TWILE since I’m traveling this week and next. But there’s one study that can’t wait . . . Reading Your Way to a Higher TOEIC® Score Mason and Krashen (2017) present a summary of eight case studies on the effect of free reading (reading for fun) on scores for the Test […]