In this issue of Topics in Language Disorders, guest issue editors Howard Goldstein and Elizabeth Kelley asked invited authors to present research and ideas related to the implementation of effective classroom vocabulary instruction and supplemental vocabulary interventions for at-risk children in preschool settings and early elementary grades.
In the first two articles, the use of screen media and technology to enhance vocabulary teaching and learning is described. First, Neuman et al. argue for integrating various forms of media to teach vocabulary in a synergistic manner based on research that shows the following: (a) words presented using different types of media may result in superior learning compared with words presented in a single medium; (b) different media employ unique symbol systems that may complement each other during vocabulary teaching and learning; and (c) unique features of each medium can be combined to create opportunities for even more complex and sustained information processing that may enhance vocabulary acquisition. In the second article, Phillips et al. report a pilot study that evaluates the efficacy of a whole-class, teacher-led, multicomponent instructional program for supporting vocabulary learning in economically disadvantaged preschool children. Rather than the typical book-centric vocabulary instruction often seen in classrooms and other research, they embed video segments from PBS educational programming to convey information about target vocabulary. They found that the children in the pilot study made substantial gains in word knowledge for taught words, which included nouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs that represented thematic units that served to organize teachers' instruction. Moreover, preschool teachers and aides were able to implement the lesson plans with consistency and fidelity.
Next, Hadley et al. examine data from a completed preschool vocabulary intervention study to conduct a fine-grained analysis of teachers' fidelity with using various practices and how variability in use is related to child vocabulary outcomes. They found that the study teachers displayed greater adherence to practices that were teacher-focused rather than child-focused, they rarely used open-ended questioning and other practices that gave more opportunities for discourse control to their students, and they had better treatment fidelity when using shared book-reading than play-based learning experiences as a vehicle for teaching vocabulary. For child vocabulary outcomes, the specific practices that were most related to word knowledge growth were core intervention practices (such as providing a definition of a target word, showing a picture of a target word, or asking children to guess the target word) during play-based learning experiences, teacher-focused practices during play-based activities, and use of child-focused practices in both play-based and shared book-reading contexts.
In the fourth paper in this issue, Hindman et al. explore preschool teacher–child conversations during interactive book reading, with a particular focus on teacher prompts and feedback in a treatment group that received professional development in Story Talk versus a business-as-usual control group. They examine both the nature of preschool teachers' conversations during book reading and how features of their conversations relate to child vocabulary learning after controlling for overall classroom quality. Teachers who received the professional development increased their frequency of back-and-forth conversation and the volume of feedback provided to children, particularly feedback that expanded children's language. Accounting for classroom quality, teacher feedback was a unique predictor of children's vocabulary outcomes. Specifically, child language expansions and providing information were associated with stronger receptive vocabulary in the intervention group and providing information was related to stronger expressive vocabulary in the control group. Nevertheless, teacher conversations during book reading and teacher feedback on child talk were relatively limited.
Finally, in an online-only article Coyne et al. investigate the long-term effects of a small-group supplemental vocabulary intervention for kindergarten students who are identified as at risk for language and learning difficulties. The students in the treatment group continued to significantly outperform at-risk control group students on expressive and receptive measures of taught vocabulary through the winter of second grade, almost 2 years after the end of the intervention. This finding indicates that vocabulary intervention is worth the initial investments of time and effort to directly teach target vocabulary words. However, there was some deterioration of these effects over time.
Overall, the articles in this issue of Topics in Language Disorders clearly indicate that early and explicit vocabulary instruction is a worthwhile endeavor for classroom teachers and other educators such as speech–language pathologists; efforts to teach vocabulary improve students' knowledge of words targeted during instruction (which likely has a positive impact on oral language, reading comprehension, and written expression) with some lasting effects. But vocabulary teaching need not be tied to common routines or materials. Although shared book reading should not be eschewed, the use of play-based experiences and nonprint media can be employed to increase the potential of vocabulary instruction and interventions. What seems to be most challenging in vocabulary instruction and intervention is the use of effective practices across varied instructional contexts that maximize vocabulary learning, including those that foster child engagement through conversational exchanges and meaningful feedback.
—Gary A. Troia, PhD, CCC-SLP
—Sarah E. Wallace, PhD, CCC-SLP