From ‘cat’ to ‘platypus’

Students who start kindergarten with small vocabularies don’t learn many words in school,  according to new studies. Students from low-income families were the least likely to be taught challenging words.

Few kindergarten teachers provide formal, structured lessons on vocabulary, researchers found. Some teachers discussed only two words a day and others as many as 20.  Most words were chosen from stories teachers read aloud, which means ”

they had little connection to other words being taught at the same time.”

“Essentially, what we found was a very haphazard approach to vocabulary instruction,” (University of Michigan Professor Susan) Neuman said.”The ‘challenging’ vocabulary choices were not based on frequency, not based on the supporting academic words children need to know like ‘during’ and ‘after,’ not content-rich words, like ‘predict.’ Why would you choose to emphasize the word ‘platypus’? It makes no sense.”

Reading materials developed in the early 1990s focused on phonics, so kids read about fat cats who sat on mats. Now the stress is on teaching more hard words, says Timothy Shanahan, director of the Center for Literacy at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

“If the next story has a platypus in it, that’s a hard word; we might as well teach it. … We’ve managed to get publishers off ‘cat,’ but they’ve swung over to ‘platypus.’ “

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