There are two main reasons most vocabulary programs fail at helping students acquire new vocabulary faster. 1. Everyone is lumped onto the same level of difficulty with no regard for their skill level. 2.
They don't take the student through the material enough times to embed the information in their long term memory. Research has show that there is an enormous difference in the vocabulary of first graders in the top 5% of their class and the ones in the bottom third. In fact the difference is often times as much as a 4500 word difference in the total number of words they know.
The good news is that this has nothing to do with the student's IQ since both groups acquired new words at the same rate when they were taught based on their skill level. The research shows that the 4500 word difference is a function of what the student is exposed to at home through reading or being spoken to. Schools in general are unaware of K-1 student's vocabulary level (the only way to measure it is orally and they do not have the tools to do that). But if nothing is done to help children with vocabulary deficits catch up, they will remain behind their peers and, with each new grade (as the vocabulary level of their textbooks rises), they will fall farther and farther behind in reading.
How to close the gap? Find out what words students already know then start them on an intelligent vocabulary learning path to accelerate their acquisition of new words. Most vocabulary programs offer students a one-size-fits-all vocabulary list in which many of the words are either too easy or too hard for individual students. Such lists either bore or frustrate students but they have never been shown to increase new word acquisition. What does an intelligent vocabulary learning path (a "perfect practice" path) look like? It must give students enough multi-mode repetitions to put a new word's primary meaning, spelling, and pronunciation into their passive ("I recognize but don't necessarily use that word") vocabulary. It must make the word-recognition automatic so that when a new word is encountered in reading is absorbed immediately, without bringing the whole show to a stop! Finally, learners must find the practice path enjoyable or they will never get enough repetitions to put the new words into long-term memory. Students must "fall in love with practice," in other words, if they are ever going to close the vocabulary-reading gap and catch up to their peers.
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