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La alfabetización es el eje: Competencia social y aprovechamiento en lengua académica. Louise C. Wilkinson Distinguished Professor Syracuse University Presentation to the National Academy of Education of Argentina, August 27, 2007 (

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la alfabetizaci n es el eje competencia social y aprovechamiento en lengua acad mica

La alfabetización es el eje: Competencia social y aprovechamiento en lengua académica

Louise C. Wilkinson

Distinguished Professor

Syracuse University

Presentation to the National Academy of Education of Argentina, August 27, 2007



The Specialized Register for Talking & Thinking in Classrooms(Cummins, 2000; Francis, 2006; Gee, 2004)

Academic Language Use (Specialized Varieties – More Literate)

Everyday Language Use (Vernacular Varieties – More Oral)

Secondary Discourse Abilities

Face-Face Conversational Abilities

Advanced Literacy-related Language Abilities

Primary Discourse Abilities

Metacognitive & Metalinguistic Awareness Strategies

Does Not Predict Academic Achievement

Associated with Academic


Are independent, but interdependent (Cummins, 2000)

vocabulary central to literacy learning from anglin 1993
Vocabulary: Central to Literacy Learning (From: Anglin (1993)
  • Does NOT reflect increase in absolute numbers of familiar words, BUT development of derivational morphology knowledge that allows children to figure out what new words mean (Hoff, 2001)

+20,000 words

+9,000 -

10,000 words


Rate of Growth of New Derivational Meanings, Grades 1-5: Word Formation Processes (Nagy, Berninger, Abbott, Vaughan, & Vermeulen, 2003; Nagy, Berninger, & Abbott, 2006)

the early vocabulary catastrophe the 30 million word gap by age 3 hart risley 2003
The Early Vocabulary Catastrophe: The 30 Million Word Gap By Age 3(Hart & Risley, 2003)
  • 42 Families in one location followed for 2.5 years, 1 hour each month.
  • 13 Upper SES; 10 Mid SES; 13 Lower SES; 6 Welfare .
  • 86% to 98% of the words recorded in each child’s vocabulary consisted of words also recorded in their parents’ vocabularies.

Hart, B., & Risley, T. R. (2003). The early catastrophe. American Educator, 27(1), 4-9.

vocabulary accumulation in first 4 years
Vocabulary Accumulation In First 4 Years


Family --

26 million


Welfare Family-

13 million



Family --

45 million words

  • Changes in how meaning is stored and, therefore, the ability to “break” the alphabetic code may be seriously compromised for certain children even before they enter kindergarten
vocabulary learning findings
Vocabulary Learning: Findings

From: Farkas, G., & Beron, K. (2004). The detailed age trajectory of oral vocabulary knowledge: Differences by race and class. Social Science Research, 33, 464-497 (14-year longitudinal study of large national data sets)

Age 3

Age 12.6

how many words do we know moats smith 1992 stahl 1999
How Many Words Do We Know? (Moats & Smith, 1992; Stahl, 1999)
  • Elementary & secondary students are exposed to roughly 87,500 word families in books they read
    • Word family – Groups of words in which someone knowing one of the words (in the family) could infer (guess) the meaning of other (morphologically complex) words when encountering it in context (p. 8), e.g.,
      • add, adding ,addition, additive
  • 95% of the texts children read consist of about 5,100 different words
    • Why not teach these 5,100 words & not worry about the relatively ‘rare’ words?
Why Wide Reading Alone Will Not Add to Individual Children’s Vocabulary Knowledge(Beck, McKeown, & Kucan, 2002)
  • Struggling readers do not read well enough to make wide reading a feasible option
  • Acquiring word meaning from reading requires
    • Adequate decoding skill
    • Awareness when a word is unfamiliar
    • Ability to infer meaningful information from the context, e.g.,

Sandra had won the dance contest, and the audience cheers brought her to the stage for an encore. “Every step she takes is so perfect and graceful,” Ginny saidgrudgingly as she watched Sandra dance (a misdirective context) (Beck et al., 2002, p. 4)

oral word learning is a continuum
Oral Word Learning Is a Continuum
  • I never saw (heard) it before


2. I’ve heard of it, but I don’t know what it means

  • I recognize it in context –
  • It has something to do with having problems

4. I know it

word consciousness scott nagy 2004
Word Consciousness (Scott & Nagy, 2004)
  • Word consciousness
    • An appreciation and awareness of words
    • Requires metalinguistic awareness
  • A major difference between the oral language & academic language registers is vocabulary precision
    • Written text has less contextual support
    • Therefore, communication more dependent on words, especially the precision of word choices
  • Children have to be taught to appreciate the “communicative power” of word choice (p. 206)
word tiers beck mckeown 2007 beck et al 2002 mckeon beck 2003 2004
Word Tiers (Beck & McKeown, 2007; Beck et al., 2002; McKeon & Beck, 2003, 2004)
  • TIER 3 – Content specific (rare) words
  • ( meteorology, peninsula, echolocation)
  • Frequency of use low; best learned when need occurs
  • TIER 2 – More literate (general use) academic words
  • (coincidence, treacherous, absurd, ponder, fortunate)
  • Extend across a variety of domains; play a major role in
  • having a rich knowledge of meanings
  • TIER 1 -- High frequency (common) words
  • (clock, baby, mother, happy, walk, ride)
  • Require little instructional attention
tier 1 fast mapping incidental learning or minimal exposure breadth diversity
Tier 1: Fast Mapping (Incidental Learning or Minimal Exposure) - Breadth & Diversity







Everywhere words!



fast mapping school years
Fast Mapping: School Years
  • Fast mapping
    • Expands the lexical breadth (size) of vocabulary knowledge
  • During the school-age years, the rate of fast mapping unfamiliar words remains high, e.g.,
    • Ages 10-18 years, children/adolescents fast map approximately 8-10 new meanings per day or 3,000 words per year
    • These new meanings are more complex morphologically, e.g.,
      • After, afternoon, afterlife, afterthought, afterworld
      • billion, billionaire; concede, concession, concessionaire; question, questionnaire, questionable
  • BUT, the probability of really acquiring a new word meaning via fast mapping is only about 15% (Carlo et al., 2004)
fast mapping the school years
Fast Mapping: The School Years
  • Why?
    • Books “with many long & conceptually difficult words decrease the likelihood of fast mapping”(McGregor, 2004, p. 303)

Man, these books have too many words!!!

slow mapping the school years
Slow Mapping: The School Years
  • Increases depth (semantic richness) of vocabulary knowledge---extended over weeks, months, & years via semantic elaboration

Semantic Networks

Semantic networks -- Integration of thematic relations, e.g., lion-roars, with superordinate relations (class membership), e.g., lion - gorilla

Ability to


lexical depth of think
Lexical Depth of “Think”
  • “He thought (decided) he would bring the frog with him.”
    • In this situation, the boy was preparing to go to dinner with his parents. He saw his pet frog in the dresser drawer and decided (was certain he wanted) to take the frog with him. The outcome of this decision was that the boy placed the frog in his pocket.
  • b. “and the boy looks worried that the guy might think (realize) that he has a frog with him.”
    • Here, as the boy was getting out of the car at the restaurant, the parking
  • valet’s quizzical facial expression suggested that he might have heard a
  • strange sound emanating from the boy’s pocket. The boy’s facial expression
  • registered uncertainty that the valet might realize he had a frog somewhere.
  • c. “She thought (had an opinion) she was just exaggerating.”
    • In this event, a woman and man are dining at a table in the restaurant and the frog, which had jumped into the salad, was served to the woman. The woman’s face indicates uncertainty that she has just seen a frog in her salad (because the frog quickly disappeared into the salad), leading her to have an opinion that she was just exaggerating (imagining) the situation.
word learning the school years
Word Learning: The School Years


Conceptual understanding!

“One has to deal with life’s vicissitudes”



  • Unexpected changing circumstances


consequences of not knowing enough meanings in the preschool years joshi 2005
Consequences of Not Knowing Enough Meanings in the Preschool Years(Joshi, 2005)
  • Long-term, negative effect on acquiring more literate word meanings
    • Child 1: An eclipse is when the sun and moon don’t shine (functional description based on experience)
    • Child 2: An eclipse means to hide from view (‘superordinate’ definition indicating that meaning organized based on category membership)
  • Long-term, negative effect on reading comprehension (both narrative & expository texts)
implications for reading comprehension modified from berninger in press
Implications for Reading Comprehension(modified from Berninger, in press)

Word Reading & Spelling

Oral Vocabulary

Knowledge (Conceptual Understanding)


Metalinguistic Awareness

Reading Comprehension

Accurate & Fluent Decoding/Encoding of Real Words

  • Two development paths to reading comprehension
  • Both converge at the word level
five recommendations
Five Recommendations
  • Always foster word consciousness(Scott & Nagy, 2000)
    • Consistently accentuate awareness of distinctions between social conversation and the academic (literate) register.
  • Systematically cultivate a ‘literate lexicon’starting in Grade 1 by integrating vocabulary & spelling instruction (Beck, McKeon, & Kucan, 2000; Carlisle et al., 2001; Moats, 2006; Templeton, 2004b)
    • Focus on spelling-meaning relationships via exploration and direct instruction to:
      • Promote inquisitiveness & excitement about how spelling represents meaning
      • Support strategy development for problem solving of word meanings
an example of modeling word consciousness
An Example of Modeling Word Consciousness

Ms. K: Good afternoon.

Darleen: Salutations, Ms. K.!

Melissa: Greetings!

Daniel: Hello!

Ms. K.: So, how was recess?

Beth: Invigorating.

Thomas: Exhausting. We played football!

Laura: Delightful. There was a lovely breeze.

Jorge: Abbreviated. It was too short for me!

five recommendations26
Five Recommendations
  • As educators, develop the necessary knowledge base about interactions among phonology, orthography, & morphology
  • Apply the research to identify (Templeton, 2004b):
    • Where individual students are on the developmental continuum of word knowledge
      • A coherent instructional sequence
  • Maintain an overall conceptual framework that values a multifaceted & long-term approach to literate vocabulary/spelling instruction and the academic language register for all students (Nagy, 2005)
testing a word for conceptual understanding
Testing a Word for Conceptual Understanding
  • One way to “test” whether a word meets Tier 2 criteria is to think about whether the students already have ways to express the concepts presented by the word, e.g.,
    • fortunate - lucky
    • disappointed - sad
a question
A Question
  • What about words being on grade level?
  • Are only two factors that make a word inappropriate for a certain level
  • Not being able to explain the meaning of the word in known (student friendly)terms
  • Words that:
    • Are not useful -- Not important to the story
    • Are not interesting -- Do not meet criteria for Tier 2 words
word knowledge is a continuum
Word Knowledge Is a Continuum

“No single encounter (experience) with a word needs to produce all of these types of knowledge” (Graves, 2006, p .61)

No knowledge

Narrow, context-bound, e.g.,

Know ‘radiant’ in one situation, but not able to use in another situation

Rich, elaborated meaning (multiple meanings available), e.g., ‘devouring’


The Vocabulary Pathway to Word Learning

“Choices about what specific words to teach [in school materials] are quite arbitrary”(Beck, McKeown, & Kucan, 2002, p. 20)