STEM Literacy

The Challenge of Rich Vocabulary Instruction for Children With Developmental Language Disorder

Karla K. McGregor, Amanda Owen Van Horne, Maura Curran, and Susan Wagner Cook. The Challenge of Rich Vocabulary Instruction for Children With Developmental Language Disorder. Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools (February 2021).

This case study explored responses of children with developmental language disorder (DLD) to rich vocabulary instruction. Children with DLD participated in a language intervention embedded within a science camp. Some children with DLD respond to rich vocabulary instruction but the gains are modest. The researchers identify potential factors that contributed to the outcomes, and urge that more studies be done with vocabulary interventions that are more precisely tailored to individual needs.

Improving reading comprehension, science domain knowledge, and reading engagement through a first-grade content literacy intervention

Kim, J., Burkhauser, M., Mesite, L., Asher, C., Relyea, J., Fitzgerald, J. & Elmore, J. (2020). Improving reading comprehension, science domain knowledge, and reading engagement through a first-grade content literacy intervention. Journal of Educational Psychology. 113. 10.1037/edu0000465. 

In this study, classroom teachers taught first-grade children about science knowledge while they conducted literacy instruction. Grounding literacy instruction in science content is called content literacy instruction. The aim of content literacy instruction is to help young children acquire conceptually related vocabulary while learning science (and history) content. Results indicate that content literacy instruction can improve first-graders’ science domain knowledge (as measured by vocabulary knowledge depth, listening comprehension, and argumentative writing) and reading comprehension outcomes. Furthermore, there were no negative or adverse effects on first graders’ reading engagement or basic literacy skills. The study suggests that content literacy instruction can improve the rigor, quality, and effectiveness of whole class literacy instruction in the early elementary grades.

How Much Knowledge Is Too Little? When a Lack of Knowledge Becomes a Barrier to Comprehension

Tenaha O’Reilly, Zuowei Wang, John Sabatini. How Much Knowledge Is Too Little? When a Lack of Knowledge Becomes a Barrier to Comprehension. Psychological Science, 2019; 095679761986227 DOI: 10.1177/0956797619862276

Previous research has shown that students who lack sufficient reading skills, including decoding and vocabulary, fare poorly relative to their peers. However, this study suggests that a knowledge threshold may also be an essential component of reading comprehension. A sample of students took a background-knowledge test before working on a reading-comprehension test on the topic of ecology. Results revealed a knowledge threshold: Below the threshold, the relationship between comprehension and knowledge was weak, but above the threshold, a strong and positive relation emerged. Further analyses indicated that certain topically relevant words (e.g., ecosystem, habitat) were more important to know than others when predicting the threshold, and these keywords could be identified using natural-language-processing techniques. The findings underscore the importance of having reached a basic knowledge level to be able to read and comprehend texts across different subjects:

STEM Starts Early: Grounding Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math Education in Early Childhood

McClure, E. R., Guernsey, L., Clements, D. H., Bales, S. N., Nichols, J., Kendall-Taylor, N., & Levine, M. H. (2017). STEM starts early: Grounding science, technology, engineering, and math education in early childhood. New York: The Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop.

Tomorrow’s inventors and scientists are today’s curious young children — as long as those children are given ample chances to explore and are guided by adults equipped to support them. This report aims to better understand the challenges to and opportunities in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) learning as documented in a review of early childhood education research, policy, and practice and encourages collaboration between pivotal sectors to implement and sustain needed changes. The report provides key recommendations for education leaders, researchers, and policymakers across the country to improve opportunities for children to become confident learners in science, technology, engineering and math.

Web-Based Text Structure Strategy Instruction Improves Seventh Graders' Content Area Reading Comprehension

Wijekumar, K. (K.), Meyer, B. J. F., & Lei, P. (2017). Web-based text structure strategy instruction improves seventh graders’ content area reading comprehension. Journal of Educational Psychology, 109 (6), 741-760.

Reading comprehension in the content areas is a challenge for many middle grade students. Text structure-based instruction has yielded positive outcomes in reading comprehension at all grade levels in small and large studies. The text structure strategy delivered via the web, called Intelligent Tutoring System for the Text Structure Strategy (ITSS), has proven successful in large-scale studies at 4th and 5th grades and a smaller study at 7th grade. Text structure-based instruction focuses on selection and encoding of strategic memory. This strategic memory proves to be an effective springboard for many comprehension-based activities such as summarizing, inferring, elaborating, and applying. Results from this study showed that ITSS classrooms outperformed the control classrooms on all measures with the highest effects reported for number of ideas included in the main idea. Results have practical implications for classroom practices.

Science Achievement Gaps Begin Very Early, Persist, and Are Largely Explained by Modifiable Factors

Morgan, P.L., Farkas, G., Hillemeier, M.M., and Maczuga, S. Science Achievement Gaps Begin Very Early, Persist, and Are Largely Explained by Modifiable Factors. Educational Researcher (February 23, 2016), American Educational Research Association.

The study tracked 7,757 children from the start of kindergarten to the end of eighth grade, providing a rare glimpse into the state of science knowledge of America’s youngest students. When children start kindergarten, sizable gaps in science knowledge already exist between whites and minorities — as well as between youngsters from upper-income and low-income families. And those disparities often deepen into significant achievement gaps by the end of eighth grade if they aren’t addressed during elementary school. The findings suggest that, in order for the United States to maintain long-term scientific and economic competitiveness in the world, policymakers need to renew efforts to ensure access to high-quality, early learning experiences in childcare settings, pre-schools, and elementary schools. Waiting to address science achievement gaps in middle or high school may be too late.

Fact or Fiction? Children’s Preferences for Real Versus Make-Believe Stories

Barnes, J.L., Bernstein, E., and Bloom, P. Fact or Fiction? Children’s Preferences for Real Versus Make-Believe Stories, Imagination, Cognition and Personality March 2015, vol. 34 no. 3, 243-258.

Some children and adults are more drawn to the imaginary than others. In this study, researchers examined whether developmental differences also play a role in the degree to which individuals are drawn to make-believe stories over real ones (or vice versa). Experiment 1 explored the influence of the factuality of stories — whether or not stories reflect events that had actually happened — on children’s story preferences. Experiment 2 explored the effect of magical versus realistic content on participants’ story preferences. The results suggest that despite the surplus of imaginary activity associated with childhood, young children are not more prone to liking “un-real” stories than adults and may in fact like them less.

Increasing Comprehension of Expository Science Text for Students With Autism Spectrum Disorder

Christina R. Carnahan, Pamela Williamson, Nicole Birri, hristopher Swoboda, and Kate K. Snyder. Increasing Comprehension of Expository Science Text for Students With Autism Spectrum Disorder. Focus on Autism and Other Developmental Disabilities, Vol 31, Issue 3, pp. 208-220, October 30, 2015.

This study evaluated the effects of a text structure intervention package on the ability of students with autism to comprehend traditional science texts. Three high school students with high-functioning autism and their teacher participated in this study. The intervention package included instruction in types of text structures using a text structure organization sheet before reading, and completing an analysis and summary sheet during and after reading. Results indicated that the instruction was highly effective during intervention and maintenance phase for all three participants. The first-year special education teacher was able to implement the intervention with fidelity. All participants agreed that the intervention was helpful for reading science texts. Future research and implications for classroom intervention is discussed.

3.6 Minutes Per Day: The Scarcity of Informational Texts in First Grade

Duke, N.K. (2000). 3.6 minutes per day: The scarcity of informational texts in first grade. Reading Research Quarterly, 35, 202-224.

This study provides basic, descriptive information about informational text experiences offered to children in 20 first-grade classrooms selected from very low- and very high-SES school districts. Results show a scarcity of informational texts in these classroom print environments and activities – there were relatively few informational texts included in classroom libraries, little informational text on classroom walls and other surfaces, and a mean of only 3.6 minutes per day spent with informational texts during classroom written language activities. This scarcity was particularly acute for children in the low-SES school districts, where informational texts comprised a much smaller proportion of already-smaller classroom libraries, where informational texts were even less likely to be found on classroom walls and other surfaces, and where the mean time per day spent with informational texts was 1.9 minutes, with half the low-SES classrooms spending no time at all with informational texts during any of the four days each was observed. Strategies for increasing attention to informational texts in the early grades are presented.

K-W-L: A Teaching Model That Develops Active Reading of Expository Text

Ogle, D. (1986). K-W-L: A teaching model that develops active reading of expository text. The Reading Teacher, 39, 564-570.

This simple procedure helps teachers become more responsive to students' knowledge and interests when reading expository material, and it models for students the active thinking involved in reading for information.

Growing Young Minds: How Museums and Libraries Create Lifelong Learners

Institute of Museum and Library Services (2012). Growing Young Minds: How Museums and Libraries Create Lifelong Learners. Developed in partnership with the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading.

This report calls upon policymakers, practitioners, and parents to make full use of libraries and museums, and the skills and talents of those who work in them, to close knowledge and opportunity gaps and give all children a strong start in learning. The type of learning that occurs in these institutions — self-directed, experiential, content-rich — promotes executive function skills that can shape a child’s success in school and life.

"Once you learn to read, you will be forever free." — Frederick Douglass