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We Don't Need No Stinkin' Exercises: The Impact of Extended Instruction and Storybook Reading on Vocabulary Acquisition

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Abstract

Several researchers have claimed that “extended” direct instruction of vocabulary during and after storybook reading improves word knowledge compared to simply reading the story to children. I reanalyze data from experimental studies included in a recent comprehensive review of storybook reading (Wasik, Hindman, & Snell, 2016) in order to calculate the time efficiency of storybook reading alone versus reading plus extended vocabulary instruction. I conclude that storybook reading alone was on average 66% more efficient than storybook reading plus direct instruction in increasing children’s vocabulary knowledge. Children also forgot fewer words in reading-only conditions compared to those who received more time-intensive approaches.
Language and Language Teaching Volume 8 Number 1 Issue 15 January 2019 25
We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Exercises: The
Impact of Extended Instruction and
Storybook Reading on Vocabulary
Acquisition
Jeff McQuillan
Introduction
Reading stories to young children has a
significant impact on a child’s vocabulary
development (Mol & Bus, 2011).1Children
acquire words incidentally by being read to, and
show growth in word knowledge even upon a
single exposure to a novel word (Carey &
Bartlett, 1978). In general, the more exposure
to an unknown word children have, the more
likely they are to acquire that word, without any
explicit vocabulary instruction (Robbins & Ehri,
1994). These findings are consistent with current
theories of language acquisition (Krashen, 2003;
Smith, 2004), which hold that the development
of literacy is primarily a result of language
comprehension (listening and reading), not of
direct instruction and “practice.”
Despite the success of “unaided” storybook
reading in promoting vocabulary growth, several
researchers have attempted to improve the
effectiveness of reading stories to children by
adding explicit instruction of unknown words in
the story. Wasik, Hindman, and Snell (2016)
reviewed 36 studies on the effectiveness of
various vocabulary interventions with storybook
reading, including re-readings, dialogic reading,
questioning, defining, props, and additional or
“extended activities.” They concluded that
“word learning was enhanced when adults
asked questions and engaged children in
discussion about target vocabulary words,
relative to simply recasting the meanings of the
words” (p. 52). Nevertheless, the overall effects
of these interventions were modest, accounting
typically for less than 10% of the variance
explained in vocabulary scores (p. 53).
Although the gains from instruction appear to
be small, some researchers have argued that
“at-risk” children especially need intensive
vocabulary teaching. Coyne, Simmons,
Kame’enui, and Stoolmiller (2004), for example,
advocate for what they term “conspicuous
instruction”:
Conspicuous instruction is explicit and
unambiguous and consists of carefully
designed and delivered teacher actions.
During vocabulary instruction, this would
include direct presentations of word
meanings using clear and consistent
wording and extensive teacher modeling
of new vocabulary in multiple contexts.
(p. 149)
Wasik et al. (2016) included in their review 15
studies that contained some form of this
intensive approach. All of the studies included
giving children word definitions during the
reading of the story, as well as post-reading
activities intended to promote vocabulary
acquisition. In all cases, the researchers found
that children receiving direct instruction made
significant gains in word knowledge on
immediate post-tests.
But raw score gains on a vocabulary measure
alone is an insufficient reason to recommend
direct instruction. Teachers must also consider
the time efficiency of ins tru ctio n – in this case ,
how many words are gained per unit of time.
Language and Language Teaching Volume 8 Number 1 Issue 15 January 2019 26
Since at-risk children are thought to need direct
instruction in order to “catch up” to their age
peers, a focus on efficiency should be of
particular interest to vocabulary researchers. Yet
in none of the 15 studies did the researchers
attempt to calculate the relative efficiency of
their approach.
Previous reading acquisition studies have shown
that while some forms of direct instruction can
lead to greater absolute word gains on post-tests,
when the efficiency of instruction (words gained
divided by instructional time) is considered,
simply reading or being read to is usually as good
as or superior to direct instruction. Krashen
(1989) re-analyzed several studies of vocabulary
instruction and concluded that most forms of
instruction were less efficient in terms of
promoting vocabulary growth than simply
reading. McQuillan (2016) found a similar pattern
for second language acquirers: “reading only”
conditions were more time efficient as a means
of improving vocabulary growth than reading
plus direct instruction.
In this paper, I examine the studies from Wasik
et al.’s review that included some form of extra
or “extended” instruction. I calculate for each
study the relative efficiency of storybook
reading alone versus storybook reading plus post-
reading vocabulary activities to determine if the
added instruction really was worth the extra time
teachers spent on it. I also compare the rates
of “forgetting” in studies that included both an
immediate and delayed post-test.
Analysis
Study Selection
Of the 15 studies that included some type of
“additional instruction” in Wasik et al. (2016;
Table 5, p. 49), eight did not include a reading-
only comparison group that used same
storybooks as the treatment group (Coyne,
McCoach, & Kapp, 2007 (Study 2); Coyne,
McCoach, Loftus, Zipoli, Ruby, Crevecoeur, &
Kapp, 2010; Gonzalez, Pollard-Durodola,
Simmons, Taylor, Davis, Kim, & Simmons, 2011;
Leung, 2008; Loftus, Coyne, McCoach, Zipoli,
& Pullen, 2010; Beck & McKeown, 2007;
Silverman, Crandell, & Carlis, 2013; and Zipoli,
Coyne, & McCoach, 2011).Three of the studies
had appropriate comparison groups but lacked
sufficient information on the amount of time
spent in the experimental or comparison
condition (Wasik & Bond, 2001; Wasik, Bond,
& Hindman, 2006; and Zucker, Solari, Landry,
& Swank, 2013).2
This left only four studies with enough data to
calculate instructional efficiency: Coyne,
McCoach, & Kapp, 2007 (Study 1); Coyne,
McCoach, Loftus, Zipoli, & Kapp, 2009 (Study
2); McKeown & Beck, 2014 (Study 3); and
Weisberg, Ilgaz, Hirsh-Pasek, Golinkoff,
Nicolopoulou, & Dickinson, 2015 (Study 4). To
these four I’ve added: Loftus-Rattan, Mitchell,
and Coyne (2016), which was published after
Wisek et al.’s review.
Time Estimates
Not all studies reported detailed information on
the time spent on instructional activities. For
those that did not, I justify my estimate in my
discussion of the study, attempting to be as
conservative as possible when estimating the
total time of the intervention (i.e. using the
lowest time estimate I could reasonably derive
from the description of the instruction).
Determining a proper estimate for incidental
exposure to a word during storybook reading is
more problematic, however. How much reading
time should be allotted to individual words read
within the story? In studies of “context effects”
in word acquisition, the single sentence in which
the novel word appears is often considered the
unit of analysis (e.g. Stanovich, 1982; West &
Stanovich, 1978). This would mean the time
spent on each incidental exposure would be
around five seconds for most sentences in a
typical storybook.
Language and Language Teaching Volume 8 Number 1 Issue 15 January 2019 27
Coyne, McCoach, Loftus, Zipoli, and Kapp
(2009, Table 3, p. 14) suggested an estimate of
10 seconds per incidental word exposure, which
would effectively extend the “context” for the
target word to one or two sentences prior to
the one containing the word itself. I use Coyne
et al.’s10-second estimate for the incidental
exposure conditions in my analysis. A 1 0-se co nd
estimate is sufficient to account for the
immediate context around the target word, as
well as representing a more conservative
approach than the estimates used in previous
studies of context effects.
The relative efficiency of incidental exposure
versus direct instruction is calculated here by
first determining the number of words gained
per minute in each condition (efficiency), and
then using the formula:
(Incidental Exposure Efficiency /Direct
Instruction Efficiency)/
Incidental Exposure Efficiency X 100.
Since three of the studies used very similar
designs (Coyne et al., 2007; Coyne et al., 2009;
and Loftus-Rattan et al., 2016), I discuss those
first, followed by the McKeown and Beck
(2014) and Weisberg et al. (2015) studies.
Study 1: Coyne, McCoach, & Kapp (2007)
Coyne et al. (2007) used a within-subject design
to study the effects of extended instruction
versus reading-only with a group of kindergarten
children (N = 31). All the students heard the
same story (The Three Little Pigs) read to them
three times containing six target words. Students
were given a pre-test on all of the target words.
Direct instruction was given on three of the six
target words as part of the “Extended
Instruction” condition. The two conditions in
which words were encountered were:
1. Incidental Exposure: Teachers read the
storybooks as they usually did without any
vocabulary explanations or “follow-up”
activities related to the target words.
2. Extended Instruction: Teachers reviewed
the target words before the story was read,
and asked students to listen for the three
words and raise their hands when they
came up in the story. The teacher then gave
a definition of the word (e.g. “A weald is
forest or some woods” (p. 398)), re-read
the line in which it appeared, and had the
children repeat the word. After the story
was read, there were follow-up activities
with additional direct instruction on the three
target words.
Children were given a battery of tests that
included both “expressive” or recall tests (e.g.
“What does cauldron mean?”) and “r ecept ive
or recognition tests (e.g. “Which of these two
sentences uses the word cauldron correctly?”).
Students scored higher on words in the
experimental condition than in the reading-only
or incidental condition on both vocabulary
measures, but scored relatively higher on the
recall measure than on the receptive one. In
order to present the “best-case scenario” for
direction instruction, I used the recall measure
to calculate efficiency, as it favored more
heavily extended instruction.
Table 1 contains the recall gain scores on the
immediate post-test, the time spent on the target
words in each condition, the words per minute
gained on the post test, and relative efficiency
(that is, how much more or less efficient reading-
alone was compared to extended instruction).
There was a maximum score of 2 points
awarded for each word on the recall test, so
gain scores were divided by two to yield the
number of words acquired.
The reading-only condition spent a total of 1.5
minutes on the three target words (10 seconds
X 3 readings X 3 words). The researchers
reported that the total time for the post-reading
Language and Language Teaching Volume 8 Number 1 Issue 15 January 2019 28
vocabulary activities for each of the three
readings of the story was around 15 minutes
(15 minutes X 3 readings = 45 minutes).
However, to this figure must be added the
additional time for vocabulary instruction given
before and during the reading. Coyne et al.
(2007) did not provide any data on this part of
the treatment, but in a nearly identical study
design used in a later study (Coyne et al., 2009),
the researchers used an estimate of one minute
per word per reading for pre- and during-reading
instruction (what they called “embedded
instruction”). This would add 9 minutes to the
extended instruction (1 minute X 3 readings X
3 words), making the total extended instruction
time 54 minutes.
As seen in Table 1, the words that children
encountered incidentally in the text were
acquired almost one-third (31%) more efficiently
than those given extended instruction.
Table 1: Word Gains and Relative Efficiency on Recall Tests in Coyne et al. (2007)
Extended
Instruction
Reading Only
Recall scores (immediate post-test)
(max. score = 3)
2.12
.085
Time on treatment (minutes) 54
1.5
Words per minute .039 .057
Relative efficiency of reading-only vs. extended
instruction
+31%
--
Study 2: Coyne, McCoach, Loftus, Zipoli,
&Kapp (2009)
Coyne et al. (2009) compared three different
conditions of word exposure in a within-subjects
design with kindergarten students (N = 42 ). As
in Coyne et al. (2007), students heard a
storybook (Goldilocks) read three times. There
were 9 target words included in the story. Three
of the words were given “extended instruction”
similar to what was done in Coyne et al. (2007).
Three words were part of the reading-only
condition, and three words were presented in
“embedded instruction.”
Embedded instruction involved asking students
to say the words before the story was read, to
From Coyne et al., 2007, Tables 1 and 2. Recall gains adjusted for pre-test scores
listen for the words in the story, and then to raise
their hands when they heard them. Teachers
then gave “simple definitions” of the words and
then re-read the sentence containing the word
(p. 7).
Coyne and colleagues estimated the amount of
time spent on embedded instruction (before and
during the reading) was approximately 1 minute
per word per reading (Table 3, p. 14), so the
total time was 9 minutes (1 minute X 3 readings
X 3 words). The extended instruction (post-
reading activities) took about 15 minutes per
reading, for a total of 45 minutes (15 minutes X
3 readings). As in Coyne et al. (2007), we must
add the time spent on embedded instruction (9
Language and Language Teaching Volume 8 Number 1 Issue 15 January 2019 29
minutes) to the extended instruction estimate,
for a total of 54 minutes.
Similar to Coyne et al. (2007), students were
given a pre-test on the target words and then
both recall and comprehension vocabulary
measures as post-tests. However, since the
researchers determined that students were not
performing above chance on the pre-tests, only
post-test scores were used in their analysis. The
greatest raw score advantage for the extended
and embedded instruction conditions compared
to reading-only was again on the recall tests, so
that is the data I used for the efficiency
calculation.
Table 2 lists the number of words gained, the
time on treatment, the words gained per minute,
and the relative efficiency of the reading-only
condition versus embedded and extended
instruction.
Words in the reading-only condition were
acquired at the same rate as those in the
embedded instruction condition, meaning there
was no advantage for the pre- and during-
reading activities on vocabulary growth. The
Table 2: Time Efficiency of Extended Instruction and Reading-Only for Vocabulary Acquisition in
Coyne et al. (2009)
From Coyne et al., 2009, Table 1, p. 11
extended instruction condition did far worse,
however, with reading-only proving to be 50%
more efficient than providing extended direct
instruction.
Loftus-Rattan, Mitchell, &Coyne (2016)
Loftus-Rattan et al. (2016) is a partial replication
of Coyne et al. (2009). The researchers
compared three storybook reading conditions in
a within-subjects design with a group of
preschool children (N = 25), with three unknown
target words per condition. The three conditions
were identical to those described previously for
Coyne et al. (2009): reading-only, embedded
instruction, and extended instruction.
The children were randomly assigned to one of
the three storybook conditions, and heard the
story (Goldilocks) three times over a period of
one week. There were given similar recall and
comprehension vocabulary measures as post-
tests as used in the Coyne et al. (2007).
For reasons that are not explained, Loftus-
Rattan et al. used different instructional time
estimates for the embedded and extended
conditions than those used in previous studies,
even though the descriptions of the procedures
used were the same. This may be due to better
tracking of teacher instructional time in this study,
but no explanation i s giv en.
Language and Language Teaching Volume 8 Number 1 Issue 15 January 2019 30
Table 3: Time Efficiency of Embedded Instruction, Extended Instruction, and Reading-Only in
Loftus-Rattan et al. (2016)
From Loftus-Rattan et al., 2016, Table 1, p. 402
could calculate efficiency by simply dividing the
words per minute gains of the reading-only
condition by the gains made by experimental
conditions. Using this approach, we find
reading-only words were acquired at more than
four times the rate of those in either the
embedded or extended instruction conditions.
Study 3: McKeown & Beck (2014)
McKeown and Beck (2014) compared three
storybook reading conditions using a within-
subjects design with a group of kindergarten
students (N = 13 1): rep etiti on, “i nterac tive, ” and
control. The researchers choose (or inserted)
10 target words into each of three stories, for a
total of 30 target words. Words presented in
the control condition were heard just once in
the context of the storybook, without any
explanations or extension activities. Words in
the repetition and interactive conditions were
heard at least 12 times over a seven-day
“instructional cycle.”
On Day 1 of the repetition condition, the first
reading of the storybook included a brief
definition of each target word after it occurred
in the story, followed by additional review for
five of the 10 target words for that story. The
review consisted of re-reading the sentences in
which the target words occurred, “paraphrasing
the context, and presenting the friendly
explanation.” On Day 2, the story was read
again with target word definitions inserted, and
the other five target words were reviewed after
the reading. Day 3 included reading the story a
third time, with definitions given for all the words
once more while reading. Days 4 to 7 consisted
of “activities to practice the friendly definitions,”
including “game-like formats such as
“Concentration” that required matching words
to their definitions (p. 523).
For the embedded instruction condition, Loftus-
Rattan et al. estimated teachers spent 2 minutes
per word per reading, for a total of 18 minutes
per three word set (2 minutes X 3 reading X 3
words). For the extended condition, the post-
reading instruction time is estimated to be 5
minutes per word. Adding this 5 minutes to the
2 minutes used in pre- and during-reading
instruction, we get a total of 63 minutes (7
minutes X 3 reading X 3 words). Results from
the three conditions are shown in Table 3.
The reading-only condition was 79% more
efficient for word acquisition than extended
instruction, and 75% more efficient than the less
intensive embedded instruction. Alternatively, we
Language and Language Teaching Volume 8 Number 1 Issue 15 January 2019 31
The interactive condition’s seven day cycle
began by reading the entire story to the children
without interruption, followed by reviewing five
of the target words in a manner similar to the
repetition condition review. Then “follow-up”
activities took place for the first five words “in
which students were asked to distinguish
between examples and non-examples of the
word’s application” (p. 523). Day 2 was a repeat
of Day 1, but with the second set of five target
words. Days 3 to 7 involved even more activities
related to the 10 target words, such as asking if
the use of a word in a particular sentence made
sense and explaining why or why not.
Unlike one of their previous studies on storybook
reading and direct instruction (Beck &
McKeown, 2007), McKeown and Beck gave
no time estimates for any of their activities.3
For the “control” or reading-only condition, I
again used 10 seconds per word based on Coyne
et al.’s (2009) estimate for incidental exposure.
This gives us a total of 5 minutes (10 seconds X
10 target words X 3 stories).
For the repetition group, I estimated 30 seconds
for the within-the-story definition (listening to
the sentence with the target word plus
explanation), similar to previous estimates from
Coyne et al. (2009). To this I added three
minutes per day to review the five words after
the story was read for Days 1 to 3, for a total of
24 minutes. For Days 4 to 7, I added an
additional 10 minutes per day to review the 10
target word definitions and engage in related
follow-up activities. This gives us a total
estimate of 54 minutes for the seven-day cycle.
For the interactive condition, I estimated slightly
more time, since the treatment description
indicates this was a more intensive form of
instruction, presumably with more time and
activities per word. I estimated an additional 5
minutes per day for each seven-day cycle, for
a total of 101 minutes (54 + (7 X 5). Based on
the descriptions of the instruction provided by
McKeown and Beck, 5 minutes per day is
almost certainly an underestimate of the actual
instructional time.
Children in all three conditions were given a
several vocabulary assessments, including
meaning recognition and production tests. Since
the effect size differences between the control
and experimental conditions were overall highest
in the production/recall measure on the raw
number of words gained (d = .44 f or re peti tion
condition and .70 for the interactive condition),
Table 4: Time Efficiency of Repetition, Interactive, and Control Conditions in
McKeown and Beck (2014)
From McKeown & Beck, 2014, Table 7, p. 526
Language and Language Teaching Volume 8 Number 1 Issue 15 January 2019 32
I used that measure in Table 4 to estimate the
time efficiency of the instructional conditions.
Words presented in the reading-only condition
were acquired 93% more efficiently than those
in the repetition treatment, and 95% faster than
in the more intensive, interactive condition. Not
only is simply reading the storybook more
efficient than direct instruction, but the more
time spent on direct instruction, the less efficient
it became. Compared to the reading-only
condition, the relative efficiency of the more
time-intensive interactive condition was lower
than the repetition condition, despite the fact that
the interactive condition took almost twice as
long.
Study 4: Weisberg, Ilgaz, Hirsh-Pasek,
Golinkoff, Nicolopoulou, and Dickinson
(2015)
Weisberg, Ilgaz, Hirsh-Pasek, Golinkoff,
Nicolopoulou, and Dickinson (2015) compared
three conditions under which a group of pre-
school children (N = 154) encountered novel
vocabulary. In the “exposure” condition, words
appeared in either “realistic” or “fantastical”
themed storybooks, but were not defined or
discussed by the teacher. In the second
condition, “target” words appeared in realistic
themed books, which were also taught using
direct instruction. The third condition was
identical to the second, but the words appeared
instead in “fantastical” themed books.
Each book contained 10 target words that were
taught explicitly, and each child heard two stories
from their assigned theme, for a total of 20 target
words taught over the eight storybook reading
sessions. In addition to the target words, there
were eight realistic and nine fantastical exposure
words that appeared in the stories to measure
incidental, uninstructed word acquisition.
Teachers in the experiment were given
“bookreading scripts” to guide their instruction.
After one of the target words appeared in the
story, teachers stopped and gave a definition of
the word (e.g. “The little dragon came out of
the egg; he emerged from it. See how Grog is
emerging from the eg g? (Weisberg et al., 2015,
p. 5)). At the end of each book, teachers
reviewed all of the target words, using both hand
gestures and illustrations from the book. In
addition, the realistic and fantastical target words
were included in a set of “play” activities that
were also scripted for the teachers. Toys related
to the 10 target words from that book were
used during this post-reading instruction.
Weisberg et al. noted that the storybook reading
sessions, including during-story definitions of
target words and the post-reading play sessions,
each took 10 minutes. I estimated that the
reading only “exposure” condition took a total
of 11.3 minutes (average of 8.5 words per story
X 10 seconds X 8 sessions). For the target word
instruction, I assigned 30 seconds per during
story word definition, plus the 10 minutes of
“play” activities, for a total of 120 minutes ((10
words X 30 seconds) + 10 minutes of post-
reading activities) X 8 sessions).
Children were given vocabulary comprehension
and production tests pre-tests and immediate
post-tests. The comprehension test included four
illustrations, and children were asked to point to
the one closest to the meaning of the word. The
production measure involved asking the child to
recall the meaning of the word in a one-on-one
interview with the experimenters.
Since there were fewer total exposure words
than target words, the researchers reported their
results as the percentage of correct answers.
In Table 5 below, I have multiplied the
percentage gain, pre-test to post-test, by the
number of total number of words encountered
in that condition: out of 20 words for the
instructed words, and out of 17 words for the
Language and Language Teaching Volume 8 Number 1 Issue 15 January 2019 33
Table 5: Time Efficiency of Extended Instruction and Reading-only Conditions
in Weisberg et al. (2015)
From Weisberg et al., 2015, Table 3, p. 9
exposure condition (combining fantastical and
realistic themes).
The reading-only words were acquired 70 - 72%
more efficiently than words encountered in the
direct instruction conditions, with little difference
between the themes of the words.
Vocabulary Retention: Studies with
Delayed Post-Tests
Three of the five studies reviewed above
included delayed post-tests to measure the
amount of vocabulary retention (Coyne et al.,
2007; Coyne et al., 2009; and Loftus-Rattan et
al., 2016). I summarize in Table 6 the recall
vocabulary scores (raw scores) for all three
studies for the immediate post-test (done within
a few days after the treatment) and the delayed
post-test, given 6 – 8 weeks later. When there
was more than one treatment group, I used the
data from most intensive form of instruction
provided (extended instruction) for the
experimental group. Both the immediate and
delayed post-test cores for Coyne et al. (2007)
were adjusted for pre-test scores.
To calculate the percent of word knowledge
loss over time, the delayed post-test score was
*% Change = (Immediate posttest - Delayed post-test)/Immediate post-test
Table 6: Vocabulary Retention in Extended Instruction vs. Reading-Only Condition Vocabulary
Recall Scores from Immediate to Delayed Post-Test
Language and Language Teaching Volume 8 Number 1 Issue 15 January 2019 34
subtracted from the immediate post-test score,
and that result was divided by the immediate
post-test score.
In two of the three comparisons, scores in the
direct instruction condition declined considerably
more than the reading-only condition. In Loftus-
Rattan et al. (2016), the decline in scores was
virtually the same. The average change for the
extended instruction words across the three
studies was -33%; for the reading-alone
condition words, it was +23%.
Discussion
Reading alone was m or e eff ic ien t f or vo ca bul ar y
acquisition than reading plus extended instruction
in eight of the nine comparisons reviewed here,
and was as efficient in the remaining one. This
was true even though we used measures that
most favored the direct instruction conditions
(production or recall tests). The average of the
efficiency advantage for “just reading” over
explicit instruction was 63%. This is a large,
practical difference for teachers to consider
when allocating their limited instructional time.
Our findings are similar to those from other areas
of literacy acquisition in both the first and second
language. Nagy, Herman, and Anderson (1985)
found that incidental acquisition of vocabulary
during reading could account for a much larger
proportion of word knowledge growth among
elementary school students than could direct
instruction. Mason and K rashe n (20 04) f ound
for their adult second language acquirers that
simply listening the a story being read to them
was more efficient than adding additional
“extension” or “practice” activities. Mason,
Vanata, Jander, Borsch, and Krashen (2008)
reached a similar conclusion: simply listening to
a story was more efficient than listening plus
vocabulary instruction for adults studying
German. Mason (2007) reported that English
students in traditional form-focused language
classrooms acquired vocabulary less efficiently
than those who listened to and read stories.
McQuillan (2016) also found similar results in
his review of seven studies of adult second
language vocabulary acquisition.
Simply reading storybooks to children is not only
more efficient that the use of direct instruction,
but it also produces more lasting vocabulary
gains. Studies that included a delayed post-test
reported consistent losses on the vocabulary
recall scores of the direct instruction words, and
an overall greater loss of knowledge compared
to those words gained incidentally. This finding
is again consistent with previous research on
vocabulary growth as well as other areas of
language acquisition (Krashen, 2003).
McQuillan (2016), for example, found in a
survey of second language vocabulary studies
that there was far greater retention when words
were encountered incidentally versus in direct
instruction.
Why have so few reading researchers used time
efficiency calculations to evaluate their own
studies? One reason may be due to the nature
of incidental vocabulary acquisition. As Nagy,
Herman, and Anderson (1985) demonstrated,
increases in word knowledge each time a
reader sees a novel word are very small (around
10-15%). When measured in an experimental
setting, then, the incidental gains for a set of
target words on the post-test may seem
negligible. Simply comparing the absolute
number of words gained in a given period of
instruction, without calculating the rate of
acquisition, has led researchers to conclude that
direct instruction of vocabulary “works” better
than incidental acquisition. Once we correct for
the time spent on each condition, however, it
becomes clear that the opposite is true, as found
in the studies reviewed here.
None of the studies reviewed here measured
the affective impact of the pre-reading, during-
Language and Language Teaching Volume 8 Number 1 Issue 15 January 2019 35
reading, and post-reading forms of direct
instruction on young children.Krashen (2013)
points out in his analysis of storybook
“interruptions” (questioning, pointing out
features of print, giving definitions) that there
are possible negative effects when attempts are
made “improve” the efficacy of storybook
reading through explicit instruction. Biemiller
and Boote (2006) provide some evidence of this.
During their storybook reading experiment with
kindergartners and 1st graders, they point out
that “1 or more children expressed complaints
about interruptions for explaining word
meanings” when the story was read to them
the first time (p. 48).
The results of this analysis do not mean that
teachers should withhold explanations of words
from children during storybook reading,
especially when the children ask for them. That
would be annoying for the children, even
disrespectful. None of the studies included in
Wasik et al.’s review, however, looked at the
effects of explaining words that the children
themselves asked about.
Direct instruction in vocabulary is less efficient
for word acquisition than simply reading, results
in lower retention of the target words, is more
work for the teacher, and is likely to provide a
less enjoyable experience for the children it is
supposed to benefit. It is difficult to see how
any of these characteristics would recommend
the practice to parents and teachers.
Endnotes
1 The title of this article is an adaptation of a line
from the movie, Treasure of the Sierra Madre (Blanke
& Huston, 1948): “We don’t need to stinkin’
badges.”
2 Wasik and Bond (2001) claimed that their
experimental and reading-only comparison groups
spent “a similar amount of time” (p. 245) on
storybook reading, but the description of the
comparison and intervention conditions suggests
otherwise. Although comparison teachers were given
the same books and asked to read them to their
children the same number of times as the intervention
group, there was no measure of how long this took.
Teachers in the intervention group not only read
the story, but also introduced the vocabulary to
students before reading, interrupted the reading to
ask questions, and did activities related to the target
words after the reading, all of which would take more
time than merely reading the books to the children.
In any case, no total times were provided by Wasik
and Bond for either condition.
3 Be ck a nd Mc Keo wn sa id t hat they did not p res crib e
the amount of time teachers should spend on the
activities, since the instruction was not “rote”: “For
example, some activities might produce longer
discussions, or students might spend more time
recalling a certain word’s definition or generating
an associated word or definition” (p. 528). Oddly,
the researchers did tape record the teaching sessions
to check for treatment fidelity (p. 525), but did not
analyze the data in order to calculate an accurate
assessment of time spent in each condition.
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Jeff McQuillan worked at the School of Education
at California State University, Fullerton and American
Language School at the University of Southern
California. He is a Senior Research Associate at the
Center for Educational Development in Los Angeles,
California.He has published widely in the areas of
literacy development, first and second language
acquisition, and bilingualism.
titleman@gmail.com
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A study was conducted in 26 Head Start classrooms with 264 children to compare the effect of a read aloud plus extension activities intervention over a control group to the effect of a read aloud only intervention over a control group on preschool children's vocabulary. Children were assessed before and after the intervention on target vocabulary and general vocabulary measures. Research Findings: The results suggest that the effects of the read aloud plus intervention were stronger than the effects of the read aloud only intervention on target word learning. In addition, the effects of the read aloud plus intervention on target word learning were stronger for children with higher versus lower general vocabulary knowledge. Neither intervention had an effect on general word knowledge. Practice or Policy: Observation and fidelity data are used to contextualize the findings, and the results are discussed in light of the extant literature on preschool vocabulary interventions.