The effects of context clues for deriving word meanings in fourth-grade students with adequate and poor vocabulary knowledge

UNCG Author/Contributor (non-UNCG co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
Turki Samah Alzahraney (Creator)
The University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG )
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Williamson Pamela

Abstract: The process of acquiring new words to use in daily life is called vocabulary development. The aim of vocabulary development is helping students learn the meanings of new words and concepts in various contexts and across all academic content areas. Research shows that there is a variety of ways to learn vocabulary including direct instruction, incidental learning, and context clues. Researchers such as Carlo, August, McLaughlin, and Snow (2004), Herman and Dole (1988), and Martin-Chang, Levy, and O’Neil (2007) pointed out that even though students can sometimes learn a new word when the definition is given, there are other times when they need strategies for using context to decipher unfamiliar words. Using context clue strategies helps students to understand the reading and improve their achievement. Context clues are words or hints found around an unfamiliar word that provides clues that reveal the meaning of the unknown word (Beck & McKeown, 1991). Research has shown positive effects of teaching the use of context clues on students’ word learning (e.g., Baumann et al., 2002). When students possess the adequate knowledge of using a word-learning strategy (i.e., context clues), this will help them to become independent readers as well as serve their continued success in their lives after secondary school. However, lack of research on such strategies to improve word knowledge appears to be one of the critical obstacles to enhanced vocabulary development for students, particularly students with reading difficulties, including those with learning disabilities (LD; Jitendra, Edwards, Sacks, & Jacobson, 2004; Stahl & Nagy, 2006). In fact, quite a few studies have been conducted to investigate the utility of the context clue strategies as a teaching device to improve word knowledge, vocabulary acquisition, and comprehension with elementary, typically achieving students (e.g., Martin-Chang, et al., 2007; Nash & Snowling, 2006; Yuen, 2009). While most of the investigators obtained results that pointed to the superiority of the context clues as a teaching strategy, few of them could report results that were statistically significant. Furthermore, the findings of some studies (e.g., Goerss, Beck, & McKeown, 1999) showed that an instructional task based on the process of using context to derive word meaning information is a powerful model for one-on-one instruction. The question remains as to how useful the instructional intervention would be if it were adapted for small groups and classrooms. Additionally, to date, the question of whether instruction in context clue strategies can improve the ability of students with reading difficulties, including those with LD, to use context to derive the meanings of unfamiliar words has not been explored and remains an open question, one addressed in this study. The purpose of this quasi-experimental research study was to examine the influence of vocabulary instruction that is based on a combination of a strategy and certain types of context clues for deriving word meanings on short- and long-term vocabulary acquisition in fourth-grade students with adequate (AVK) and poor vocabulary knowledge (PVK). Specifically, this study involved a comparison of two approaches: (a) business as usual instruction was used as a control condition, and (b) a nine-day vocabulary instructional intervention was used as a treatment condition. The dependent variable in the study was a measure of the effects of the vocabulary instructional intervention (context clues strategy) on students’ vocabulary acquisition. Two measurement instruments were used to measure the dependent variable in this study: (a) the Gates-MacGinitie Reading Tests (GMRT), Fourth Edition, and (b) an experimenter-constructed test (ECT) designed for this study. Five fourth-grade classrooms, with a total of 59 students, participated in the study. These classrooms came from four separate elementary schools, two public schools in the same school district and two private schools that exclusively serve students with diagnosed LD, located in three different urban cities in the southern United States. Measures of vocabulary knowledge were administered to participants at three different moments in the study: (a) before providing the vocabulary intervention, (b) immediately after completing the intervention, and (c) three weeks later. Results revealed that after receiving the vocabulary instructional intervention, both groups of students (students with PVK and AVK) in the treatment condition significantly outperformed students in the control condition on both measures of vocabulary knowledge (GMRT and ECT). The changes in students’ results on both measures of vocabulary knowledge across the two instructional conditions (treatment and control conditions) were consistent, which confirms the hypothesis that the change in students’ vocabulary acquisition was a result of exposure to the vocabulary instructional intervention. When examining the extent to which both groups of students in the treatment condition retained the learned context clue strategy three weeks post-intervention, the findings indicated that both groups of students performed significantly better in short-term learning (on the immediate posttest) compared to their performance in long-term learning (on the delayed posttest). These findings provide evidence that the vocabulary instructional intervention was effective and suggest that teaching students how to use context clues while reading—even brief, direct, and explicit vocabulary interventions—improves their understanding and ability to derive the meanings of novel vocabulary words in new written contexts. Limitations, contributions, implications, and future directions are discussed.

Additional Information

Language: English
Date: 2019
Context Clues, Instructional Strategies, Learning Disabilities, Reading Difficulties, Struggling Reader, Vocabulary
Children $x Language
Learning disabilities
Vocabulary $x Study and teaching (Elementary)
Reading (Elementary) $x Ability testing

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