Learning about Word Study and Language Development

Over the last few weeks of class, the main concepts that have increased my understanding of literacy development are the practice of word study, fluency development, vocabulary development, and word consciousness. Both in class and in Flint and Gunning’s books on literacy development and reading instruction, the practice of word study has been recommended as a method for increasing phonemic and phonological awareness. After reading about word study and also experiencing a variety of activities hands-on, I believe word study’s greatest strengths are that it allows for such a wide range of activities and manipulations of different words, provides space for creativity and hands-on engagement with literacy, and can be assigned and designed to meet the needs of individual students’ levels of understanding. I see word study as a valuable tool to implement in my classroom, and especially in my work right now with ESL students, because it provides the building blocks of phonics, spelling and vocabulary for students to increase their literacy skills.

Fluency development, another critical concept in the development of literacy, focuses on the accuracy, rate, and expression/prosody of student reading. Gunning identifies the importance of building fluency and balancing each of the different components identifying the goal of reading instruction as teaching the process of actively making meaning while also reading at an appropriate rate, one that does not prioritize speed over comprehension (p. 123). Prosody, and the progress of fluency development, should move from word-by-word reading, to shorter phrases of words and some expression and punctuation understanding, and eventually to complete understanding of punctuation, expression, and meaningful phrase groups. Ultimately, aside from decoding and basic phonics skills, fluency development and comprehension can be most improved through vocabulary acquisition and development.

Language development, which occurs through both incidental and direct instruction, focuses on increasing vocabulary through practices of reading, writing, speaking, and listening. By using teaching strategies that foster word consciousness through word play, modeling, and integration of the above practices, teachers can further the process of language development and vocabulary acquisition. The class lecture on vocabulary provided a framework for understanding the different types of words that need to be learned, which are: common and conversational words (Tier I), high frequency and high priority academic words appearing across different texts and curriculum areas (Tier II), and low frequency words specific to certain content areas and found most often in informational texts (Tier III).  Two instructional approaches that most stood out to me were the modeling of contextual analysis strategies and different language enrichment activities, for example tasking students with rewriting a ‘common phrase’ using more advanced vocabulary. I also see great value in the use of the vocabulary self-inventory that Gunning identifies as a tool for informal assessment because it allows students to examine the difference between familiar words and words they know and can define (p. 145). All of these concepts are especially applicable to my current placement within the ESL classroom because they identify instructional strategies and the purpose behind them for increasing literacy skills specific to word and vocabulary understanding, which is critical to second language learning and acquisition.

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