Vocabulary Matters

Vocabulary matters. From early readers learning sight and high-frequency words to medical students deciphering Latin-based names for the parts of the human body, vocabulary is critical for academic and life success. While students acquire many words indirectly through typical reading experiences and engagement in conversation, research suggests that high-quality direct instruction of vocabulary remains an effective way for students to learn new words. Unfortunately, time limitations and the quantity of potential words preclude educators and parents from providing direct instruction designed to teach all possible vocabulary words.

To address this challenge, MetaMetrics has developed a new technology, Lexile® PowerV, to facilitate the selection of words from a piece of text. Words are selected based on three criteria: challenge level, relevance to the passage, and consequence for later reading experiences. The challenge criteria can be based on either the text complexity (e.g., words that will be hard given this text) or reader ability (e.g., words that will be hard for a particular reader). Words relevant to the passage reflect the key themes of the text based on a corpus analysis of 1.4 billion running words. Lastly, words with high utility (i.e. words that are part of large word families) or have been recognized as important for future academic success are selected where appropriate. For more information about the research underlying PowerV, please see our research briefs Empirical Lexile Measures for Words, Lexile Word Frequency Profiles, and Calculation of Lexile Word Measures Using a Corpus-Based Model and Student Performance Data.

This research initiative has implications for parents, educators, and partners. For parents and educators, MetaMetrics’ Lexile “Find a Book” website provides a portal to PowerV functionality. For select books, PowerV provides targeted vocabulary lists based on either the text complexity of the selection or specific reader ability. The word lists generated by PowerV can be used to inform pre-reading activities and instruction, providing readers with an opportunity to learn critical words before encountering them in text. The utility of these word lists is best illustrated with examples.

Don Quixote by Cervantes has a text complexity of 1410L, and PowerV selected ten words from the book that are important for readers to know, regardless of their individual reading abilities: goatherds, shepherdesses, valorous, earldom, belabored, doleful, covetous, digressions, succor, and chaste. To get a more individualized vocabulary list, a teacher or parent could enter a reader measure for a student. In this example, a reader measure of 1000L was entered and PowerV generated a custom word list that is appropriate for this particular reader: curate, disenchantment, commending, absurdities, lamentations, besought, jousts, renegade, and proverb.

A more contemporary example is Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J. K. Rowling. The first novel in the Harry Potter series has a text complexity of 880L and PowerV identified the words that are important for readers regardless of reading ability: referring, broomstick, defrosting, clouted, unseated, bathrobes, quartets, trances, and alibis. For a fourth grader reading at 600L planning to engage with this stretch text, PowerV identified a custom vocabulary list: chasers, scuffles, piers, bowlers, madam, cloak, boaters, dodges, hushing, and whiskery.

MetaMetrics provides a web service for partners looking to integrate PowerV functionality into their own instructional systems. The service accepts a variety of parameters (text, ISBN, Lexile range, number of requested words) and returns appropriate vocabulary lists. Example usages could include: highlighting of challenge words (if in a digital environment), providing word lists in the front of each book, or pre-reading vocabulary-building activities. For more information about licensing Lexile PowerV, please click here.

Given the importance of vocabulary development for academic success, the word selection provided by PowerV is a critical first step in improving student vocabulary knowledge and reading comprehension. With these words in-hand, parents, educators, and partners all have the opportunity to adopt the instructional approach that best suites the needs of their students. In the end, vocabulary matters.

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