Friday, August 17, 2007

Word Power

The importance of understanding words as a building block for academic success can not be overstated. A good vocabulary base = Word Power. Unfortunately, some of our students are deficient in this area, often as a result of flawed intentions. Their word power is powerless.

What does this look like and why does it occur?

One of the characteristic results of a reading disability is the inability to read grade level material. Typically remediation is directed at teaching the underlying skills necessary to become a more successful reader. It is systematic and structured and based upon remediating five reading skills identified by the National Reading Panel (2000): phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and text comprehension. Remediation works at the student's skill level and is usually not aligned with the classroom curriculum.

When remediation alone is offered, there may be deleterious long-term consequences. Students fall further behind in their understanding of vocabulary and content when they are not exposed to grade level material. Research demonstrates that students who are poor readers have underdeveloped vocabulary as well. This is often times manifested as inferior oral presentations, insufficient curriculum understanding and substandard written expression. Is it possible to prevent the gap from occurring?

Absolutely! Compensation strategies combined with remediation are essential for success. Compensation for the disability is as important as remediation.

When compensation for the underlying skill deficits is not offered, vocabulary skill development suffers and it becomes extremely difficult to “catch up” to peers’ language skills without the opportunity to hear and see the words in combination. Over time, the gap increases and students fall further and further behind.

Text-to-speech software fills the gap. Text-to-speech removes the barrier to print and allows students access to the curriculum without struggling with decoding and fluency issues. They see the combination of the printed word (visual) PLUS hear it read to them (auditory). The benefits of multisensory repetition of the difficult multisyllabic words can not be ignored but must be embraced. Students have the opportunity to participate in classroom discussions and assignments. Students have the opportunity to feel successful. Students benefit from drawing on their vocabulary skills. They have WORD POWER!

As the new school year begins, allow your students the opportunity to capitalize on using text-to-speech to help them overcome reading skill deficits and access the curriculum. Digital text is accessible. Offer it in your classrooms. And talk with your resource teachers about the best text-to-speech options for your students.

Photo credit -


Jane Nicholls said...

Great post! I couldn't agree more. This is why I'm a big advocate for podcasting in the classroom. It gives kids the chance to use and practice vocabulary they may not be able to read. It levels the playing field in a way and gives students the confidence when they do meet these words in their reading.

Karen Janowski said...

Great idea as well! It is about leveling the playing field for our students which typically requires creativity and innovation.

samuel.sennott said...

Karen, this approach you advocae is powerful because often remediation sessions happen in a limited time frame, while using tools such as text to speech, may happen many hours each day week, and month. That time immersed in hearing and seeing the words is awesome!

This summer we had great success combining talking word processors/word prediction with the excellent Don Johnston Phonics tool Wordmaker.

I really like your point in this blog!

Karen Janowski said...

Yes, compensation happens throughout the day, across a variety of settings so it can be very effective. I have worked with too many high school students who have limited vocabulary due to their lack of exposure over the years. We can help them overcome this combining remediation with compensation.
Thanks for stopping by!
(Love what you are doing with the launchers described on your blog, BTW.)