Oral language exposure and incidental vocabulary acquisition: An exploration across kindergarten classrooms
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This exploratory study examined the impact of rich oral language exposure through read-alouds and teachers' everyday classroom speech in kindergarten classrooms to draw conclusions concerning how teachers might best plan their exposure of new language to students in order to optimize their incidental vocabulary acquisition. This is important because vocabulary impacts both academic success and reading achievement, and most meanings of words are acquired incidentally---without direct instruction, through exposure to oral language (Biemiller, 2003; Hart & Risley, 1995). If in just three years children are able to acquire over a thousand new words based on rich exposure to language by those around them in their homes (Hart & Risley, 1995), then it seems important to consider the potential impact of children's exposure to rich language in their classrooms as another potential means of enhancing children's vocabulary acquisition. Data included pre-testing and post-testing of children's meaning vocabulary understanding through a range of interview questions, and was analyzed both qualitatively and quantitatively. Qualitative analysis of students' expressions of word-meaning understanding were categorized and organized into a hierarchical model of word-meaning understanding, which served as the basis for the quantitative scoring system used to determine the impact of different word exposures in the classroom. Both the qualitative categories and quantitative scoring system comprise the Word Meaning Assessment Scale for Children, which was created to score the children's word-meaning understanding responses in this study. Children's understanding of word meanings significantly increased based on oral exposure to words as compared to non-exposure to words. Exposing students to words broadly (eleven to thirteen times) led to significantly greater gains in word-meaning understanding than minimal (two to three) exposures. Considering the estimated 88,533 distinct word families that exist in the printed reading vocabulary of third to ninth graders (Nagy & Anderson, 1984), certainly teachers cannot directly teach all the words students must know in order to be proficient readers and language users. Exposing students to novel language in the classroom is one effective way of increasing students' vocabularies in addition to direct vocabulary instruction.