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Study Guide

Field 065: Literacy

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Sample Constructed-Response Item

Competency 0008 
Analysis, Synthesis, and Application

start bold Use the excerpts below from an article by William Nagy and Dianna Townsend (2012), published in start italics Reading Research Quarterly end italics, to complete the assignment that follows. end bold

In recent years, a number of intervention studies have been published that present findings on the efficacy of approaches to supporting students' academic vocabulary development. This work rests on the body of scholarship on vocabulary instruction, which established important principles of instruction with respect to building word knowledge. For example, Graves (2000) identified four components of a vocabulary curriculum: wide reading, promoting word consciousness, teaching word learning strategies, and teaching individual words. Stahl and Fairbanks (1986), in their seminal meta-analysis of the effects of vocabulary instruction on comprehension, highlighted three principles of effective vocabulary instruction: teaching both definitional and contextual information, promoting depth of processing, and providing multiple encounters of words.

Beck et al. (2002), Blachowicz and Fisher (2000), Graves (2006), Stahl and Nagy (2006), and others have brought much of the research findings on vocabulary instruction to practice with their practitioner texts. From this large body of work on vocabulary learning and instruction, there is a common theme that is particularly important for academic language. Vocabulary learning must occur in authentic contexts, with students having many opportunities to learn how target words interact with, garner meaning from, and support meanings of other words. Indeed, contemporary texts for teachers encourage the practice of identifying meaningful words for instruction within academic materials and then teaching those words within the contexts in which they are used (Beck et al., 2002; Fang & Schleppegrell, 2008; Zwiers, 2008).  ellipsis 

start boldIntervention Research on General Academic Words end bold

 ellipsis  In the first study, Townsend and Collins (2009) designed and facilitated an intervention, language workshop, to build middle school language-minority students' academic vocabulary knowledge in an after-school setting. The target words were the first 60 words from Coxhead's (2000) Academic Word List, which are the most frequent words from the list in academic texts. Students  left paren n equals 37 right paren  had multiple exposures to the words in relation to specific content from social studies and science and had many opportunities to practice and personalize word meanings. A modified format of the Vocabulary Knowledge Scale (Paribakht & Wesche, 1997) was used to measure students' gains in the target words, which involved items that asked students whether they had heard or seen the words, whether they could explain the meanings of the words, and whether they could explain contexts in which the words would be used. This item format approximated depth of knowledge, allowing the researchers to evaluate students' incremental knowledge gains with the target words. In this experimental study, Townsend and Collins found that the intervention was effective in building students' depth of knowledge of the target words and that gains were maintained in delayed posttesting.

In a much larger quasi-experimental study  left paren n equals 476 sixth graders right paren,  Lesaux et al. (2010) measured the effects of their intervention, Academic Language Instruction for All Students ( A L I A S ), on students' vocabulary knowledge and reading comprehension. The  A L I A S  intervention is comprised of 8 two-week instructional units, facilitated by classroom teachers, in which students have multiple exposures and opportunities to practice with eight or nine general academic words from the Academic Word List (Coxhead, 2000). Lesaux and her colleagues found that students made significant gains in vocabulary knowledge in three out of five vocabulary assessments. The three assessments on which students made significant gains were an experimenter-designed multiple-choice test on the target words  ellipsis , a morphological decomposition test  ellipsis , and an experimenter-designed test that measured students’ knowledge of the target-word meanings in context.  ellipsis  Results on the other two measures, an experimenter-designed measure for depth of knowledge of target words and a standardized reading vocabulary test, were not significant. The intervention also yielded marginally significant gains  ellipsis  on a standardized measure of reading comprehension. In addition, the researchers found equally beneficial effects for language-minority and monolingual English-speaking students.

The third example of research on general academic word knowledge is the Word Generation program (Snow et al., 2009). As with Language Workshop and  A L I A S , Word Generation was designed using established principles of vocabulary instruction. Word Generation is a 24-week program that addresses a sequence of high-interest topics and five new general academic words per week. Teachers in math, social studies, science, and English language arts all facilitate activities with the topics and the target words. Current research on the efficacy of Word Generation has been promising, with findings based on a treatment sample of 697 middle school students and a control group  left paren n equals 319 right paren  showing that "participation in 20 to 22 weeks of the curriculum was equivalent to 2 years of incidental learning" (Snow et al., 2009, p. 334).  ellipsis  Gains in academic vocabulary knowledge also predicted achievement on state standardized achievement tests.

Although five words per week may seem small in comparison to the number of words students learn incidentally in a school year (Anglin, 1993; Clark, 1993; Nagy & Herman, 1987), the curriculum provided students with instruction in and opportunity to practice using the words in authentic speaking and writing contexts. The specific academic words are the starting point for each week's set of activities, but the activities designed to build specific word knowledge also build other academic language skills that then inform achievement in other settings. Thus, Word Generation is a good example of the type of instruction that begins with vocabulary but builds a larger set of language skills. Acknowledgments 1 

On the basis of your analysis of the information in the article excerpts and your knowledge of language and literacy development, instruction, and intervention at the elementary, middle school, or high school level, write a response of approximately  400 to 600  words in which you:

Sample Strong Response to the Constructed-Response Assignment

Nagy and Townsend (2012) identify the following features for effective intervention in general academic vocabulary development: selecting appropriate words for direct instruction, teaching words in authentic contexts, and providing students with multiple opportunities to encounter and use words meaningfully in order to develop depth of vocabulary knowledge. The authors cite three studies that show successful results from interventions that share most or all of these features.

In my role as a middle school literacy specialist, I will design an intervention for a small group of sixth graders. I would begin by selecting a set of five to eight target words for the intervention activity that support the students' general academic vocabulary development and their current content-area objectives. Each vocabulary "unit" would follow a consistent before, during, and after format. The "before" part would include a "treasure hunt" involving students in saying anything they notice about the chosen word set left paren spelling patterns, morphemes, ellipsis right paren and voicing the words. For example, students might make these observations about the word "archaeology." "It looks like 'arch' but it's pronounced like 'ark.'" "It ends in '-ology,' just like 'biology.'" "The ' a e ' part is tricky to spell." After recording their observations, each student would write the words in their journals, adding an annotation next to each word to support their recall of the word and their understanding of the word's meaning. I would model various options for the annotation ( draw or find an image  write the word phonetically,  record the words definition, ellipsis ), and students would share their personal annotations.

In the "during" part of a lesson, the students would then practice the target words in context by reading carefully selected chunks of text directly related to content-area objectives. During reading, I would have them use highlighter tape to show where they encounter the new words, and engage them in discussion as they complete each chunk of text. We would discuss what they comprehended and how the words are used in the text. We would revisit their journals to confirm that their "before" understandings are still accurate or need to be added to (since words can have multiple meanings depending on context). We would read each text chunk twice to confirm understanding and practice using the new words in the context of a content-area discussion.

In the "after" part of the lesson, that is, after providing reading and oral practice with the target words, I would provide students with writing prompts related to their content-area objectives that offer opportunities for them to practice using the new words in their writing. I would also select texts in future lessons that incorporate these words to further reinforce their use of and exposure to the new words.

The intervention I describe is likely to be effective in promoting students’ general academic vocabulary because it includes important features that were found to be effective in the research. The "before, during, after" structure of this vocabulary intervention integrates the key ideas suggested by Nagy and Townsend (2012). Students are given a word set that is composed of targeted vocabulary (Townsend & Collins, 2009) and includes a manageable number of words for learning. They are then given multiple opportunities and meaningful contexts for experiencing and using the words (Lesaux et al., 2010).

Performance Characteristics for Constructed-Response Item

The following characteristics guide the scoring of responses to the constructed-response assignment.

Completeness The degree to which the response addresses all parts of the assignment
Accuracy The degree to which the response demonstrates the relevant knowledge and skills accurately and effectively
Depth of Support The degree to which the response provides appropriate examples and details that demonstrate sound reasoning

Score Scale for Constructed-Response Item

A score will be assigned to the response to the constructed-response item according to the following score scale.

Score Point Score Point Description
4 The "4" response reflects a thorough command of the relevant knowledge and skills:
  • The response thoroughly addresses all parts of the assignment.
  • The response demonstrates the relevant knowledge and skills with thorough accuracy and effectiveness.
  • The response is well supported by relevant examples and details and thoroughly demonstrates sound reasoning.
3 The "3" response reflects a general command of the relevant knowledge and skills:
  • The response generally addresses all parts of the assignment.
  • The response demonstrates the relevant knowledge and skills with general accuracy and effectiveness.
  • The response is generally supported by some examples and/or details and generally demonstrates sound reasoning.
2 The "2" response reflects a partial command of the relevant knowledge and skills:
  • The response addresses all parts of the assignment, but most only partially; or some parts are not addressed at all.
  • The response demonstrates the relevant knowledge and skills with partial accuracy and effectiveness.
  • The response is partially supported by some examples and/or details or demonstrates flawed reasoning.
1 The "1" response reflects little or no command of the relevant knowledge and skills:
  • The response minimally addresses the assignment.
  • The response demonstrates the relevant knowledge and skills with minimum accuracy and effectiveness.
  • The response is minimally supported or demonstrates significantly flawed reasoning.
U The response is unscorable because it is unrelated to the assigned topic or off task, unreadable, written in a language other than English or contains an insufficient amount of original work to score.
B No response.


1Words as Tools: Learning Academic Vocabulary as Language Aquisition, William Nagy and Dianna Townsend. Reading Research Quarterly (2012), 47:  91 to108 . doi: 10.1002/RRQ.011. Copyright 2012 Reading Research Quarterly. This material is reproduced with permission of John Wiley & Sons, Inc.