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Study Guide

Field 065: Literacy

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Sample Constructed-Response Item 1

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, Acknowledgments 1  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.

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 Constructed-Response Item 1

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).

Sample Constructed-Response Item 2

Competency 0008 
Analysis, Synthesis, and Application

start bold Use the excerpts below from an article by Laura Beth Kelly and Lindsey Moses (2018), published in The Reading Teacher, Acknowledgments 2  to complete the assignment that follows. end bold

A major factor in comprehension is inferencing. When we refer to inferencing, we mean readers connecting ideas and providing details not stated in the text to form a coherent and integrated understanding of the text (Cain & Oakhill, 1999).  ellipsis 

Time spent on inferential comprehension leads to greater reading gains than time spent on literal comprehension (Silverman et al., 2014), and strong readers make high-quality inferences (Carlson et al., 2014).  ellipsis 

Teachers have effectively used children's literature to teach inferencing (Blintz et al., 2012).  ellipsis 

Research has established the benefits of text-based discussion for comprehension (Nystrand, 2006). Even among students reading in a second language, cognitively challenging discussion supports inferential thinking (Collins, 2016).  ellipsis 

In studies of how children make sense of picture books, researchers have found that in discussion, children use visual and textual features (Arizpe & Styles, 2003), revisit the text, and build on one another's ideas to jointly "navigate texts that require significant coauthoring" (McGuire, Belfatti, and Ghiso, 2008).  ellipsis 

We conducted this study with several assumptions, based in the current research literature, in mind: that inferencing is a critical comprehension skill that can be taught, that discussions about children's literature provide effective contexts for inferencing instruction, and that teachers should teach inferencing to primary students still learning to decode.

This study was part of a larger, yearlong formative study.  ellipsis  The 28 students had a range of cultural, linguistic, and socioeconomic backgrounds. The teacher, Meridith, had eight years of experience and adopted a literature-based workshop approach to literacy instruction.  ellipsis 

Following our sociocultural orientation, we wanted students to discuss literature with interpretive (rather than only literal) responses. Meridith introduced students to a book, provided an inferential question to think about while reading (e.g., "What is the author's message?"), gave time for independent reading, expected students to record their thinking on sticky notes, and then convened the discussion group several days later.  ellipsis 

During the discussion groups, Meridith stayed present but encouraged students to talk to each other and lead.  ellipsis  She guides students with questions, redirections, and affirmations, but they also talk to and challenge each other. In general, Meridith gave students space to talk about their thinking and inferences and wanted students to take ownership of discussions (Aukerman, 2007).

We collected data weekly during the literacy block for an academic year, including video recordings of discussion groups. We analyzed these events and the children's literature to identify categories of texts that facilitated inferential talk.  ellipsis  We did not initially realize that some texts would facilitate inferential talk better than others. Throughout the year, discussion groups tackled a variety of genres.  ellipsis … Our analysis of the groups with the most inferential talk pointed us to the text types we report here.  ellipsis 

We identify three types of children's books that fostered inferential thinking and talk.  ellipsis 

Ambiguous Texts for Inferring the Ending

The ambiguity in the text and the rich illustrations and design elements afforded students many opportunities to infer.  ellipsis 

Didactic Stories for Inferring the Author's Message

Divergent inferences allowed the students to make their case to each other. They used background information and returned to the text to defend their interpretations.

Fractured Fairy Tales for Inferring the Trustworthiness of the Narrator

The students discussed The True Story of the Three Little Pigs by Jon Scieszka (1996). In this book, the wolf tells the story of the Three Little Pigs, but he reframes it from his own perspective.  ellipsis 

Meridith had asked the students if they believed the narrator and why.  ellipsis 

Although aware that they were reading a fictional narrative, the students still doubted the details.  ellipsis  They revealed their view that even in a fictional narrative, they still expected a certain level of conformity to the laws of physics from the narrator.  ellipsis 

Mateo took a different view of the wolf's credibility.  ellipsis  In Mateo's view, the wolf's retelling had too much detail about the pigs, and Mateo questioned whether one character could be telling the truth if he talked so much about other characters. In this inference, Mateo relied on cultural knowledge about who has the authority, credibility, and experience to accurately tell someone else's story.

Students combined details from the text, knowledge about the physical world, and cultural knowledge about credibility to make judgments.  ellipsis  All the students came to the same conclusion, but they took different paths. Students benefited from discussion because they heard peers explaining other processes for arriving at the same inference and because they had to explain their inference to peers who had reasoned differently.  ellipsis 

By the end of the year, students inferred the meanings of unfamiliar words through context clues, an inferencing skill they practiced across text types.

Inferencing is not a one-time skill that students master. Rather, it supports higher-level comprehension that students continually develop through interactions with texts. Questions about what students wonder, character motivations, unfamiliar words, predictions, and illustration elements apply to any picture book and thus offer teachers ideas of questions that support inferential thinking for whatever books are available to them.  ellipsis 

Sometimes students' inferences will not match what the teacher expected. To foster inferential talk, it is critical that teachers allow students to talk through inferences and not approach the discussion as a means for students to arrive at predetermined inferences.  ellipsis 

Authors write texts to communicate many messages or perhaps no particular message. What one student finds "main" because of their interests, experiences, and cultural background may be tangential to the teacher's way of thinking. Many teachers may want to teach students to find the commonly accepted main idea as a test preparation and comprehension strategy. However, discussion groups provide valuable spaces for exploring alternative ways of thinking about text.

Students defend their inferences in ways that teachers do not anticipate, as in Mateo's assertion that the wolf should not be telling the pigs' story. Discussion groups provide important contexts where students explore nontraditional inferences and explain their thinking. They can test whether their inferences help support their comprehension. Several times in this research, we were surprised by the insights of students as they shared inferences we had not expected and drew our attention to textual or visual details we had not noticed.  ellipsis 

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 Constructed-Response Item 2

Students who need help in reading comprehension with respect to inference making should be engaged in discussions to foster inferential thinking and talk. Important features of inferential thinking and talk consist of the teacher identifying literature that fosters inference making, and then students discussing aspects of the literature to make inferences. Teachers should facilitate conversations that enable students to talk through inferences rather than predetermining inferences for students. In the study, Kelly and Moses concluded that, "Students benefited from discussion because they heard peers explaining other processes for arriving at the same inference and because they had to explain their inference to peers who had reasoned differently ellipsis ". Their interests and background knowledge often led to different ways of thinking about a text.

Fables would be appropriate reading materials to use when guiding a small group of third-grade students to hold discussions and make inferences about characters. The specialist would begin by engaging students in a discussion to connect features among familiar fables, such as animals often behave as humans with different personality traits, a conflict necessitates character decisions, and the conclusion has a moral or lesson. Students would be encouraged to discuss fables they have read or heard, sharing their background knowledge of fables with their peers. After the discussion, the specialist will review the fable, "The Tortoise and the Hare" to demonstrate how the author helps readers make inferences about characters from their dialogue, actions, thoughts, and feelings.

Before reading the fable aloud, the specialist will introduce the purpose of the T-Chart, which will be posted on the board and labeled "Tortoise" in the left column and "Hare" in the right column. After students have listened to the fable, they will engage in a discussion about the character traits that should be included in each column. The traits identified will be recorded by the specialist. Next, students will analyze the traits listed to make inferences about the characters. For example, students may infer that the Tortoise doesn't give up easily or is kind to others. Students will be prompted to support their inferences using specific examples from the text and their own background knowledge and experiences.

The specialist will facilitate inferencing by asking questions such as, "What did the Hare do, say, or think that led you to believe he was ____?" Once students have made inferences about character traits from the text, the specialist will further promote students' inference making by asking guiding questions that connect students' background knowledge with the dialogue, actions, thoughts, and feelings of the characters. For example, the specialist would ask questions such as, "Do you believe it is important to be humble like Tortoise?" By questioning students in this way, the specialist promotes making (Kelly and Moses) "divergent inferences (that allow) the students to make their case to each other."

This intervention would be appropriate as it follows the recommendations made by Kelly and Moses. As they encouraged, the intervention included a type of didactic story, introduced and supported discussion about the genre, and provided students with a purpose for reading. As included in the study, the students read the fable and combined details from the text with their own background knowledge to make inferences about each character. As referenced in Aukerman (2007, as cited in Kelly & Moses, 2018), students were guided by the specialist during the discussion, they listened to each other's responses, and were therefore given the necessary space and opportunity to learn from each other and talk about their thinking. This intervention included the elements identified as effective when teaching students to make inferences.

Performance Characteristics for a Constructed-Response Item

The following characteristics guide the scoring of the response to a constructed-response item.

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 a Constructed-Response Item

A score will be assigned to the response to a 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.


1Republished with permission of John Wiley & Sons, Inc., from Nagy, W., Townsend, D. (2012) Words as Tools: Learning Academic Vocabulary as Language Acquisition. Reading Research Quarterly, 47: 91 to 108. doi: 10.1002/RRQ.011; permission conveyed through Copyright Clearance Center, Inc.

2Republished with permission of The Reading Teacher, from "Children's Literature That Sparks Inferential Discussions", Kelly, Laura Beth and Lindsey Moses, Vol. 72 No. 1 pp. 21 to 29, doi:10.1002/trtr.1675 2018 International Literacy Association. permission conveyed through Copyright Clearance Center, Inc.