Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Urban Schools and Academic Vocabulary


Question: What do we know about the reading performance of large urban school districts?

Quote: “Students attending schools in urban settings rarely experience the same opportunities to learn literacy skills as their counterparts in suburban settings….. Urban schools—schools located in large city centers and characterized by high concentrations of students of color and students from low-income backgrounds—have historically suffered from limited educational resources (e.g., shortages of qualified teachers, high teacher turnover, large class sizes, inadequately rigorous curriculum…. It is thus not surprising that students in urban schools disproportionately demonstrate below-average outcomes on large-scale assessments.

“For example, a recent analysis of National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) data from large city districts demonstrated that 10 of the 11 participating districts had high—in some cases staggeringly high—proportions of learners scoring below established proficiency levels…. I 6 of the 11 districts studied, more than 50% of students scored below basic in reading as compared with the national rate of 34%.

“These differences in student outcomes …raise questions about what types of instructional and curricular resources can be brought to bear to improve reading performance in settings characterized by low performance; increasing opportunities to learn for students in urban schools are imperative for their personal and academic success.

“Of particular concern is the growing population of language minority learners, who often have even fewer opportunities to learn than their native-English-speaking peers within the same schools…; a large proportion of these learners demonstrate reading comprehension difficulties, particularly after the primary grades….” Pp. 196-197.

Question: What would happen if teachers in all disciplines in urban schools concentrated on teaching the academic vocabulary specific to the discipline?

Answer: These researchers suggest that teachers in all disciplines focus on academic vocabulary specific to each individual discipline. “Although future research in this area is clearly needed, these findings highlight the promise of improving academic vocabulary instruction as a key ingredient in increasing opportunities to learn for students in urban middle schools.” P. 223.

Comment: Increasingly, especially with English language learners, recommendations on developing academic vocabulary rather than conversational vocabulary be emphasized. I suggest that this particular piece of research bears promise because it enlists teachers of all disciplines in emphasizing the academic, specialized vocabulary of each separate discipline. The same would be an excellent idea in all schools, not just urban schools.

I was surprised at the 34% nationally falling “below basic” level in reading. That strikes me as being a very high percentage, nationally. RayS.

Title: “The Effectiveness and Ease of Implementation of an Academic Vocabulary Intervention for Linguistically Diverse Students in Urban Middle Schools.” NK Lesaux, MJ Kieffer, SEF, JG Kelley. Reading Research Quarterly (April/May/June 2010), 196-228.

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