Word Properties & Readability
According to Steven A. Stahl in his article entitled, Vocabulary and Readability: How Knowing Word Meanings Affects Comprehension, "in general, it is not the mechanical counts of 'easy' or 'difficult' words in a text that make the text easy or difficult but what the reader knows about the words in a text." This seems to be a logical assessment when related to examples in our own lives as readers. For example, I am capable of reading an advanced text on microbiology based on my skills with decoding. I would, however, have a much more difficult time understanding because I do not have enough knowledge in the area of microbiology to understand what the text it trying to tell me. This would be due in large part to specialized domain specific vocabulary. The idea of determining the readability of text is not new, but still seems to be a difficult task to master. This difficulty is due in part to the fact that every reader is different and has unique understandings of words and their meanings. Until students become standardized, it seems impossible to come up with a foolproof system for creating determining readability.
Keeping that in mind, we can improve how readability is determined by looking at how word difficulty, This is measured by counting syllables and assessing the proportion of easy and difficult words in a text, Counting syllables is problematic in that difficult and unusual single syllable words are lumped together with basic single syllable words regardless of meaning. While it is a quick method for determining readability, it is not ideal. Word frequency, on the other hand, looks for high frequency words in a text. Although it is probably more effective in terms of determining difficulty in a text, it is not without drawbacks. Words are determined to be "easy" or "difficult" based simply upon their appearance on a high frequency list. This would be a valid approach if all words had only one meaning, but many words can be used in a variety of ways, many with meanings that range in difficulty. Both of these methods are also lacking in that they ignore the word derivations which can cause a skew in readability based on the readers knowledge of affixes, and also the use of idioms, which are especially difficult for English Language Learners.
Decoding, Vocabulary, & Comprehension
Decoding, vocabulary, and comprehension are vital components to creating fluent readers. When students are deficient in one of these areas, overall reading ability is effected negatively. Decoding and vocabulary are directly connected because when reader decodes a word, they either call to mind a word from their vocabulary with which they are already familiar or they would add the unfamiliar word to their vocabulary. Even more directly related are vocabulary and comprehension. In order to comprehend what is being read, it is necessary to know the meaning of words.
Morphology in Vocabulary & Reading Development
The idea of morphemes is a new concept for me.I remember discussing it briefly in one of my undergraduate reading classes, but beyond that morphemes have not been a topic that I put much thought into. I appreciated the article about fostering morphological processing in that it presented the idea of morphology impacting reading comprehension that was manageable for someone with little familiarity in this subject. From my previous studies, I knew that morphemes were the smallest unit of meaning in language, but I was not aware how this impacted reading comprehension and vocabulary. Basically with morphology, readers are able to take morphemes that they know and combine them to create new words. This helps to expand a student's vocabulary by making unfamiliar words more familiar based simply on the morphemes included within the word. The text gave the example of a student inferring the meaning of "dogbrush" based on their understanding of the morpheme combination of "toothbrush". Not only does this improve a child's vocabulary, but it also bolster's reading comprehension in that the reader is able to infer the meaning of unknown words based on the morphemes in the word. If I had to explain this concept to someone else who is unfamiliar with it, I might compare it to Legos. Like Legos, morphemes can be rearranged and manipulated to create a variety of products.
Effect of Vocabulary Teaching & Reading Comprehension
Unsurprisingly, Stahl states that "vocabulary instruction that only involves memorization of definition information, or information about the relation of the to-be-learned word with other words such as a synonym, antonym, or definition, did not improve comprehension." While it is important for students to know definitions of words, it is only truly helpful when the words is used in context. Stahl suggests having students create sentences, have discussions, or compare the usage of a word in two different contexts. Understanding words in different contexts is vital to improving a reader's comprehension skills, specifically when the unknown word being used is essential to understanding the meaning of the sentence in which it is located. If the word is used incidentally, understanding the unknown word is not vital as long as the reader understands enough of the other words in the sentences, but in some cases the word knowledge is necessary. Stahl's example of the two sets of sentences using the word "debris" made this clear and understandable.
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