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Closing the Achievement Gap...One Word at a Time

                     In 1995, Hart and Risley conducted a study of children from families of three socioeconomic levels:
professional families (college-educated parents), working class families, and welfare families.

The study focused on the number of spoken words children 0 months - 48 months heard.

The study produced these findings:

Children from professional families heard 45 million words by the age of 4.

Children from middle class families heard 26 million words during the study.

Children from low income families heard only 13 million words during their first 48 months of life leaving about a 30 million word gap between them and children from professional families.
Researchers  found this word gap equates to an achievement gap when students entered a formal school setting.

Does this mean that students from lower income families are destined to remain in an achievement gap that places constrains in every area of their lives?  Profound question. The answer is contingent on many variables: student motivation, masterful teachers, and exposure to formal written and spoken language.

What Can Masterful Teachers Do?

1. Read-aloud to your students often and get excited about words. (Refer to Isabel Beck's and Marzano's Vocabulary work)

2. Teach 5-7 Tier 2 words per week. These are words I refer to as "dress up" words. They're not common words. You encounter them often in writing and formal settings like school and business. They're words like scurry rather than ran, boisterous rather than loud, and intelligent or scholar rather than smart. These words should come from books that are being read-aloud to your class.

3. Words should be taught explicitly:
            A. Show the word and give a direct explanation of the use of the word.
            B. Use a graphic/picture/icon of the word and model it's use in a sentence or scenario.
            C. Provide guided practice with the word.
            D. Have students practice use of the word via a sentence stem.
            E. Students will work with the word independently. (Frayer Model)

4. Post the word in an area of the room. Refer back to the word. Allow students to place a tally on the word card each time it's encountered in text, orally, or used in their writing. The word becomes their word.

5. Continually use the Tier 2 words in your teacher talk. They remain up and should be used all year. By the end of the year, the word(s) should forever belong to your students.
Beef up your teacher talk. Weave Tier II words into your teaching vocabulary and when conversing with your students.

6. Allow students 20 - 30 minutes a day at school to read independently. Research has shown that if you want to improve a child's phonics, fluency, vocabulary, or comprehension, provide him ample opportunities to read independently.

7. Train students to be "Word Wizards." Help them notice new words and become curious about their meanings. Have students keep track of 1-2 "words that are new to me" each day.

8. Allow students time to talk and collaborate in class. Monitor their conversations for word use and encourage and demand Tier 2 words are used.

In no time at all, you'll see a difference in the words your students use. You have to get excited about words and beef up your game. Once you do, your students will follow. This is a promise I can guarantee!

P.S. Read to those babies from the time they're in the womb. I've heard it said, "There's no app to replace a lap!"  It's true.



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