Research Basis

Research Basis for the Take Aim! at Vocabulary Program

The Take Aim! at Vocabulary program specifically develops vocabulary knowledge as a critical component of overall reading success. Students’ ability to understand words and their meanings underlies their ability to understand what is being taught.

  • Research indicates that, "for adequate reading comprehension from grade three on, children require both fluent word recognition skills and an average or above-average vocabulary" (Biemiller, 2005, p. 41).
  • Explicit instruction of vocabulary has been shown to improve reading comprehension for both English speakers and English language learners (Carlo et al., 2004; Beck, Perfetti, & McKeown, 1982).
  • Vocabulary instruction can develop the in-depth knowledge of specific words that promotes an increased appreciation of words and their power (Scott & Nagy, 2004). This interest in words is referred to as "word consciousness" and is likely to benefit students as they develop as readers (Graves, 2006).

Research findings in the area of vocabulary development provide the foundation for Take Aim at Vocabulary. The Take Aim program was developed in alignment with research on word selection, teaching methods, learning strategies, learning principles, and intermediate grade-level achievement.

Word Selection

What the Research Indicates How Take Aim Applies This Research
It is important for students to have a thorough knowledge of the sophisticated words they are likely to encounter in a wide assortment of texts (Beck, McKeown, & Kucan, 2002). Beck and McKeown (2007) refer to these words as "high-utility" because they are of high use to mature language users. Take Aim teaches many high-utility words, which were carefully selected using The Educator's Word Frequency Guide (Zeno, Ivens, Millard, & Duvvuri, 1995), The Living Word Vocabulary (Dale & O'Rourke, 1981), and The Academic Word List (Coxhead, 2000). The carefully selected 288 target words in each level ensure that students are learning high-quality vocabulary. We define high-quality vocabulary as sophisticated, useful, and appropriate words that students in the intermediate grades are unlikely to know but likely to encounter often as texts increase in difficulty. Additionally, some words in Take Aim contain affixes which, once understood, can help students figure out unknown words with the same or similar word parts

Teaching Methods

The high-quality words taught in Take Aim benefit students only if students are able to learn them effectively. According to the National Reading Panel, "dependence on a single vocabulary instruction method will not result in optimal learning" (NRP 2000, p. 4-4). Take Aim uses the following research-supported methods to teach vocabulary words:

Teaching Method How Take Aim Implements This Teaching Method
Explicit Instruction of Target Words
Explicit instruction helps students increase their vocabularies (Baumann, Kame'enui, & Ash, 2003; Beck et al., 1982).
Take Aim explicitly teaches each target word in a variety of formats, including a definition embedded in text, a definition with a part of speech and clarifying sentence, and questions and activities that deepen understanding.
Instruction of Target Words in Context
From the intermediate grades on, reading becomes the principal language experience for enlarging children's vocabulary (Cunningham & Stanovich, 1998). Incorporating vocabulary instruction into reading is thus an ideal way to teach new words. The National Reading Panel asserts that vocabulary instruction should be incorporated into reading instruction and that lessons should include direct instruction of vocabulary items required for the specific text (NRP 2000, p. 4-24). Research identifies that when words and easy-to-understand explanations are introduced in context, knowledge of those words increases (Biemiller & Boote, 2006), and word meanings are better learned (Stahl & Fairbanks, 1986).
In Take Aim, students read high-interest, nonfiction stories along with a narrator. Students read each story three times; during the second and third readings, they learn the target words in the context of the story. These target words are defined using student-friendly terminology. Students also complete exercises that give additional contextual support, such as reading each definition along with a clarifying sentence and answering questions that use target words in new contexts.
Student-Friendly Definitions
For students to fully understand the meanings of words, they must understand the terms used to define the words. "Student-friendly" definitions are definitions that characterize the word and how it is used and explain the meaning of the word in everyday language (Graves, 2009). Research shows that such carefully worded definitions enhance word understanding (McKeown, 1993).
All target words in Take Aim include carefully worded, student-friendly definitions and clarifying sentences.
Multiple Exposures to Target Words
A student's likelihood of learning a word increases each time he or she encounters and experiences the word. Word meanings are acquired incrementally over time, and children require multiple exposures to learn a word's meaning (Fukkink & de Glopper, 1999; Stahl, 2003).
In Take Aim, students encounter each target word in several instances. They encounter the word each time they read the story, the definition, and the clarifying sentence. They also answer several questions that use the target words and complete activities related to each word.
Multiple Contexts for Target Words
Vocabulary instruction should aim to engage students in actively thinking about word meanings, the relationships among words, and how we can use words in different situations. This type of rich, deep instruction is most likely to influence comprehension (Graves, 2006; McKeown & Beck, 2004).
In Take Aim, students experience each target word several times in multiple contexts. In each unit, students read a clarifying sentence about each target word, sketch each word, apply target words to a specific situation through enrichment activities, and answer questions about each word. In addition, the four stories in each unit share a common theme to increase the likelihood that students experience the words and their meanings in several contexts. Furthermore, over half of the target words in Take Aim appear in stories besides the ones in which they are explicitly taught.
Semantic Mapping
The use of semantic mapping is another method for providing rich instruction of vocabulary. Semantic maps help students develop connections among words and increase learning of vocabulary words (Baumann, Kame'enui, & Ash, 2003; Heimlich & Pittleman, 1986).
Each unit in Take Aim includes word mapping activities that require students to connect the target words to other words, parts of speech, synonyms, antonyms, or personal experience.

Learning Strategies

Research provides evidence that teaching specific strategies can help students develop vocabulary independently. These strategies not only help students figure out the meanings of target words, but students can transfer these strategies to unknown words they encounter in the future.

Learning Strategy How Take Aim Implements This Strategy
Using Context Clues
Context clues can help students deduce the meanings of unknown words. According to researchers, the ability to use contextual information can produce substantial, long-term growth in vocabulary (Nagy & Anderson, 1985) and even a small improvement in the ability to use context has the potential to produce this growth (Baumann, Edwards, Boland, Olejnik, & Kame'enui, 2003).
Because context clues play such a crucial role in word learning, each story in Take Aim includes an audio-supported mini-lesson that teaches students to use context clues to arrive at a target word's meaning.
Analyzing Word Parts
The ability to analyze word parts can also help students when faced with unknown vocabulary. If students know the meanings of root words and affixes, they are more likely to understand a word containing these word parts. Explicit instruction in word parts includes teaching meanings of word parts and disassembling and reassembling words to derive meaning (Baumann, Edwards, Font, Tereshinski, Kame'enui, & Olejnik, 2002; Baumann, Edwards, Boland, Olejnik, & Kame'enui, 2003; Graves, 2004).
Take Aim teaches roots or affixes through activities and audio-supported lessons that guide students through the process of using word parts to figure out the meanings of new words.
Using a Dictionary or Glossary
Students commonly come across unfamiliar words in texts. Using a dictionary or glossary is another way to confirm and further develop word knowledge (Graves, 2006). However, research demonstrates that correctly interpreting dictionary definitions is challenging for many students (Miller & Gildea; 1987).
Each Take Aim unit includes an illustrated, audio-supported glossary of all of the target words plus additional challenging words in the unit. Definitions are student-friendly, and most terms include clarifying sentences. Students are taught to reference this glossary each time they encounter an unknown word.

Learning Principles

The use of recognized learning principles increases all types of learning, including vocabulary.

Learning Principle How Take Aim Applies This Principle
Active Engagement>
For maximum results, a program should utilize a variety of methods that incorporate active engagement with the material (NRP 2000, p. 4-27).
To keep students actively engaged, Take Aim incorporates many motivating activities. Examples include high-interest stories, graphs for monitoring progress, hink pinks and crossword puzzles, and sketching and mapping activities.
Deep Processing
Students learn best when instruction allows them to deeply process the information (Craik & Lockhart, 1972).
Take Aim provides multiple opportunities for deep processing of the words. The audio-supported lessons engage both auditory and visual senses. Students approach each target word using several senses as well—not only do they answer questions about each target word, but they also listen to the words, say them, sketch them, and map them.

Intermediate Grade-Level Achievement

What the Research Indicates How Take Aim Applies This Research
Vocabulary instruction is likely to benefit students of any age, but research suggests that instruction is particularly important in the intermediate grades. Children with smaller vocabularies tend to fall significantly behind in grade four, and that decline accelerates in grades five and six as curriculum starts to include more abstract, academic, literary, and less-common words (Chall, Jacobs, & Baldwin, 1990). Take Aim supports intermediate grade students in developing the vocabulary skills necessary to read grade-level materials. The materials in Take Aim were developed for students who can read at a fourth-grade level and above.

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