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© 2007 Tyran Wright Butler For Sasha, the one who sacrificed the most


Glory be to God for the great things He has done.

Many people contributed to the success of this study. The second and third grade children who served as participants in this study were wonderful and deserve a tremendous amount of gratitude. I am indebted to Ms. Essie Wilson for coming out of retirement to help me. The faculty and staff at Summers Elementary School were gracious hosts, and I appreciate them as well.

I thank Dr. Holly Lane, my doctoral committee chair, for her patience and support as she guided me through this process. I could never have imagined that a chance meeting at a professional development activity would lead to a Ph.D. There are no words that can express how much I appreciate her willingness to bend over backwards for me.

I would also like to thank my committee members, Drs. Christie Cavanaugh, Cyndy Griffin, and Lynda Hayes. Each of them made significant contributions to the soundness of this study and the soundness of my mind, and I owe them big.

I also thank Dr. Nancy Corbett for listening and encouraging me. Her quiet way helped to settle my storms. I also would like to thank my fellow doctoral students for “knowing my pain,” and celebrating milestones with me. I owe a special thanks to Nicole Fenty, who really came through for me when the going got tough.

I am especially grateful for my family. They believed I could do it when I didn’t believe I could do it. Thank you, Sasha, for your tolerance and pushing as made we this journey. This is our Ph.D. Finally, I would like to thank Alvin for helping me to keep the important things in perspective. I am grateful for the day that I met you.






Rationale for the Study

Scope of the Study



List of Terms

Theoretical Constructs

Vygotsky’s Theory on Learning and Development

The Interactive-Compensatory Model of Reading






The Relationship between Vocabulary and Comprehension

Vocabulary Instruction

Direct Instruction of Word Meanings

Storybook Reading and Vocabulary Learning

Comprehension Instruction

Description of Reciprocal Teaching

Reciprocal Teaching Studies with Elementary Participants

General Cognitive Strategy Instruction with Elementary Children






Instructional Setting

Participant Description

Research Instrumentation

Vocabulary Measures

Comprehension Measures

Experimental Design

Instructional Procedures

Instructor Preparation


Vocabulary-Focused Intervention

Strategies-Focused Intervention

Fidelity of Treatment

Treatment of the Data



Fidelity of Instructional Procedures

Fidelity of Implementation and Reliability of Measurement

Statistical Analyses of the Data



Summary of the Hypotheses and Results

Theoretical Implications of the Research Findings

Implications for Future Research

Implications for Practice

Limitations to the Present Study











–  –  –

3-1 Descriptive Information for Groups

3-2 Pretest Means for Vocabulary and Strategies Groups

3-3 Split Half Reliability Coefficients

3-4 Experimental Design

3-5 Design for Testing the Null Hypotheses using a Series of Analyses of Covariance (ANCOVAs)

4-1 Comparison of Pretest Means by Group

4-2 Summary of Analysis of Covariance for Expressive Vocabulary Task

4-3 Summary of Analysis of Covariance for Receptive Vocabulary Task

4-4 Summary of Analysis of Covariance for the Reading Comprehension Task

4-5 Summary of Analysis of Covariance for the Listening Comprehension Task

4-6 Summary of Analysis of Covariance for the Passage Comprehension Task

4-7 Summary of Analysis of Covariance for the Researcher-Created Vocabulary Task.............70 4-8 Summary of Repeated Measures ANOVAs for Pretest to Posttest Within-Group Differences for Vocabulary-Focused Group

4-9 Summary of Repeated Measures ANOVAs for Pretest to Posttest Within-Group Differences for Strategies-Focused Group

4-10 Correlation Matrix for Pretest Measures

4-11 Correlation Matrix for the Posttest Measures

–  –  –

1-1 A stage representation of an interactive model of reading.

2-1 The reciprocal relationship between vocabulary and comprehension

2-2 Gradual release of responsibility model

–  –  –

Chair: Holly B. Lane Major: Special Education My study examined the effects of vocabulary-focused instruction and strategies-focused instruction on the vocabulary development and comprehension skills of students in primary grades who are adequate decoders, but non-proficient comprehenders. Vygotsky’s theory of learning and development, Pearson and Gallagher’s gradual release of responsibility model, metacognition, and Stanovich’s interactive-compensatory model of reading served as theoretical guides for this study.

A pretest-posttest design was employed. Second and third grade students (N=60) in two groups received 32 sessions over eight weeks, of either vocabulary-focused instruction or strategies-focused instruction. Students in the vocabulary-focused group received instruction similar to Text Talk, and students in the strategies-focused group received instruction similar to reciprocal teaching.

A series of analyses of covariance revealed no statistically significant differences between groups on measures of expressive vocabulary, receptive vocabulary, reading comprehension, listening comprehension, and on a researcher-created target vocabulary measure.

An analysis of covariance did reveal a statistically significant difference between groups on a passage comprehension measure, favoring the vocabulary-focused group. Pearson product moment correlation coefficients revealed moderate to robust correlations of the measures.

Implications for researchers and teachers emerge from these findings. Teachers should understand that explicit vocabulary instruction does have an impact on comprehension and it does enhance word knowledge. With a more experienced adult or peer providing scaffolding, students’ abilities were expanded beyond what they could do alone. In addition, students in primary grades can benefit from strategies-instruction. Using a gradual release model assisted students in proficiently using strategies. Strategies-instruction positively influenced both comprehension and vocabulary. Class time should be dedicated to explicit vocabulary and comprehension strategy instruction.

Researchers should consider investigating the longitudinal effects of strategies instruction on students in primary grades. It is also recommended that researchers examine specific combinations of strategies useful for students in primary grades, and specific teacher behaviors that contribute to the mastery of strategies by students.

–  –  –

Political influences, societal influences, and educational factors have been catalysts for the increased attention given to reading achievement and the instructional methods used to teach reading. Political influences such as the No Child Left Behind Act of 2002 have forced schools to ensure that all children reach higher levels of literacy. Our nation’s evolution from an agrarian society, to an industrial society, to an information society has changed the concept of schooling and how students are instructed. Along with changes in our society have been changes in how literacy is defined. The definition of literacy has evolved over time, reflecting the needs of society, and has had a tremendous impact on what is done to ensure that students are literate (Block, 2000). The definition of reading has expanded from a set of sub skills to a broader, more complex task requiring the skillful integration of knowledge.

In spite of changes over time, some aspects of instruction have not kept pace with higher demands for literacy. Reading abilities vary from the knowledge that spoken language can be analyzed into strings of separable words, which are analyzed into sequences of syllables and phonemes, to the ability to understand and use vocabulary words, and the ability to comprehend text. Just as reading abilities are varied, so are reading difficulties. As children get older, reading difficulties become more evident and more pronounced and, in turn, harder to remediate.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics (2005), 38% of fourth grade children cannot read well enough to effectively accomplish grade level work. Between the 2003 and 2005 administrations of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), the percentage of fourth grade students who performed at or above Basic increased in only four states, and decreased in two states. In Florida, 35% of fourth grade students scored below the Basic level, and only 23% scored at the Proficient level on the 2005 NAEP (NCES, 2005).

Students performing at the Basic level should demonstrate an understanding of the overall meaning of what they read. When reading text appropriate for fourth graders, they should be able to make relatively obvious connections between the text and their own experiences and extend the ideas in text by making simple inferences (NCES, 2005). The Proficient level of the NAEP requires students to be able to demonstrate an overall understanding of text, providing inferences as well as literal information. When they read text appropriate to fourth graders, they should be able to extend ideas in the text by making inferences, drawing conclusions, and making connections to their own experiences (NCES, 2005).

One of the most important goals in elementary school is for all students to be proficient readers. The foundation on which proficient readers are developed begins well before children enter school. Parents and other care providers begin supporting the reading development of children through the use of conversations, storybook interactions, and other literacy related activities that encourage active engagement (Britto, Fuligni, & Brooks-Gunn, 2006; Landry & Smith, 2006). When children enter school, some come with requisite knowledge and skills to become proficient readers, and others do not (Craig & Washington, 2006). Throughout the primary grades, teachers work to ensure that children’s phonological awareness is developed and that they become efficient decoders through phonics instruction, which in turn supports their transition into fluent readers. Despite the purposeful nature of reading instruction in primary grades, some children still fail to comprehend text efficiently when they progress to later grades.

The assumption that fluent readers will develop into adequate comprehenders has been proven false for many students. One reason for the low percentage of children reading grade level work proficiently on tests like the NAEP could be that something critical is missing in some facets of reading instruction in primary grade classrooms—effective vocabulary and comprehension instruction.

Children who fail to become proficient readers in the primary grades tend to remain poor readers throughout school and as adults (Adams, 1990; Juel, 1988; Stanovich, 1986). Research, as reported in the Report of the National Reading Panel: Teaching Children to Read (2000) indicates that explicit, systematic instruction in various components of reading such as phonemic awareness and phonics, helps support the development of decoding skills. Children who can skillfully decode words develop into fluent readers. Fluent readers have more cognitive resources to devote to the comprehension of text (Sinatra, Brown, & Reynolds, 2000). Research also supports explicit instruction in comprehension (NRP Report, 2000). According to Durkin (1993), comprehension is the “essence of reading.” Unfortunately, reading comprehension is not a naturally occurring event for some children. Comprehension is a complex process that is influenced by multiple factors. A particular factor identified by the National Reading Panel (2000) is vocabulary because children’s access to the meaning of text is limited by how well they know the meanings of words. The construct of comprehension cannot be understood well without understanding of the role that vocabulary plays in understanding what is read.

–  –  –

Students are expected to perform proficiently on standardized measures of reading comprehension by the time they reach the intermediate grades. However, very little comprehension instruction occurs before students actually reach the intermediate grades.

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