Children whose first language is not English have to cope with learning English and academic content in English at the same time. A new study has shown the benefit of specifically teaching academic vocabulary.
The randomised controlled trial (RCT) was carried out in 14 middle schools in California, where 50 teachers were assigned to treatment or control conditions. A total of 2,082 sixth-grade (Year 7) students participated, 71% of whom spoke another language (mostly Spanish) at home. They followed Academic Language Instructions for All Students (ALIAS), a 20-week programme teaching academic vocabulary – words that are not subject-specific but often appear in sixth-grade textbooks (such as expanse, integrated, generate, according to). The programme was supported with teaching materials and professional development.
Students improved their vocabulary knowledge, morphological awareness skills, and comprehension of expository texts that used the academic language that was taught. They also improved their performance on a standardised measure of written language skills (effect size=+0.19). The effects were generally larger for children whose home language was not English and for those who started the intervention with underdeveloped vocabulary knowledge.
Source: Effects of Academic Vocabulary Instruction for Linguistically Diverse Adolescents (2014), American Educational Research Journal 51(6)