By Lynn Zimmerman
Editor, Teacher Education
In his article “Technology Holds Promise for Students With Poor Vocabulary Skills” (Education Week, 23 July 2015), Steven L. Miller argues that technology offers one solution for creating individualized learning experiences for students to develop better literacy skills.
Miller’s premise is that children, especially from impoverished backgrounds, also come to school with impoverished language skills. He asserts that “children with lower vocabulary skills are often poor readers, so they continue to fall further and further behind in academic language and cognitive skills.”
While Miller’s article offers an effective solution to the problem of building vocabulary and consequently literacy skills, we have to be careful about generalizations regarding students from low-income or poverty situations. He bases his argument on research demonstrating that they hear more negative communication while students from professional families hear more positive and encouraging communications.
However, there is a broader range of research on the impact of poverty on learning, showing that while communication may be one aspect of literacy development, there are other factors such as poor nutrition and inadequate healthcare.
Regardless of the causes, education and educational technology can, as Miller states, help students with poor vocabulary skills. For example, he says:
Using speech-recognition software … students receive one-on-one guidance and real-time feedback from an unbiased listener as they read aloud. Using this approach, students can improve their reading grade level by up to 50 percent more than the students who only receive classroom instruction in the same time period.
Miller’s article is based on Betty Hart and Todd R. Risley’s 1995 study Meaningful Differences in the Everyday Experience of Young American Children. For a summary, see Hart and Risley’s “The Early Catastrophe: The 30 Million Word Gap by Age 3” (American Educator, spring 2003).