DFB Staff Writer
In parts one & two of 3 Keys to Improving Students’ Literacy Outcomes, we saw that the first key to improving children’s reading ability is to be vigilant about following the Book of Allaah and the Sunnah of His Messenger ﷺ, and the second key is increasing students’ knowledge. In the final part in this series, we’ll see how the third key, Increasing Students’ Vocabulary, also plays a critical role in helping all students experience favourable literacy outcomes inshaa’Allaah.
“Tests are probing knowledge and vocabulary” (Hirsch, Jr., 2016, p. 23).
That quote is apt as an opener to our discussion, but to be clear we do not advocate teachers’ and parents’ making sure students pass mandated tests their primary concern. Our concern is increasing children’s vocabularies so they are able to understand what they read, engage with texts, draw lessons from them and reflect on and benefit from their reading.
We also want to clarify what we mean by increasing children’s vocabulary. We do not mean (nor advocate) using vocabulary lists that students memorise and then are tested on at the end of the week (and then promptly forget the words and their meanings the same day, or the next). Over and over, this method of teaching vocabulary to children has proven to be ineffective; it does not help children grow robust vocabularies (and vocabulary workbooks also consistently fail to help grow children’s vocabulary). When we say increasing children’s vocabulary, we mean helping children learn new words, understand their meanings, remember and use the words. There are myriad ways to effectively teach vocabulary, so we won’t list them here because the focus of this article is to highlight the importance of increasing children’s vocabulary as a way to improve their literacy outcomes.
So how does having a robust vocabulary help children become better readers?
Parents and teachers know that “knowledge of words is crucial to understanding a text,” but do you know that there is also “a strong correlation between vocabulary and reading comprehension skills” (Shine 2021)? When students have a robust, wide vocabulary, they are able to comprehend more of what they read. “As their reading comprehension increases, their vocabulary knowledge improves” (Shine 2021). A wide vocabulary and reading comprehension support and strengthen each other. Subhan’Allaah. But having a strong vocabulary does not improve comprehension skills only. Having a strong vocabulary helps children realise positive learning outcomes in all subjects in the curriculum. “Vocabulary development has a significant impact on a child's life, as it affects their reading ability across all subjects...as well as their lives outside of the classroom” (Jalongo and Sobolak 2011 cited in Shine 2021). So, if you work with children who are struggling readers, work to increase their vocabulary inshaa’Allaah. You can find ideas on how to do this effectively on pages 176 – 204 of When Kids Can’t Read – What Teachers Can Do.
Jazak Allaahu khayran wa bi tawfiq.
References for this series
Al-Banna, Shaykh Muhammad Abdul Wahab Marzooq. (2009). Until you return to practising your religion.
Hirch, E.D. Jr. Why Knowledge Matters. (2016). Harvard Education Press. Cambridge, MA.
Shine, M. 2021. 4 APR. 2021. Developing vocabulary, comprehension & fluency through reading. https://www.shineteaching.com/post/developing-vocabulary-comprehension-fluency-through-reading