Effective Techniques for Vocabulary Assessment

Instructor: Kerry Gray

Kerry has been a teacher and an administrator for more than twenty years. She has a Master of Education degree.

In this lesson, we will examine various types of vocabulary assessments and discuss how teachers select words to be taught and assessed based on intended outcomes.

The Relationship Between Vocabulary and Reading Comprehension

Why is vocabulary instruction important? Vocabulary is a collection of words that are used in a language, culture, or discipline. Vocabulary development is intertwined with reading comprehension. Students learn new vocabulary from reading, but also understand what they read because of their expanded vocabulary. The way vocabulary is taught depends on how a teacher intends to assess it. Let's find out more about ways to effectively assess vocabulary development.

Tiered Words

There are currently over a billion words in the English language. Considering that about 15 new words are added to our language every day, how can a teacher possibly know how to select word lists? It is easier for teachers to choose which words to teach when words are broken into tiers.

Tier one words are the basic words that are used in language. Most likely, students will not need to be taught tier one words because they already know and use them. Generally, these words will not have multiple meanings that cause confusion. For example, 'cat' and 'boy' are tier one words.

Tier two words are the words that are frequently used across content areas and throughout literature. Sometimes, these words have multiple meanings, and must be taught and assessed in context, such as the word 'notice.' Tier two words tend to be more descriptive and advanced than tier one words. Students benefit most from direct instruction of tier two words. Examples of tier two words include 'effortless' and 'persuade'

Tier three words are content-specific words. Although these words appear less frequently, students may need them to understand new information. For example 'fiscal' and 'hemisphere' are tier three words.

Now that we know a little more about how to choose vocabulary words to assess, let's look at some approaches to assessment.

Discrete vs. Embedded

Discrete vocabulary is explicit vocabulary assessment. Words are selected to be taught and tested in isolation, perhaps in the form of a vocabulary test. Teachers may select discrete vocabulary assessment to test students on tier two words that have been chosen for a unit.

In contrast, embedded assessment would monitor vocabulary usage in the context of learning activities. For example, the teacher might keep an analytical checklist so that as students are working either independently or in cooperative groups, the teacher can record vocabulary use. Embedded assessment may be used to check student's use of tier three words.

Selective vs. Comprehensive

Whether a vocabulary assessment is considered selective or comprehensive depends on the body of work from which vocabulary to be assessed is drawn. A selective assessment is drawn from a specific selection or chapter. In contrast, a comprehensive vocabulary assessment is drawn from a larger source, such as a unit or an entire course.

For example, in Mrs. Klinck's history class, she gives a selective assessment about vocabulary related to their student of the Civil War at the end of the week. At the end of the semester, she gives a comprehensive assessment over the vocabulary the students have learned about early American history from the Revolutionary War through the Civil War eras.

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