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Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Dearth (noun) - an inadequate supply; scarcity; lack

4th Grade Vocabulary Prep by 965 Studios
Designed for iPhone and iPad
(Also available for 3rd grade, 5th grade, and 6th grade)

In the past decade, vocabulary instruction has taken a more prominent role in the field of literacy. This is not surprising as vocabulary knowledge is directly correlated to reading comprehension. Although vocabulary knowledge is critical for literacy acquisition, it is a complex construct that is not easily measured or taught.
This app is designed for fourth grade students (the designers also make similar vocabulary apps for 3rd, 5th, and 6th grade). Containing a simple interface, the user begins by selecting the practice mode. Here, he or she reads a word, its part of speech and subsequent definition. Optionally, users can select classical music to play in the background. Definitions of words are defined in typical dictionary style. For example, the word "confuse" is defined as "to put into disorder, to bewilder".
After the user has practiced words, he or she then can choose the quiz section, either the definition quiz or word quiz. There are dozens of words on this app. Therefore the user may practice words but end up not being assessed on them during the testing mode. The words are completely randomized.
The Good: The vocabulary words that are used in this program generally adhere to what we educators refer to as "tier two" words. Beck, McKeown, and Kucan (2002) proposed the idea of delineating vocabulary words into three tiers. The first tier of words is considered the most basic to our language. For example, everyday words such as door, sun, walk and so on. Given their simplicity, students do no not need instruction in these words. The second tier of words contains words that are frequent to mature users of the language and critical to developing a comprehensive lexicon. These words require direct instructional strategies. Tier three words include words that are infrequently used and are often domain specific. For example, scientific terms such as photosynthesis, meiosis, and endocrine should be instructed when necessary to the content subject at hand. This app does a decent job of utilizing tier two words in its word list.
The Bad: Unfortunately, the app does not employ a strong instructional foundation for facilitating vocabulary acquisition. Did you know that the least effective method for learning new words is to look them up in a dictionary and memorize them? Unfortunately, that is the instructional framework of this app. However, that's just the genesis of its demise. Let's look at some MUSTS of vocabulary instruction that are absent in this app:
  • Children should be given both contextual and definitional information when learning a new word
  • Students need to be active in developing their vocabulary; that is they need to develop strategies to independently identify important words.
  • Students should personalize word learning for example by sketching it or rewriting their own definition, This increases the word being committed to memory.
  • Students should be immersed in words; that is students should be actively engaged in a variety of language and literacy activities that celebrate words. These include read alouds and interactive book talks that highlight interesting or relevant vocabulary words.
  • Multiple sources of information to learn words through repeated exposure are necessary. It is estimated it takes 10-12 exposures of word in multiple contexts before a word is truly learned.
  • Students should be instructed in morphology and develop morphological awareness (the understanding that words can divided into units of meaning: prefixes, suffixes, roots). This facilitates not only vocabulary learning but aids in chunking words to decode them.
  • Dictionary definitions are unfriendly to children and meanings are not easily understood or retained. Case in point, take this apps definition of "confuse - to put into disorder, to bewilder". What if the child doesn't know what disorder is, or bewilder? Perhaps, the designers should have a video of a fourth grader trying to decipher this confusing definition and possibly that would enhance the app! 
I could continue to elaborate further about the dearth of instructional strategies in this program, but hopefully the few bits of information suffice in understanding why...
I give this app Thumbs Down

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