The Importance of Vocab Tunes
Vocabulary knowledge not only contributes to reading comprehension, but is also linked to academic success (National ReadingPanel 2000). However, vocabulary growth is inadequately addressed in current educational curricula, especially between preschool and the end of second grade, when it is most important (Biemiller 2000). By the time a child reaches the end of second grade, he or she has learned 4,000 to 8,000 words, adding 1,000 words per year in the years following (Biemiller 2005). These numbers are staggering when you consider a gap of 2,000 equals approximately two grade levels. Educators’ chances of successfully addressing vocabulary differences in school are greatest in the preschool and early primary years (Biemiller and Boote 2006). The good news is that we can remedy these deficits by introducing innovative programs like Vocab Tunes.
A problem with the current curriculum is that while phonics works for young children, it has very limited value, because it teaches only simple monosyllabic words. Vocabulary is the “missing link” in reading and language instruction in schools.
The Scientific Basis for Vocab Tune
There are three compelling reasons for using the Vocab Tunes program:
1. Root words are everywhere in the English language. Greek and Latin word parts make up more than 60 percent of English words, 70 to 90 percent of science terminology, 71 percent of social studies terminology, and a vast majority of mathematical terms (Farstrup and Samuels 2008, Green 1990). Learning Greek and Latin roots provides students advantages such as comfort with long words, advanced awareness of complex vocabulary, and spelling improvements in science and technical language (Thompson 2002). Through studying root words, children understand the internal structure of words and discover connections with word families.
2. The human brain works as a “pattern detector.” Longer words contain meaningful patterns such as “dent, dentist, denture, and dentine,” as shown in the illustrations on the next page. The root words provide consistent patterns with consistent meanings and spellings. While phonics programs have been very successful in teaching one-syllable words to young children, such as nook, cook, and look, or bake, cake, lake, and take, the patterns do nothing to provide any meaning to the word (Kaura and Kaura 2010).
3. Psycholinguistic research has shown that there are different ways in which we can input vocabulary into the human brain (Yamazaki 2007). Suppose you learn the words by memorizing one word at a time. The words will be stored separately in the brain.
Or we can input and store words in the brain by linking them through meaning. Thus, if the reader notes that dent (tooth) is a root word for dentist (doctor), dentine (covering for the teeth), and denture (artificial teeth), these words will be stored under the common root, and other words related to this root word can be added (Kaura and Kaura 2010, Yamazaki 2007). Mental organization occurs when root words are learned along with the meaning of parts (Corson 1995, 1997).
Therefore, learning vocabulary using root words, which organize the words through themes and concepts, makes comprehension much easier.
Learning Ability and Root Words
Studies on learning ability show that “the rich get richer and the poor get poorer” in terms of today’s school curriculum for vocabulary. Children who read well are skilled in figuring out root words/meanings, so they improve their vocabulary as they go. However, struggling readers attempt to figure out the spellings/meanings of new words by using the poor strategy of “sounding it out” that they learned in phonics. While they may be able to figure out the spellings, they have poor comprehension. This has often been seen in children who have had an overemphasis on phonics.
A study of dyslexic students (Casalis 2004) showed that dyslexic students are not as good with phonics. Dyslexic children show mprovements in spelling and comprehension as they gain root word knowledge (Elbros and Arnbark 1996, 2000). Research has shown that English as a second language (ESL) and English as a first language (EFL) students also demonstrate significant improvements when root word programs are used.
Singing, Dancing and Learning with Vocab Tunes
Students are more engaged in learning when teachers use music and song rather than spoken language (Curtis 2007). This is why Vocab Tunes uses singing and dancing to get children interested in and excited about learning root words. Moreover, singing and dancing is a whole mind-body experience, which provides a double reinforcement as it unites the body, voice, and brain, resulting in optimal processing (Carlton 2000). In many schools, this concept is being introduced as part of the curriculum, in programs such as “Cool Schools” for science and “Freedom Schools.” Carlton provides an excellent model of how this works in “Learning Through Music: The Support of Brain
Research”: When young children sing “Eensy, Weensy Spider” or “Clean Up, Clean Up.” the underlying steady pulse of the song combined with the active singing pushes the brain to remember the next part of the song…. This begins as “rote memory” (short term) but does evolve to conscious thought and long-term memory as children mature and songs that have meaning are sung repeatedly by individuals (2000).
Many students have difficulty with reading comprehension due to a lack of knowledge of basic vocabulary. Using tunes to help students remember the meanings of prefixes, suffixes, and root words creates a deeper understanding of words and their meaning.
During a week long study, seventeen students, ages nine to thirteen, were involved in a research group to test the effectiveness of songs using the definitions of common prefixes, suffixes, and root words. The students were given a pretest and then introduced to the Vocab Tunes program. The tunes were accompanied by colorful, and age-appropriate videos that helped engage the students. When the students were given the post-test on the information contained in the songs, the scores at least doubled and in some cases tripled.
In interviews conducted after the research project, the parents and students involved in the study provided positive feedback of their enjoyment of the tunes. Each student improved vocabulary skills through the use of Vocab Tunes.
We spent more than 10 years researching and perfecting the Vocab Tunes program in hopes of bettering children’s education and vocabulary comprehension. The Vocab Tunes program is an excellent resource for singing, dancing, and having fun learning vocabulary words.
Writing and editing are not easy tasks. I am very much indebted to many friends and mentors and to my family for bringing this mammoth project to completion. But I am absolutely touched by the amazing artists, editors, and other Aptara team members like Cathy Stotts, Patrick Nightingale, Girish Uppal, Rakesh Ojha, and Bidisha Biswas in the USA and India who have put life into Vocab Tunes books and created such beautiful products for everyone to enjoy.
Very gratefully yours, Manisha Shelley Kaura
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Carlton, E. Exchange Magazine, http://www.childcareexchange.com.
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Casalis, S., & Louis-Alexandre, M. F. 2000. Morphological analysis, phonological analysis and learning to read French: A longitudinal study. Reading and Writing: An Interdisciplinary Journal 12: 303-335.
Corson, D. 1985. The lexical bar. Oxford: Pergamon Press.
Corson, D. 1997. The learning and use of academic English words. Language Learning 47(4): 671-718.
Elbro, C. and Arnbak, E. 1996. The role of morpheme recognition and morphological awareness in dyslexia. Annals of Dyslexia 46.
Farstrup, A. E., & Samuels, S. J. (Eds). 2008. What research has to say about vocabulary instruction. Washington, D.C.: International Reading Association.
Green, T. M. (1994). The Greek and Latin roots of English. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield.
Henry, M. K. 1993. Morphological structure: Latin and Greek roots and affixes as upper grade code strategies. Reading and Writing: An Interdisciplinary Journal, 5 (2)/ 227-241.
Henry, M. K. 2003. Unlocking literacy: Effective decoding and spelling instruction, Baltimore, Maryland: Paul H. Brooks Publishing.
Kaura, M. 2010. Rockin’ root words, 1 & 2. Austin, Texas: Prufrock Press.
Lyster, S.A.H. 1995. Preventing reading and spelling failure: The effects of early intervention promoting metalinguistic abilities. Unpublished Ph.D. thesis. Oslo, Norway: Institute for Special Education, University of Oslo.
Moats, L. C. 2000. Speech to print: Language essentials for teachers. Baltimore: Paul H. Brookes.
Mountain, L. 2005. Rooting out meaning: more morphemic analysis for primary pupils. Reading Teacher 58, (8): 742-749.
Thompson, M. C. 2002. Vocabulary and grammar: Critical content for critical thinking. The Journal of Secondary Gifted Education 13 (2): 60-66.
Note – All of the data on this page (and more) is included in each copy of Vocab Tunes books.