Tuesday, April 19, 2016

The role of the library: A constructive response to Sec. King's remarks about the vocabulary gap and building background knowledge.

Stephen Krashen  April 19, 2016

In a recent speech, Secretary of Education John E. King mentioned the huge vocabulary gap between students from affluent and less affluent families. He also mentioned research showing that those with more background knowledge do better as readers.

There is one activity that contributes powerfully to closing the vocabulary gap as well as building background knowledge: Self-selected pleasure reading.

One of the best established results in educational research is the finding that reading is the major source of our vocabulary knowledge beyond the few thousand words that make up the bulk of what we hear in everyday conversation.   Reading aloud to children also contributes to vocabulary development and does so in two ways: hearing stories helps build vocabulary, and it also stimulates an interest in reading. 

Studies by Stanovich and his colleagues confirm that those who read more know more about literature and history, and have more "cultural literacy." This is no surprise, but readers also know more about science and even have more “practical knowledge."  Consistent with this research, Dean Keith Simonton, a prominent researcher on creativity, has concluded that "omnivorous reading in childhood and adolescence correlates positively with ultimate adult success." 

Much of this reading is fiction. University of London researchers have recently confirmed that the amount of fiction read is an excellent predictor of adult vocabulary size, independent of the amount of nonfiction read.

For many children of poverty, their only access to reading material is the library. Despite an impressive number of studies showing that library quality and the presence of a credentialed librarian is related to greater reading achievement, support for public and school libraries is declining.

If we want to close the vocabulary gap and build our students' knowledge base, let's encourage more recreational reading and make reading possible by supporting libraries and librarians.

John E. King, "What school can be."  Remarks as delivered by U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King Jr. at the Las Vegas Academy of the Arts, April 14, 2016.  http://www.ed.gov/news/speeches/what-school-can-be?utm_content=&utm_medium=email&utm_name=&utm_source=govdelivery&utm_term=
Reading, read-alouds and vocabulary knowledge: Research reviewed in Krashen, S. 2004. The Power of Reading (Libraries Unlimited). Krashen, S.  2015. Fact or fiction? The plot thickens. Language Magazine 15(3): 22-27.
Pleasure reading and knowledge:  Stanovich, K., and A. Cunningham. 1992. Studying the consequences of literacy within a literate society: the cognitive correlates of print exposure. Memory and Cognition 20(1): 51-68; Stanovich, K. and A. Cunningham. 1993. Where does knowledge come from? Specific associations between print exposure and information acquisition. Journal of Educational Psychology, 85(2): 211-229; Stanovich, K., R. West, R., and M. Harrison. 1995. Knowledge growth and maintenance across the life span: The role of print exposure. Developmental Psychology, 31(5): 811-826; West, R., and K. Stanovich. 1991. The incidental acquisition of information from reading. Psychological Science 2: 325-330; West, R., K. Stanovich, and H. Mitchell. 1993. Reading in the real world and its correlates. Reading Research Quarterly 28: 35-50; Simonton, D. 1988. Scientific genius: A psychology of science. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
Fiction: Sullivan, A. & Brown, M. (2014). Vocabulary from adolescence to middle age. London: Centre for Longitudinal Studies, University of London.
Libraries and reading achievement: See especially the work of Keith Curry Lance, available at http://www.lrs.org/impact.php); Krashen, S., Lee, S.Y. & McQuillan, J. (2012). Is the library important? Multivariate studies at the national and international level. Journal of Language and Literacy Education, 8(1), 26-36.
Credentialed librarian: Kachel, D. 2013. School Library Research Summarized. Mansfield University.
Support for libraries declining: Kelley, Michael. 2011. “LJ’s Budget Survey: Bottoming Out?” Library. Journal. 136 no.1:28-31.

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