Effects of Vocabulary Training on Various Groups of Pupils, in a School System of Diversity and Inclusion (avsluttet)

This project aims to compare the effectiveness of two different vocabulary training programmes for children of different ages and various levels of language competence.


The primary goal of the study is to establish whether the two methods of vocabulary teaching investigated are effective in improving vocabulary knowledge; if overall the programmes are effective, a subsidiary question is whether they are equally effective for different groups of pupils with differing language problems/language needs. The stimulation will be conducted by the children’s classroom teachers. Through teacher training to be active ‘vocabulary stimulators’, there will presumably be changes in the teachers’ didactic skills, theoretical understanding and meta-reflectional level.

A further goal of the study is to evaluate the ongoing changes in teacher attitudes, skills and knowledge as they carry out the vocabulary programme with their pupils. The interface between the systematic training of pupils on the micro level and the parallel change in teacher proficiency on the macro level is, in itself, an important focus for this study.

Perspectives and strategies

A: Educational objectives, content, and teaching and working methods

  • Generation of knowledge in areas of fundamental importance for children’s learning results.
  • Organization of optimal learning conditions
  • Gaining insight into the connection between teaching methods and motivational learning processes

B: Strategies for evaluation, processes of learning and outcome

  • A new scale for self evaluation of learning (Myself as a Learner Scale, Professor Burden, Exeter) will be tested with a pre-post design. This scale has been adapted in Norwegian for use in this project.
  • Evaluation of the ongoing changes in teacher attitudes, skills and knowledge as they carry out the vocabulary programme with their pupils. A Scale from the EPLC project (Effective Professional Learning Communities) at the University of Bristol has been translated and will be tested in the pre-post test design of the study.
  • Newly translated language screening tests in Urdu/Punjabi, Albanian, Vietnamese, Somali, Tamil, and Turkish (Monsrud, 2009) will be used if the initial questionnaire about bilingual children’s language development shows sign of language difficulties. Likewise, Norwegian speaking children will be followed up by the original Norwegian screening test (Ottem & Frost, 2008) if they show signs of language problems.

C: Management, administration and organisation of educational and research institutions

  • Generation of knowledge concerning connections between leadership, organization, use of resources and learning outcome.
  • Education and society
  • Generation of knowledge concerning inclusive practice regarding ethnicity.
  • Generation of knowledge concerning practice regarding children with language learning difficulties in an inclusive perspective.
  • The study investigates the language development of children in secondary school to find ways of optimal stimulation. In a perspective of increasing drop-out rates, increased knowledge about effective vocabulary training might be a good starting point for new research regarding prevention of this serious problem.

Research questions

The main research questions are

  • Does teaching vocabulary to children have a positive effect on their reading and language performance?
  • Is there any difference in vocabulary learning using the Word Generation programme versus the Thinking School programme?
  • Is the teaching of vocabulary in the classroom sufficient for children with special needs, or is the teaching of vocabulary on an individual basis necessary?

Several hypotheses will be tested to explore these issues

  • Teaching vocabulary to children will have a significant effect on learning the treatment words.
  • There will be a significant generalization effect in teaching vocabulary as measured by the difference between the treatment word lists and the non-treatment word lists.
  • There will be a significant improvement of the teachers’ ratings of the children’s language performance on the scale 20 Questions about Language Performance in the treatment school, but not in the non-treatment school.
  • For children in the treatment school there will be a significant improvement in achievement on formal tests of language and reading compared to children in the non-treatment school.
  • There will be no significant difference in vocabulary learning for children using the Thinking School approach versus children using the Word Generation programme.

The research group and the school

The members of the research group are from the University of Oslo and from the National Resource Centre of Logopedics, Bredtvet. This means that experienced researchers and experienced practitioners are working together in groups on different aspects of the study – and together with the teachers at the school. Master students will be hired to carry out some of the testing. All class administered assessments will be carried out in cooperation between the research group and the teachers at the school. In addition leaders and teachers at the school will play an active role in the accomplishment of the study. The community has funded the study to make active participation of teachers and leaders possible. All members of the research group will be in more than one group of interest.

The following areas are covered

  • Vocabulary training in ordinary classes
  • Word generation (One group with minor units): Grade 1 and 2, Grade 4 and 5, Grade 8
  • Thinking schools (One group with minor units): Grade 1 and 2, Grade 4 and 5, Grade 8
  • Effect of vocabulary training with children with Norwegian as second language
  • Effect of vocabulary training with children with severe language impairments
  • Enhancing the thoughts of EPLC in a close cooperation with the school administration


The research group has been very careful to discuss with the leaders of the school how the research project could be useful for the school as such and not just for the research group. We have promised that the group after the intervention period will stay in contact with the school and give advice with regard to children with learning difficulties. We have also close contact to the local team of school psychologists and during the study they will participate in discussions and courses which take place. In addition we are planning periods of working with Response to intervention projects in classes where the teachers want to cooperate about this. With regard to the control school we have promised to introduce our work at the target school also to the teachers there.

The Structure of the Project

The total project consists of a number of subprojects with an overall theoretical foundation. It will be set up with implementation programmes on various age levels and directed towards various groups of pupils in the same school. The project group will consist of 300 pupils divided into two main groups for each training program. Each of the two groups will further consist of 3 age levels. About 21% of the pupils have Norwegian as second language. Based on these sample sizes (150 children in each group) and 300 children in the control school we can estimate the power of the study to detect differences in the effectiveness of training between the two intervention groups, and also the power to detect an overall improvement in the intervention school compared to the control school. If we assume a correlation between pre-test and post-test vocabulary scores of 0.5 (which is conservative on a measure like this) we have better than 90% power to detect an effect size of d = .26, which is a small effect size; hence we can say with confidence that this study will have excellent power to detect educationally significant differences between the effectiveness of these two vocabulary training programmes. Similarly, in making comparisons between the intervention and control schools (N = 300 per school) if we assume the same correlation between pre and post-tests we have better than 93% power to detect an effect size of d = .2. Thus overall, the study has excellent power to detect educationally meaningful effects.

The school’s administration and teachers will receive instruction and methodological training so they can organize the daily routines in the best possible way and conduct the education programmes in a qualified and independent manner. The design of the intervention study will be a controlled experimental design with matched control groups at a neighbouring school in Oslo.

The studies focus on the following areas of interest

  • Effects of vocabulary training in ordinary classrooms
  • Effects of vocabulary training for children with Norwegian as a Second Language
  • Effects of vocabulary training for children with language and reading difficulties
  • Effects of the implementation and completion of the vocabulary program regarding teachers’ attitudes about teaching and school organization.
  • A major focus of the study is to measure effects of vocabulary learning taught in mainstream classes. Three groups of children at various age levels are selected: beginning group (grades 2–3), intermediate group (grades 4–5), and secondary-level group (grade 8). Matched groups are selected at the neighbouring school. Moreover, the distinction between the two programmes, the word generation programme (X) and the thinking schools programme (Y) allows the evaluation of the primary effect of two different teaching methods on typical children since there will be a control group. Furthermore a distinction is made between typical children, minority and children with language learning difficulties in relation to the type of training programme across classroom teaching and small groups teaching. Half of the minority-group children and the SLI children will stay in the classroom and participate in the vocabulary training together with the rest of the class. The other half of both these groups will receive additional training in small group sessions.

Initial Assessment

To measure the effects of vocabulary teaching there will be two schools involved; a treatment school and a non-treatment school. For both schools, there will be an initial assessment of vocabulary for all children. The initial assessment will focus on the main teacher’s assessment of each child’s language performance using the observational scale 20 Questions about Language Performance and a formal test of receptive vocabulary the British Picture Vocabulary Scale (BPVS). In addition, all children will be screened with appropriate tests for reading performance and attitude towards learning. Thus, the introduction of a non-treatment school will allow the measurement of the main effects of vocabulary teaching. Finally, the classes will be observed before the intervention takes place and then at the end of the intervention.

When the data from these instruments become available, the population of children from the two schools will be segregated into groups representing typical children and children with vocabulary learning difficulties.


No intervention programme will be initiated for children in the non-treatment school. For typical children in the treatment school, approximately half of them will receive the Word Generation programme or the Thinking Schools programme in their ordinary classes. However, to measure effects of treatment in ordinary classes versus additional small group teaching across teaching methods, minority children and children with language-related problems will be divided into four groups each. Half of the minority children in the treatment school will receive teaching using the Word Generation programme (1/2 X) , and the other half will receive teaching based on the Thinking Schools programme in their ordinary classes (1/2 Y). However, depending upon the number of participants, the other half part will receive vocabulary teaching in small groups in addition to the programmes used in their ordinary classes. This distinction permits the comparison of the effect of teaching vocabulary in classes versus small groups as an additional part of the training. The same method will be used for children with language-related disorders.

Selection of words

The training period will be 21 weeks, divided into 3 sections of seven weeks each. The teachers for each of the three class levels in the two training settings will work together with the research group to identify a corpus of 300 words (3x100) for the whole period of implementation. The Word Generation groups will choose one theme for each of the 21 weeks from various topics of relevance to the age groups in question. The word lists will be related to these themes. The teachers in the Thinking Schools concept will choose in addition 300 (3x100) words from the curriculum subjects of Norwegian, mathematics, and science. These will all be words that are expected to be known by the children at that given age. For the two oldest groups the Academic Word List (http://www.vuw.ac.nz/lals/research/awl/) will be used with word families in English that frequently occur in academic texts across academic domains, as a control for relevance also in Norwegian. For the younger group important words will be selected of non-frequency (rank >3000) that are used in children’s books (Maegård & Ruus, 1981) in Danish (also for control in Norwegian).

The three groups of words (3x100) in each training group will be divided accordingly

49 words to be used for treatment (7 words pr theme) in each of three periods: making a total of 147 words for treatment for each training group.
51 words meant for non-treatment (only as reassessment for measurement of transfer): 153 words for measurement of transfer from both groups. Total number of words for assessment of transfer for each training group: 306 words. The group of words for assessment of transfer will in this way consist of a shared word list of words from both training groups.


After the intervention period has been completed, children from both the treatment school and the non-treatment school will be reassessed using the same instruments involved in the initial assessment (the scale 20 Questions about Language Performance, the formal vocabulary test BPVS, appropriate reading tests, and attitude towards learning), in addition to detailed data from vocabulary teaching in the treatment school across the two intervention methods.

Measuring Effects of Treatment

The effects of the two approaches to teaching vocabulary will be measured on three levels:

  • Assessment of understanding of the words taught and untaught.
  • Assessments of possible improvement in teacher ratings using the observational scale
  • Standardized tests of language and reading.

Classroom Teaching of Vocabulary

After the selection of 100 words for a given seven-week period, the words will be divided into two groups: a treatment group and a non-treatment group of words. In the Word Generation programme (SERP Institute, 2006) the words will be ‘topic-specific’, therefore having a special applicability to that week’s theme. The themes will not be connected directly to the curriculum. The programme includes suggested structures for facilitating debate and discussion. This means that words can be objects for multiple encounters. Two or three teachers can work together on the programme. Each teacher is only responsible for teaching one or two WG activity a week for about 15 minutes. On Monday, the teacher in the subject area associated with the theme of the week will introduce a text, which always starts the weekly programme. Each Friday, the pupils will be asked to write a paragraph concerning the weekly topic, using as many words as possible from the word list. Mid-week activities will consist of repeated exposures to and discussions about the topic and the weekly words.


The Thinking Schools programme

The Thinking Schools programme is built around a set of Habits of Mind (Costa & Kallick, 2008) which was inspired by Resnick’s statement (1999) that “one’s intelligence is the sum of one’s habits of mind.” The aim is that the set of habits in the programme are integrated throughout the curriculum and in the culture of the school. The Thinking School concept has the intention of building a Thoughtful Environment. Therefore this has to be established as a shared vision among the teachers around the same group of children. In the programme there are formulated 16 Habits of Mind, which represent the pedagogical and methodological foundation of the work in the classroom. These habits include: Persistency, Management of impulsivity, Listening with understanding and empathy, Thinking flexibly, Thinking about thinking, Striving for accuracy, Questioning and posing problems, etc. In this learning environment, vocabulary appears to be both a necessary tool for communication and a natural focus for all learning where the pupils are supposed to actively engage in an effort to independently seek after knowledge. The words in the Thinking Schools programme are taken from the National Core Curriculum in Norwegian, Mathematics, and Science. The respective teachers are supposed to integrate the thinking of Habits of Mind into their daily work in the classroom in order to make the pupils reflect, perform inductive reasoning, classification, analogy, discover rules, etc. During this work, classroom discussion will be an important tool. In contrast to the Word Generation programme, the Thinking Schools programme will not be planned in detail ahead of time. The teachers will have to discuss with each other to find ways of performing the Habits of Mind and then work together to introduce these habits in daily routines.

Both programmes will be presented to their respective teachers in three-day seminars held by the researchers from the cooperating universities. Further, members of the research group will be attached to each of the two groups of teachers as consultants. During the period of intervention, three meetings will be held to discuss questions regarding the handling of the programmes.

Teaching of vocabulary in small groups or individually

A sample of minority children and children with language-related disorders will be taught words in small groups or individually. A similar procedure for vocabulary learning based on treatment and non‑treatment lists of words will be followed.


There are obvious reasons to believe that the two programmes of intervention will cause changes in classroom instruction and organization, with the Thinking Schools concept maybe causing more than the other. In order to describe such changes, part of the data collection in the pre- and post-test design will be directed towards classroom observation. In addition to taking field notes during five lessons in each treatment group a time-series observation (3 minutes interval) will be used (Hagtvet, 2003). In the time-series observation the observer notices three related events: What the teacher does, what the class does, and what one or more pupils do at the same point in time. In classes with children that have Norwegian as a Second Language and/or children with language difficulties, these children will be observed as individual cases at the same point in time as the class and the teacher respectively. These data will provide the possibility of describing changes in classroom administration and teacher-pupil contact. The hypothesis is that changes will take place in direction of more classroom discussions and more engaged and participating pupils. Next, this will be the foundation for a discussion about cause-effect in the study of progress in vocabulary development. A simultaneous change in classroom administration and growth in vocabulary might be closely linked.

Assessment of language performance using a questionnaire

Initially, all children will be assessed by their teachers using the questionnaire 20 Questions about Language Performance (Ottem, 2009). This questionnaire has three subscales: semantic ability, receptive ability and expressive ability. After 21 weeks of vocabulary instruction, the children will be reassessed using the same questionnaire.

Assessment of language performance using standardized tests

All children will initially be tested with the BPVS and a Test of Reception of Grammar (TROG). At the end of the project all children will be reassessed using these instruments. In addition all children will initially be tested with the nonverbal test (Raven matrixes). Moreover, about 20 per cent of the children with specific language problems, as indicated by the questionnaire, will be tested using the screening instrument Språk 6–16, to confirm or invalidate the results from the questionnaire. This is a language test covering the age period from 6 to 16.

Publisert 23. sep. 2010 12:38 - Sist endret 16. jan. 2015 08:28