Socio-cultural theory

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Chapter 3 Literature Review

 Chapter overview

As a reminder, the research aims for this study were to theorise and find an approach that may contribute to raising the academic achievement of Tongan students in the areas of vocabulary development and reading comprehension. In addition, the hypothesis for this study was that explicit vocabulary instruction, using an educational intervention, can positively impact on Tongan students’ reading comprehension and contribute to the improvement of their reading achievement. Thereby, this chapter adds to the succinct cultural insights into the background and context of Tongan students that were highlighted in the previous chapter, by providing descriptions of existing and current knowledge, theoretical constructs from research literature that have informed the fundamental premise of this study.
The sections of this chapter consists of the following: vocabulary and vocabulary development; bilingual education in New Zealand; components of vocabulary instruction with links to reading comprehension; fostering word consciousness in the classroom; socio-cultural theory; pedagogical content knowledge; a culturally responsive pedagogy; bilingualism and bilingual students; bilingual education in New Zealand; New Zealand Government initiatives aimed at raising Pasifika achievement in New Zealand and literacy instruction for Pasifika students. In closing, a summary of the key points from the literature review is presented with references made to this study.

 Vocabulary and vocabulary development

Vocabulary and vocabulary development are important to teaching students literacy skills that they can utilise particularly in reading and reading comprehension. Vocabulary is one of five essential components of reading instruction that is essential to successfully teach students how to read, others being: phonemic awareness (students ability to think about sounds of language and to manipulate those sounds in various ways e.g. to blend sounds), phonics (the ability to decode written words in texts e.g. attending to prefixes or letter patterns) and word study, reading fluency (the ability to read words quickly as well as accurately) and comprehension (National Reading Panel, 2000).
The New Zealand Oxford dictionary identifies the term vocabulary as a derivative of the medieval Latin term vocabularius and is denoted by Deverson and Kennedy (2005, p. 1262) as:
1. the body of words used in a language or a particular book or branch of science etc. or by a particular author
2. a list of these, arranged alphabetically with definitions or translations
3. the range of words known to an individual
Newtown, Padak and Rasinki (2008) stated that the English term vocabulary is built on the Latin word for voice and literally means an oral list of words. Newtown, Padak and Rasinki define vocabulary as a body of words used in a particular language where a part of such a body of words is used on a particular occasion or in a particular context. It is also referred to as a study of words and word meanings. Sedita (2005) describes vocabulary as a term given to all words used in a language as a whole or the set of words associated with a subject or area of activity, or used by an individual person. Others (e.g. Watts-Taffe, 2005) have defined vocabulary as the teaching and development of students’ understanding of word meanings including word recognition.
Kamil and Hiebert (2005) made distinctions between two types of vocabulary: receptive vocabulary and productive vocabulary. As Kamil and Hiebert describes, receptive vocabulary includes terms and phrases that an individual recognises and understands. Productive vocabulary includes terms and phrases that an individual uses. Additionally, a distinction between oral and written language was also made by Kamil and Hiebert as shown in Table 1 as a two-by-two classification of vocabulary.
The frequency of words and the categorisation of words have largely been the subject for national and international research on vocabulary (e.g. Beck, McKeown & Kucan, 2002; Biemiller, 2005; Coxhead, 2011; Graves, 1987; Lonigan, 2007; Nagy & Herman, 1987; Nation, 2001). From existing research literature, it is known that vocabulary for classroom instruction can be identified under categories such as: high frequency vocabulary (words that students encounter frequently in text), low frequency vocabulary (words that occur in specific domains) and more informally known as content vocabulary (teachers refer to as words that are specifically related to their topic study). Additionally, over the years, word lists have been developed which organises vocabulary into categories such as, for example: academic vocabulary (words that explain curriculum concepts, e.g. see Coxhead, 2000; 2011).
Vocabulary research from as early as seven decades ago recognised in their estimation that a 6000 word gap existed between percentiles of students in standardised tests (see Nagy & Herman, 1984). While this word gap was later reduced to between 4500 and 5400 for low versus high achieving students due to a different method of calculating vocabulary size, it remains that despite seven decades of existing research evidence there is, however, still a huge discrepancy in word gap size particularly for students who are low achievers and more often than not, recognised as those whose native language is not English. Hence, vocabulary and vocabulary development is an urgent issue to focus on particularly in the case of ELLs and in the context of this study, Tongan students.
According to Biemiller (2005), children who are native speakers of English enter kindergarten knowing at least 5,000 words compared to the ELLs who on average may know similar number of words in their native language, but fewer words in English. It demonstrates that while native speakers of English continue to learn new words thus building their vocabulary base, ELLs (including Tongan students) face the double challenge of building their English literacy foundation and then working towards closing the gap in order to attain similar levels of English vocabulary as the English native speakers (Biemiller, 2005; Nagy & Scott, 2001). Hence, vocabulary development is a vital part of all content learning for students although it is at times overlooked.
Biemiller (2004) asserts that the inability to readily assess vocabulary growth has been a major reason why vocabulary receives little attention in the primary grades. A major barrier for including vocabulary in the primary curriculum is the difficulty of assessing vocabulary, especially under class conditions. Testing children’s vocabulary orally on a one-to-one basis is not difficult. However, vocabulary tests such as the Peabody Picture Vocab Test (PPVT) are not feasible for class teachers, for such assessment typically take 10-15 minutes per student (Biemiller, 2004).
Vocabulary and vocabulary development for Tongan students and in general ELLs are vital for their academic success in literacy (Biemiller, 2005; Nagy and Scott, 2001). In addition, the responsibilities that a teacher has in promoting vocabulary interests and the vocabulary instruction for Tongan students and in general ELLs are significant in the contributions that it makes towards reading and reading comprehension.


Components of vocabulary instruction with links to reading comprehension

In its analysis of the research on vocabulary instruction, the National Reading Panel (2000) asserts that there is not a single method of teaching that could be delivered solely as best practice for vocabulary instruction within classrooms. Instead, vocabulary needs to be taught both directly and indirectly thus taking on a multi-component approach to vocabulary instruction (Nation Reading Panel, 2000). In that same light, an effective English vocabulary teacher is one who provides rich oral language, uses and provides wide reading material, has control of vocabulary learning, provides meaningful contexts, creates and builds a word-rich class environment which enables both explicit instruction and incidental learning and development of ‘word awareness to occur’ (Blachowicz & Fisher, 2003; Nagy, 2005).
Existing research demonstrates that English vocabulary in particular, is linked to English reading comprehension (Biemiller, 2005; Nagy, 1988; Nagy, 2007; Stahl, 1999). However, this link is not clear as correlations between the two are not well understood and are quite complex. Anderson and Freebody (1981) were the first researchers to provide a three-level comprehensive explanatory framework for the relationship between English vocabulary and English reading comprehension. Firstly, they theorised that knowing individual English word meanings enables English text comprehension. This is not an explanation for how English vocabulary is acquired. Instead, it assumes that once the reader possesses English words, it helps the reader to understand text.
Secondly, Anderson and Freebody (1981) developed a hypothesis called the ‘aptitude hypothesis’. The aptitude hypothesis theorises that students with large English vocabularies are better at discourse English comprehension because they possess ‘superior mental agility’. For example, students who score highly on English vocabulary tests possess English vocabulary knowledge that reflects verbal aptitude (e.g. ability to spell words correctly, use correct grammar, understand word meanings, understand word relationships and interpret written information). The aptitude hypothesis theory remains unclear about the relationship between English vocabulary and English comprehension as evidence of strong correlations between the two have yet to be shown for this hypothesis.
Thirdly, Anderson and Freebody (1981) identified the ‘knowledge hypothesis’ which demonstrates the importance of acknowledging and exploring the concepts or schemata surrounding a word as students will have a varying degree of knowledge  about words. Thereby, Anderson and Freebody’s (1981) three-level comprehensive explanatory framework provides insight for this study. In particular, the underlying theory about teaching word meanings, concepts or schemata of words is relevant for the theorising of literacy development for Tongan students.
In order for students to engage in discourse reading comprehension, acquisition of vocabulary knowledge is deemed pertinent and is prevalent in existing research literature. For example, according to Colorado (2007), vocabulary knowledge is key to reading comprehension based on the premise that the more words a child knows, the better he or she will understand the text. In addition, Biemiller (2005) recommends teaching English word meanings of general value that are known by 40 to 80 percent of children at the end of grade two such as those that will typically be known by children with large vocabularies but not by children with small vocabularies. There are perhaps 1600 such words that could be taught during the primary levels (Biemiller, 2005). Furthermore, Stahl (1999) states that word meanings are not just unrelated bits of information, but are part of larger knowledge structures. Students who know a great deal about a given topic will also know its vocabulary.
The approach that teachers have in delivering vocabulary instruction is thereby pertinent to the literacy development and reading comprehension of their students. Existing vocabulary literature purports that it is beneficial for teachers to have a multi-component approach to vocabulary instruction (e.g. Beck, McKeown & Kucan, 2002; Grave, 1987; Nagy, 2007; Nation, 2001). A couple of examples of multi-component approaches to vocabulary instruction include Stahl’s model (1999) which emphasises that vocabulary instruction as an ongoing process should include both definitional information and contextual information about each word meaning, should involve children more actively in word learning and should provide multiple exposures to meaningful information about the word. Additionally, Graves (2000) proposed a four-part programme for vocabulary instruction that includes wide reading, teaching individual words, teaching word learning strategies, and fostering word consciousness.
While this study is in agreement with research literature that promotes a multi-component approach to vocabulary instruction, there is paucity in written research that offers an approach to vocabulary instruction from a culturally inclusive premise. This study offers a culturally inclusive approach to vocabulary instruction, (developed by the researcher for Tongan students in Tongan bilingual classrooms), which addresses the learning needs and learning interests of Tongan students. As introduced in Chapter 1, a culturally inclusive approach to vocabulary instruction was implemented as part of the educational intervention for this study which demonstrated that it can be generalised to mainstream classrooms with students of other ethnic groups (explained in detail in Chapter 7). This study is in agreement with Nagy’s (2007) assertion that:
“Vocabulary instruction is more than teaching words, it is teaching about words: how they are put together, how they are learned, and how they are used. If students are to take charge of their own learning in the area of vocabulary, they need to be able to reflect on word meanings, on the sources of information about word meanings, and on the process of vocabulary learning. Likewise, for students to construct meaning effectively, they need to be able to reflect on authors’ use of language forms and structures.” (p71)


Chapter 1: Introduction
Chapter overview
The significance of this study
The research aims and hypothesis
The research questions
The rationale for this study
The educational intervention
The structure of this thesis
Chapter 2: Background and Context
Chapter overview
Pasifika: A pan-ethnic term
Pule`anga fakaTu`i `o Tonga (The Kingdom of Tonga)
Tongan people in New Zealand
Tongan language in New Zealand
Tongan strengths-based principles, values and educational concepts
Chapter summary
Chapter 3: Literature Review
Chapter overview
Vocabulary and vocabulary development
Components of vocabulary instruction with links to reading comprehension
Fostering word consciousness in the classroom
Socio-cultural theory
Pedagogical Content Knowledge (PCK)
A culturally responsive pedagogy
Bilingualism and bilingual students
Bilingual education in New Zealand
New Zealand Government initiatives aimed at raising Pasifika student
academic achievement
Literacy instruction for Pasifika students
Chapter summary
Chapter 4: The Ako Conceptual Framework
Chapter overview
The Ako Conceptual Framework
Defining the term ‘ako’
Proposed fundamental concepts
Micro and macro levels
The fundamental concepts of the Ako Conceptual Framework
Metaphorical representations of the ancient art of Tongan navigation
in moana voyages
Metaphorical representations of the kalia
Chapter summary
Chapter 5: Results from Phase One
Chapter overview
The research design
Data collection
Data analysis
Chapter summary
Chapter 6: Results from Phase One
Chapter overview
STAR reading achievement in Phase One
Principals: Knowledge and beliefs in Phase One
Tongan bilingual teachers: Knowledge and beliefs in Phase One
Chapter summary
Chapter 7: Results from Phase Two
Chapter overview
The development and implementation of the two new vocabulary boards ….
STAR reading achievement in Phase One and Phase Two
Collaborative discussions in Phase Two
The semi-structured interviews with Tongan bilingual teachers in Phase Two
Teacher instruction and student participation in Phase One and Phase Two..
Chapter summary
Chapter 8: Discussion
Chapter overview
Links to research questions
Future prospects for research

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