Definitions Project

Funding Agency:

Institute of Educational Sciences (IES)

Description of the Project:

This project examines how word definitions, contextual support, and cognate status affect fourth grade Spanish-speaking English learners’ (EL) understanding of unfamiliar words in text. The use of dictionary definitions is a ubiquitous practice in EL instruction, yet, the field lacks experimental work that isolates and tests the effect of dictionary definitions on EL vocabulary learning. The value of definitions as supports for independent learning has been brought into question in research with monolingual English speakers. However, a meta-analysis on the value of testing accommodations for ELs indicates that provision of an English dictionary is an effective accommodation for measuring ELs’ reading comprehension performance in testing situations (Kieffer, Lesaux, Rivera, & Francis, 2009). We propose two measurement studies and two experiments to answer the following research questions:

  1. Do English definitions increase fourth grade Spanish-speaking ELs’ receptive knowledge of English words and understanding of their meaning in text relative to a no support condition?  Is the effect moderated by English language proficiency?
  2. Do Spanish definitions increase fourth grade Spanish-speaking ELs’ receptive knowledge of English words and understanding of their meaning in text relative to a no support condition and/or English definitions?  Is the effect moderated by Spanish language proficiency?
  3. Does ability to use definition information vary as a function of contextual support? Is the effect of context moderated by English proficiency?
  4. Does ability to use definition information vary as a function of cognate status? Is the effect of cognate status moderated by Spanish proficiency?

Participants:

We will recruit 1032 fourth grade Spanish-speaking ELs from 48 YMCA after-school programs affiliated to Miami-Dade County Public Schools (MDCPS) to participate in two measurement studies and two experiments. 

Sites:

University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) and the University of Miami 

Timeline:

2015-2019