Hooked on vocabulary? FSU researcher will compare lessons to phonics

A new comprehensive early intervention program of vocabulary instruction developed at Florida State University may help young children who are at risk for delays in reading, language and academic development.

Howard Goldstein, the Donald M. Baer Professor and chair of the communication disorders department, received a $1.3 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Science to compare the vocabulary enhancement program that he and his students developed to phonics-based instruction at two elementary schools in high poverty areas of Tallahassee.

"This project will help determine the extent to which huge gaps in vocabulary development can be reduced through an automated, easy-to-implement supplement to reading instruction in the early grades," Goldstein said. "Our findings will have the potential of changing educational procedures in schools."

Called Project ILIAD (Independent Lexical Instruction and Development), the program involves daily vocabulary lessons to supplement ongoing classroom instruction. The taped 15- to 20-minute interactive lessons are presented in classroom "listening centers."

A total of 292 kindergarten and first-grade students from Sabal Palm and Oak Ridge Elementary schools in Tallahassee—most of whom have language delays or are at risk for language and literacy problems based on test scores—will be randomly divided into two groups and studied over the course of three years. One group will be assigned to the Project ILIAD curriculum and the other a phonics-based group.

Goldstein will measure the short-term effects of the ILIAD program by testing vocabulary knowledge, phonological awareness and decoding abilities. He will test long-term effects by using standardized measures of vocabulary, phonological processing, decoding fluency, reading comprehension, language and cognitive abilities, and academic achievement.