S3-09. Deconstructing the Rope: Vocabulary with Nancy Hennessy

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This is a podcast episode titled, S3-09. Deconstructing the Rope: Vocabulary with Nancy Hennessy. The summary for this episode is: <p>Join Nancy Hennessy, past president of the International Dyslexia Association, as she unwinds vocabulary, a strand of Scarborough’s Reading Rope. In the latest episode of our <em>Deconstructing the Rope</em> series, Nancy defines the role of vocabulary and elaborates on the nuanced structures of comprehension in literacy instruction. She also highlights how to explicitly teach vocabulary to students through her research-backed, four-pronged approach. </p><p><b> Quotes:</b></p><p>&quot;Every one of the strands of the rope is important. If any strand frays, then reading is in jeopardy. &quot;</p><p>&quot;Vocabulary instruction is really getting our students interested in words as the building blocks of our language.&quot; </p><p><b>Resources</b>:</p><p><a href='https://www.amazon.com/Reading-Comprehension-Blueprint-Helping-Students/dp/1681254034'>The Reading Comprehension Blueprint: Helping Students Make Meaning from Text</a> by Nancy Hennessy</p><p><a href='http://www.danielwillingham.com/'>Daniel Willingham–Science &amp; Education</a> <br/><br/>Want to discuss the episode? Join our <a href='https://www.facebook.com/groups/729021010879697/?fref=mentions&amp;__xts__%5B0%5D=68.ARB19MDO9h2XaT7NPmdurqUcIWKdw-c7A4FN3ttABBPKJJHh50fSJjSNGgMr10PjyDcNVduxzexsP75fRdm00AVrPj36IqIWQn-ChVnpYFI0y5htYV0OIujQH0pW7HU8W4GDE0f7v3tHJQnFcSj9IFMcsUNuouMltvOZ97ixorSJI5_2h7X9_TDh12ng-Njx1V85Rnzu38AZv3XFMl_qml392W7jzH7Fw8Vs_JyvNolAmRgWqdIdAyqEKho2WQgoAoXANVgWto8wyZSpVikJdzwgrYmlIR120zQ8V4yI5_eDTI9GN_GYiU6SswHclY45l7IMEiSkMnKKiWyAefpUVc2ilg&amp;__tn__=K-R'>Facebook group <em>Science of Reading: The Community</em></a>.</p>
We Are the Sum of All Our Teachers
00:52 MIN
Comprehension is More Than the Product
00:43 MIN
Cognitive and Linguistic Processes
00:50 MIN
Why Differentiating Between Language and Reading Comprehension is Important
00:59 MIN
What We Need to be Able to Acquire New Information
00:58 MIN
We Need to be Content Focused
00:58 MIN
Four Pronged Approach to Vocabulary
01:12 MIN
Nancy's Reflection
02:19 MIN

Susan Lambert: How do we help students become confident readers and what do all our students need so they can enjoy reading success, especially during this unprecedented time? Welcome to season three of Science Of Reading, the podcast. I'm your host, Susan Lambert. This season, we're celebrating the 20th anniversary of Scarborough's Reading Rope, a model that helps us understand the complexities of learning to read and helps us focus on evidence- based practices. Each episode we'll cover elements of the model, what it means and how it should impact classroom instruction. We've lined up a dream team of Science of Reading experts we think you'll really love. The Science of Reading movement continues to grow and at a time that is more important than ever. It's vital we focus on research based practices to deliver classroom instruction that allows students to learn. If they aren't learning, we need to examine our practices. We may not know what changes are coming next, but we do know we need to stay connected and learning from each other will get us through it. The more we learn and listen, the more we'll be prepared to lead. Our students are counting on us. For those of you who are anxious to dig into the comprehension side of the simple view of reading, today will be a real treat. Nancy Hennessy, long- time practitioner, professional development expert, and Science of Reading curious, joins me to talk about both comprehension and vocabulary. She is the author of the much anticipated book, The Reading Comprehension Blueprint and brings a depth of knowledge to this topic that I find both useful and inspiring. This episode is packed with helpful information, so get your number two sharpened and your favorite notebook. Well, hello, Nancy, thank you so much for joining us on our episode today.

Nancy Hennessy: Well, I'm very grateful to have the opportunity to speak with you, Susan, and to share my thoughts on comprehension with your listeners.

Susan Lambert: We are really excited to hear about that. We'll talk a little bit about the new book that came out, but before we jump into that, we always love to hear a little bit about you and how you came to be really deeply curious about the science of reading.

Nancy Hennessy: Yeah, well, I've worked with students in both public and private setting for a very long time from the classroom to central office, across grade levels and in regular and special education. And along the way, I realized that I didn't necessarily have the tools to serve those students that I was working with, or even the teachers that I was supervising or providing professional development for. And so that really set me on a journey of looking for answers. And initially I found those answers in the Orton Dyslexia Society, now the International Dyslexia Association.

Susan Lambert: Interesting.

Nancy Hennessy: Yeah. I interacted there with individuals like Louisa Moats, Jack Fletcher, and Racine Dyckman, Reed Lyon, and I mean, I could go on and on. And so, those individuals represented multi- disciplinary aspects or perspectives and it allowed me to go deeper into why we do what we do, the science of reading. Very fortunate.

Susan Lambert: You had some great conversations with some really important folks that sort of led the way in this work.

Nancy Hennessy: I did and I spent a good number of years involved with the IDA, I'm a past president of the organization. So I had these phenomenal opportunities to get to know not only their research, their work, but to get to know them personally and recognize how committed so many individuals are to the science.

Susan Lambert: Yeah. A real passion there. Well, this led you, too, to this idea of comprehension. We were talking before I hit record, I was so excited for this book to come out, The Blueprint For Reading Comprehension Instruction. I know when it came out, it sort of went viral IN the social media world, people were talking about it. What is it that really motivated you to bring these ideas to print?

Nancy Hennessy: Well, thank you for asking me that. As I worked with teachers across the year and when I left public school, I worked as a consultant. My focus really was word recognition, but then I had the opportunity, a wonderful opportunity, to work with Louisa Moats as a national letters trainer, and thinking about comprehension and speaking with educators, interacting with them, I came to the realization that I knew very little about comprehension and comparison to word recognition and I wasn't alone. And so my work with letters, I was fortunate enough that when Louisa asked me to coauthor the second edition of the module on comprehension, that work with letters really provided the catalyst for me to dig deeply into the research around reading comprehension, the work of individuals like Chuck Perfetti, Hollis Scarborough, certainly Gough and Tunmer, Hugh Catts, I mean, I could go... Walter Kinch, I could go on and on. And that influenced, then, the writing of that particular edition of letters. But it also served really, as it served as the means for me to begin to think about what else did teachers need to know about comprehension? What was I learning that I wanted to share with them? And so I began to develop individual workshops that were very much aligned with the strands of the Reading Rope and based in the science. And that then led to a full day training, which I called The Blueprint. And by the way, the first iteration of The Blueprint was in that module, module six, but it certainly has evolved since then. And so the book was really born out of the work that I did with other educators. I have a friend and colleague who said to me," we are the sum of all our teachers." Well, I am the sum of all the teachers that I've interacted with. So I thought I need to do more with this because the teachers that, the educators I was working with and interacting with, they kept saying to me," Where's your book?" And I was like," Book?" I'd written some chapters and articles, but I certainly had never attempted a book. And I thought," Well, if they keep asking this, and I know from my work and my interactions with them, that comprehension is so complex and that we just haven't had access or we haven't had the emphasis on it perhaps that we've needed, that the book would be important." Yeah.

Susan Lambert: Yeah. And just a couple things for me that comes from that. First of all, the legacy that this is going to leave, right? So you can train and train and train, but this book in print is really a legacy for you of the work that you've done. And in some ways I would imagine that you look at this book, or I look at this book and I see these wonderful pages that you wrote. You probably look at this book and say," You have no idea that years of curiosity and learning that went into that," right?

Nancy Hennessy: Oh, that's very true. When people ask me," How long did it take you to write the book?" I can't even answer that question. So I love that you think of it as a legacy, and I have thought of it in that way, but I also recognize that we need to keep learning about comprehension. So I don't think this is the end of it. Whether someone else picks up and continues to write about this, and others certainly are doing that now, but I think that will be important, yeah. So I'm very grateful that educators are finding this a useful resource. I certainly wrote it thinking that it was so important one, for us to understand what the science is. That gives us the reason for why we do what we do. So that knowledge base has to drive informed instruction. So I wrote it with that intent that I would provide the science, but I would also provide practical information for educators.

Susan Lambert: Yeah. And that leads me to the second thing that this makes me think about, which is the dilemma a teacher faces. So I was in the classroom as well, mostly in third grade, but the dilemma a teacher faces when you realize," Oh, this student or this group of students is just not comprehending what they're reading." And it's like," What's the next step?" And for me as a teacher, it was, I don't know. I thought of comprehension as all of the things that the kids would do after they read a passage and didn't understand all that went into this idea of comprehension and what it is. So I wonder if you would just generally talk to us a little bit about what is reading comprehension. We've talked a lot about word recognition and automaticity, but not so much about comprehension. And I know that's a really big ask, but.

Nancy Hennessy: Yeah, yeah. Yeah. Well, I think, I think it's important for all of us to reflect on when we see students struggling if in fact they're able to work with the words within the text to read the words accurately and automatically, what is going on? And my experience has told me that when you ask educators what they think reading comprehension is, I think, Susan, you're right on what they begin to think about are those products, what they actually see their students able to do. But the reality is, comprehension is much more than the product. So, in thinking this through, the description that I like to use is the description that Ann Castles and her colleagues in a paper on ending the reading wars, the description that she provided. She begins by talking about the fact that reading comprehension is not a single entity that in fact it's quite complex. And so when we think about it, for those of us who comprehension is not a problem, it seems effortless, but the reality is that's extremely misleading. I think Kate, Catherine Snow talked about that, that this ability to get through words and to make meaning for many, just seems that it doesn't take that much effort. The reality is that I think it's Alan Cammie that said it's one of the most complex behaviors that humans engage in. So her description talks about the fact that it's not a single entity, that we can't rely on one unified model, and there are multiple models out there that we can certainly talk about, but she also indicates that it's the orchestrated product. Now, the product is what you were just referencing and what I was referencing, what we see the student capable of doing, their expression of understanding, the outcome, all right. But that product is only achieved through cognitive and linguistic processes. And so that's where I think many of us have not focused understanding in order to get that product, what do the processes look like? You don't get high quality products without high quality processes. So she talks about these cognitive and linguistic processes. And then also to be thinking a bit about the fact that as the reader comes to text, they're interacting with the text. So those processes are very dependent upon the processes that we engage in on the text itself, on our background knowledge, on our purpose, goals and so on. So for me, comprehension is all about this making of meaning, this constructing of a mental model, situation model. In other words, overall understanding of the text while you engage in using varied language capabilities and cognitive processes. Now that's pretty complex, I know. So I don't know. Do you want me to talk a little bit about what I mean by language processes?

Susan Lambert: I think so. And I think I'm going to go to, we've talked on this podcast a lot about our frame of references, the simple view of reading Scarborough's rope, this idea that reading proficiency as a product of both language comprehension and word recognition. And so sometimes I think that educators get mixed up between language comprehension and reading comprehension. We sometimes use those things similarly and there, and there is a nuanced difference. Can you talk a little bit about that?

Nancy Hennessy: Yeah. So when you step back and you think about this ability to extract and construct, meaning that's a simple way of thinking about comprehension, we know that we have to be able to certainly read those words accurately and automatically, but as Gough and Tunmer told us that second factor, and as Scarborough described in the rope language comprehension, that second factor has everything to do with language. I think that one of the things that we all as educators have to reflect upon is that literacy is very dependent upon language. And in fact, it's Catherine Snow again, who said literacy is a secondary system to language. And so as educators, we need to know a great deal about it. When we think about language comprehension, we're really thinking about oral language, all right, or spoken language. This ability to either listen to, or to hear someone read and then listen to a book and make sense of the spoken word, right? The difference here between, then language comprehension, oral presentation, and reading comprehension is the ability then to extract and construct meaning from what is represented then in print. All right. So we have a responsibility, I think, as educators to translate, then, for our students, these varied language systems, oral language, to help them make that translation then to the printed word. And when we talk about these language systems, we're talking in terms of comprehension, things such as semantics, the meanings of the words and phrases, syntax, this ability to make sense out of sentence structure, discourse, this ability to use the way that our conversation, and then ultimately text is organized up into paragraphs and overall text and so on. The other thing I think really critical in terms of this differentiation between linguistic or language comprehension and reading comprehension is that language is very predictive of early on, very predictive of... Hugh Catts, Scarborough, many have told us this. It's very predictive of what students are going to be able to do in terms of making meaning as early as preschool, and then predictive for instance, of ability to read and make meaning, third grade. Lastly, I would just say this, that one of the things that we have learned is once students are able to read the words accurately and automatically, ultimately their ability to extract and construct meaning from print is very dependent upon language comprehension, on these language systems that have been built over time.

Susan Lambert: So I'm thinking about a classroom teacher listening to this right now and saying," All right, well, I kind of get what instruction should look like to help them access the printed word," but we should be actively developing language comprehension from when students come to us and continuing that work. How is it that we focus on that?

Nancy Hennessy: Yeah, well, I think when we think about oral language, we have to be thinking about how we develop oral language capabilities from early on. Oftentimes I think about the Reading Rope and the upper strands of the Reading Rope, and we've put a great deal of emphasis on the lower strand, certainly in the early grades. And we need to do that so that students become proficient in of word recognition. But at the same time, we need to be developing their language systems, for instance, through read alouds. We can't wait. We can't wait until they actually are proficient with word recognition to give them access to texts that allow for them to develop these systems, academic levels, academic language, more sophisticated language than what we use in our everyday language. The other thing is, we have a responsibility, I think, as educators to surround our students with language and to give them opportunity to use that language throughout the day.

Susan Lambert: It's a great reminder of those interactions that need to start early, but also need to continue because I think... I hope I'm communicating this right, but language comprehension, unlike word recognition, language comprehension is something that continues to grow throughout our lifetime.

Nancy Hennessy: Yes. And thank you for bringing that up, Susan. That's absolutely so. So oftentimes we think about word recognition once we're able to understand how words work and the structure of words and so on. We certainly continue to build on our ability to recognize words. But the reality is that language, whether we're talking about vocabulary or working with complex sentences or background knowledge, that continues to grow over time dependent upon the experiences that we have both in our life and in our academic settings.

Susan Lambert: Yeah. Well, this takes me back, just a side comment, takes me back to your curiosity to learn more about comprehension. Certainly your background knowledge and vocabulary grew as you were diving deep into crosstalk

Nancy Hennessy: Well, that's the truth. And oftentimes when we talk about what's the ultimate goal here in terms of comprehension, we talk about things like the mental model or the situation model, which for me, is this overall understanding that we can bring fall with each time we encounter, it's a very similar to background knowledge, isn't it, each time we encounter a particular topic. And so oftentimes when I'm working with teachers within the blueprint, I'll say to them," Well, how has your mental model now, how has your understanding of comprehension changed as a result of this interaction?" And so you're right. I had many interactions and I'm still learning about comprehension. I have not finished. So learning truly is our work. Yeah.

Susan Lambert: Yeah. That's for sure. And I just, I love that idea that there's really no end goal when we're talking about the development of language, there's no end goal, you're only limited by your own curiosity.

Nancy Hennessy: Yeah. And there is this wonderful kind of reciprocal relationship, I think, between language comprehension and reading comprehension. So the more we read, the more we acquire and increase our language comprehension. That's the point.

Susan Lambert: That's a really important point because it's bringing it back to early literacy development, that is the goal for word recognition and automaticity is to get kids into text so that they then can grow that.

Nancy Hennessy: Yeah. I read somewhere that really, the simple view really represents this understanding that children can comprehend when they're able to accurately and fluently translate print into the language they can understand. So, yeah.

Susan Lambert: Yeah. That's interesting. Well, let's go back to this comprehension blueprint, which I've got this book in my hand right now and, and for our listeners, we'll link this in the show notes so that they can go buy it if they haven't already.

Nancy Hennessy: Thank you.

Susan Lambert: But you, actually take Scarborough's language comprehension side and sort of unpack it chapter by chapter by chapter. I'd love to talk about all of them, but we don't have the time to do that. We recently did an episode about background knowledge and in this episode, we want to dig into a little bit about vocabulary, but I'd like you to orient us a little bit, background knowledge, and then the vocabulary connection before we sort of dive into vocabulary.

Nancy Hennessy: Yeah. Well, certainly when we begin to think about that background knowledge or knowledge itself, I think it's Marilyn Adams that said," Knowledge is the medium for understanding," so we really can't come to text and understand what texts presents without background knowledge. If we think of this in a very broad way, we can think about our knowledge of all these different strands of the rope. We can think about our knowledge of vocabulary, syntax, and so on. We also can think about it in terms of general knowledge. And there's certainly been an emphasis recently on the fact that we seem to have neglected knowledge, that there's been an overemphasis, some would feel, on skills and strategies rather than recognizing that, and I think it's Willingham who said something like it's really about vocabulary and knowledge that has much more of an impact on our ability to understand than skills and strategies. So, in order for us to acquire new information, we need mental Velcro, right? We need something for it to stick to in order for us to remember information, we need knowledge networks that we can connect to and store that information and really to approach any problem from not a novice, and I was a novice in terms of comprehension initially, but from a more, I'll say a more expert point of view, we need our knowledge as well. And that's the thinking of Daniel Willingham, certainly others like Susan Newman, ED Hirsch, Marilyn Adams, have pointed to the fact that our students, aren't going to be able to work with text and deeply understand text, make inference, for instance, without knowledge. Now I do differentiate between kind of the general knowledge and then specifically knowledge that's necessary to work with the content at hand. And I think that that's also important for us to be thinking about. So, I think teachers, when they prepare text, and this is a part of the blueprint, they need to step back and they need to ask themselves questions about what is it that their students need to know in order to work with the text, how will they activate and/ or assess what it is that their students know, how would they go about building that knowledge base when necessary? And then how will they support the connection or integration of that knowledge with the text itself so that students can make meaning. We've really underestimated the importance of knowledge and it's absolutely critical if in fact we want deeper understanding. So.

Susan Lambert: I think it was Susan Newman who said," Not only have we underestimated the importance of it, we have underestimated students' interest in it."

Nancy Hennessy: Oh yeah. Yeah. I think that's the truth. And I do know her work and I know she talks about some principles in terms of knowledge, including even presenting students with content that may seem a little more difficult for them, but scaffolding and supporting their exploration of that content. And I think for me, that makes a connection then to the kinds of texts that we ask our students to read. So I think what kids read really matters. I talk about this in the book. I think we have to keep in mind that are decodable on our level texts. Particularly our decodable texts serve a very important purpose in terms of developing word recognition skills, but their purpose was not to develop those language comprehension strands of the rope or linguistic comprehension. So giving our students access to texts that may seem a little more difficult for them. I think the other thing we have to be thinking about is not only what kids read matters, but also that they should be reading for learning. And so one of the things that I addressed again within The Blueprint is our purpose for reading. Yes, we need to develop literacy skills. Yes, we need these language comprehension capabilities in place, but we also need to be content focused. And so for me, comprehension goals have to include content goals as well as literacy skill goals. I think that's really critical. And then this opportunity for students to keep coming back to and reviewing and delving more deeply into the content, through the use of thematic units, topical readings and so on. It's really, really important topic, yeah.

Susan Lambert: It is. And it's a great segue into the idea of vocabulary because I think for years and years and years, all teachers know that developing a student's vocabulary is really important, right? People that have broad vocabularies are... They can comprehend better and they can use words better. They can communicate their ideas more efficiently and effectively. But this connection between background knowledge and vocabulary is often missing. So you can't use a vocabulary word if you don't have some background knowledge of the content that you're trying to talk about. So in your book, when you are on the chapter of the vocabulary blueprint, you actually take some time to define what vocabulary is, which kind of seems like," Oh, why do we have to define vocabulary?" But it was really, really instructive for me. So I would love if you talk a little bit about your definition of vocabulary and why it's important.

Nancy Hennessy: Yeah. Well, I did think a lot about this because I think oftentimes when we, now, or even in the past have thought about vocabulary, we immediately connected to a definition. And so it's so much more than that. It really is, as I described in the book, it's our lexicon, it's our knowledge of word meaning, whether we know words in what I would consider a surface way or a deep way, but it's our knowledge of word meaning that we can use for varied purposes. So I talk about our lexicon, our mental dictionary as being used for both receptive and expressive purposes. I think that's really critical for us to be thinking about. Receptive, in terms of listening and reading and then expressive, certainly in terms of speaking and writing. So, how we go about defining vocabulary then is going to really direct and inform, not so much direct, but inform the way we think about our instruction. So the other aspect of defining or describing vocabulary that I think is important is that we recognize that there's a difference between breadth and depth. All right. And I can remember reading an article by, I believe it was Rick Wagner, Tanenbaum Wagner, and another colleague a number of years ago in which they addressed breadth versus depth than I had never thought about vocabulary in this way. So breadth having to do with all the words that we more or less recognize, the size of our vocabulary. All right. And more often than not, when we think about breadth, we think about recognizing those words because they're within a context that helps to support the recognition. Depth has everything to do with how many words we actually own, or our richness of knowledge, those words that we can use, not only receptively, but also expressively and the more interaction we have with word, the deeper our knowledge base. So, when we think about this ability to express understanding, to use precise language, and I love that in the Reading Rope, Scarborough talks a bit or in the descriptor of the strand for vocabulary. She indicates the importance of breadth and depth and precision. In order to use words precisely we really have to have a depth of knowledge. And then the other aspect that when I talked about what vocabulary is, is thinking about, well, how do you acquire vocabulary? How does this happen for us? And again, this has implication for instructional design, and we know that we acquire the meaning of words over time, bit by bit, it's incremental. And so I think I talked a little bit about young children, think about those little ones that we know who seem to pick up on every word that they hear, and we call that slow, fast mapping, but unless they continue to have experiences with those words so that they can slow map them into their lexicon, they kind of go away. But anyway, it's bit by bit, and so continued exposure and use to word. The other thing, recognizing a definition alone is not sufficient because words are interrelated and this has everything to do with background knowledge, doesn't it?

Susan Lambert: Yeah.

Nancy Hennessy: So, we're storing words in networks of meaning. And so, when we hear a word now like comprehension, what comes to mind? What's within that network what's related to that particular meaning and where it's a part of what someone has called this interlocking system of meaning, and then the multidimensional aspects. So the fact that if we know where it's well, when we teach vocabulary, we should be teaching because although strands of the rope kind of interconnect, we should be teaching the phonology, the orthography, the meaning, certainly, the syntax and all of the ways that words can be used in varied contexts for instance. So, yeah, so it's much more complex. I guess I began by saying comprehension is complex, so is vocabulary. It's much more complex than simply saying," Well, this is a definition, vocabulary equals knowing the meaning. We're defining a word." We know much more than that when we know words well.

Susan Lambert: And so when a teacher is thinking about vocabulary instruction and how to effectively organize it for students, there is a lot of thinking about not just the text that's being used, but the words that are being identified as well as the group of students that that teacher is actually presenting that vocabulary too.

Nancy Hennessy: Yeah. Yeah. So I think that it's really important that we differentiate between what we would consider a basic vocabulary. What Isabel Beck called tier one words, words that we commonly know, and then those words that we need to know in order to work with texts. As educators, we need to be cognizant of the fact that when students move into text for reading purposes in third and fourth grade, for instance, they're going to encounter academic language. Now, if they've been listening to read alouds that are age and grade appropriate or rich children's literature, they've already encountered academic language, more sophisticated vocabulary, syntax, discourse structures, and so on, orally. But now they're going to encounter it in print. And so we have to make good decisions about where our students are at and how we can build on what it is that they know and when they don't have basic understanding of word, meaning you need to build that, and then from there move into more sophisticated understandings of words. So within The Blueprint, I certainly talk about different ways of thinking about vocabulary instruction. And of course, everything within The Blueprint that represents informed instruction is based on what the research and the literature tells us we should be using. So it's maybe my interpretation or my way of describing, but I do want educators to recognize that the science drove The Blueprint and you're right, the strands of the Reading Rope certainly are represented as well as the work of many others. So vocabulary, I suggest that we take a four pronged approach. It's based on the work of individuals like Graves and Beck and others. And that four pronged approach includes what I call intentional instruction, incidental on purpose instruction, and independent, intentional teaching of independent word learning strategies, and then the development of word consciousness. And those approaches are really, those approaches are based on the fact that we know we need to explicitly teach words, all right, but we also need to continue developing through oral experience and through reading the student's vocabulary, because we can't teach all the meanings of the words that our students need to know. And then we also need to give our students tools for when they encounter words while they're reading independently, tools that allow for them to determine what the meanings of those words are. Things such as morphology, the use of morphology or context clues, or even accessing glossaries, in hand or online, and then just continuing to work with them, to get them to see the value of, to get excited about word meaning.

Susan Lambert: Yeah. I'd like to explore that a little bit because, we could talk about all four of those elements, but I think the one that I want to just probe a little bit on is this idea of word consciousness, because I found that reading through this and reflecting on what motivated my students when I was in the classroom, I found that to be really an approach that could draw students in and sort of develop this curiosity. So can you explain a little bit about that element?

Nancy Hennessy: Yeah. So I think it's not an isolated approach necessarily. It certainly can overlap with these three other ways of thinking about vocabulary instruction, but it's really getting our students interested in words as, what I call, the building blocks of our language. And so that's true whether or not we're reading or writing we start with the word and then the interest in how they work and how they can be used to convey meaning. So there's many different things that we can be doing in terms of developing word meaning, working with figurative language, certainly. And I think our students find figurative language kind of fascinating. What does button your lip mean? Well, do you actually button your lip? And I'm not going to recall the name of the book at the moment, but I remember a number of years ago, a book written by a parent of child who was struggling with vocabulary in which she included illustrations of the actual, the meaning of button your lip.

Susan Lambert: Of the literal meaning.

Nancy Hennessy: Yes. The literal as well as the inferential meaning, yeah. So, and then of course getting kiddos to think about what's antonyms and synonyms? What's the difference between being tired or exhausted, for instance. Can we have some conversations about how precise language really plays a role in expressing meaning in varied ways? And then manipulations of words, palindromes, anagrams. Kids love those, word games and so on. So I think we can embed this excitement and understanding of how words play such an important role in our lives through individual activities, but also by integrating these activities into our intentional or incidental on purpose activities.

Susan Lambert: I love that. I love that phrase by the way, incidental on purpose.

Nancy Hennessy: Yeah, yeah. Well, Susan, I was really, I really was thinking about the fact that in many ways we do not have control over language development of our students, but there are some ways in which we do. And so knowing that oral language is particularly important, that until students can read independently themselves, it's the primary way that they acquire word meaning, knowing that. And then knowing that once they can read independently, that becomes a source. I had, I really just need to give some teachers an idea that I want them to explicitly teach word meaning. And there are certainly routines that are indicated in The Blueprint for doing that and activities, but I also want them to be thinking about what are some other ways that they can support the development of word meaning, getting them excited about words, but also increasing the exposure to word meaning. So that's why I included that, yeah.

Susan Lambert: I love it. Just infusing that into everything that you do throughout the day, just help students learn more, yeah.

Nancy Hennessy: Yeah. The one activity that I particularly, and really, it came from letters originally and then I and others have built off of it. One activity that I particularly love using with students is getting them to kind of search for words that they find interesting, intriguing words. What have been called$ 10 or$ 20 words, and that can start very, very early on with children, even in preschool and kindergarten. So, I think that we've thought about vocabulary in a rather straightforward, simplistic way, but the reality is if our students don't even know the meaning of words, then what's going to happen, where will they get stuck? Every one of the strands of the rope is important, any strand frayed, then reading's in jeopardy, but wow. These kind of main support beams I think, and in a comprehension house, are vocabulary and background knowledge. Yeah.

Susan Lambert: Yeah. Makes sense. Well, I'm going to encourage our listeners one more time, if you haven't had a chance to get this book, you need to get this book because it's so not only helpful in the background research of this, but the application. And it's just been great to have you on this episode, Nancy. Before we close. And I would just love for you to think about maybe one or two things you'd love our listeners to take away, to reflect on or to get curious about as it relates to either comprehension or vocabulary.

Nancy Hennessy: Yeah. Well, I think so important that we all continue on our learning journey. We have a responsibility, I've always believed this, we have a responsibility to teach our children how to read. And that means that we have to teach them not only to read words, but also to make meaning of the words. The journey, it really is, it's really never ending. So if we have that responsibility and of course they have the right to learn how to read, then we have to keep in mind that learning is our work, that professional learning doesn't end with a workshop, or as much as I love the podcasts and other webinars that I've attended. This is not the end, right, that we need to stay the course if in fact our students are going to be successful. So that's one thing I've always had a major commitment to professional learning. The second thing is that we need to know the science. So if in fact we're going to use a framework such as The Blueprint or another framework, we need to know that it's based in the science. So The Blueprint is a master plan. It's not a lesson organizer or a lesson plan. It does provide direction for how to design and deliver instruction in these varied areas. But most importantly, it's based in the science it's based on what we know at this particular point in time. And so we need to be consumers of the science. We need to make instructional decisions based on what research tells us. I remember a number of years ago, reading a quote in a book that was a follow- up to the national reading panel. The editors were Peggy McCardell and the Danita Chopra and the quote was," If not research, then what?" And so it's not that our experience doesn't count, but as Louisa has told us, we need explicit understanding. And that explicit understanding has to be based in the evidence.

Susan Lambert: That is a great message to end on. And we appreciate the work that went into, the learning that went into this book. Appreciate that you actually took the time to do it. And thank you so much for your work that you're continuing to do as we push the science further. So thank you again for being on this episode.

Nancy Hennessy: You're quite welcome, Susan, and thank you. And thanks to Amplify for providing opportunity, not only for me, but for others to share our thinking and for participants to hear us. So thank you.

Susan Lambert: Thanks for listening and keep your feedback coming. Do you want to learn more? Be sure to stay connected by subscribing on your favorite podcast app and join our Facebook discussion group, Science Of Reading, The Community. Visit amplify. com to check out all our free literacy events and upcoming Science Of Reading Symposium. Until next time, keep the hope, take the action and stay in touch.


Join Nancy Hennessy, past president of the International Dyslexia Association, as she unwinds vocabulary, a strand of Scarborough’s Reading Rope. In the latest episode of our Deconstructing the Rope series, Nancy defines the role of vocabulary and elaborates on the nuanced structures of comprehension in literacy instruction. She also highlights how to explicitly teach vocabulary to students through her research-backed, four-pronged approach. 


"Every one of the strands of the rope is important. If any strand frays, then reading is in jeopardy. "

"Vocabulary instruction is really getting our students interested in words as the building blocks of our language." 

Want to discuss the episode? Join our Facebook group Science of Reading: The Community.

Today's Host

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Susan Lambert

|Science of Reading: The Podcast Host

Today's Guests

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Nancy Hennessy

|M.Ed., LDT-C