Acquisition of advanced vocabulary by five-year-old children : an experimental study
In a series of experiments, 275 five-year-old children were taught the meanings of difficult new words, without the use of referents, pictures or direct definitions. Carefully constructed stories formed the general context in which the local contexts containing the difficult words were embedded. Groups of children were matched for age, sex and passive verbal intelligence. Following a Pre-test each group heard one story per day, on ten consecutive school days, in either a five-year-old version or a ten-year old version. Some groups heard ten different stories, while others heard two stories read alternately. After this, Oral, Pointing and Pointing-oral Post-tests were given to each child individually. These were designed to reveal whether, and to what extent, the children had learned the meanings of the difficult words. Several methods of control were used to ensure that children were not learning the meanings of the difficult words from sources other than the stories. Important variables were found to be: (1) the clarity of the local contexts (2) the variety of the local contexts (3) the type of word (new label, or new concept) (4) the verbal I. Q. of the child (5) the level of difficulty of the stories (five-year-old version or ten-year-old version) (6) the variety of the stories heard (repetition) (7) the number of difficult words in a story (termed load) (8) the school which the children attended. The difference in Post-test performance between matched groups of children at different schools proved to be so pervasive a phenomenon that it was given additional attention. Errors made in defining the difficult words were analysed, and certain modes of problem solving were observed in both children and adults. The results of this experimental study support research from diverse fields, which demonstrates that learning is not merely a process of maturation, but can be accelerated and controlled by the manipulation of appropriate variables in the learning situation.