A recent study from Michigan-based researchers highlights the plight of students who enter kindergarten with less-developed vocabularies. As this Ed Week article points out, “By age 3 . . . youngsters from well-to-do families have a working vocabulary of 1,116 words, compared to 749 words for children in working-class families and 525 words for children on welfare.” The study demonstrates that this gap persists: “early-literacy instruction fails to overcome the verbal gaps between demographic groups,” as Core Knowledge Foundation founder E. D. Hirsch Jr. explains.
“It’s been one of the most resistant-to-change skills in early literacy,” says study coauthor Susan B. Neuman. “Generally, children come into school with vocabulary at one point and leave with vocabulary at the same point.”
Although the study did not target gifted students particularly, such findings may have implications for gifted programs. If children of poverty demonstrate more limited vocabularies and are unable to close the verbal gap, it may lead to difficulties in properly identifying gifted children from this socioeconomic group. Such difficulties could also apply to English language learners and other culturally diverse students.
Fortunately, there are resources to help strengthen vocabulary instruction. Dr. Kimberly’s Literacy Blog at Learning Unlimited offers 21 Digital Tools to Build Vocabulary and highlights 10 Characteristics of Effective Vocabulary Instruction. Sarah Ressley Wright’s Vocab Gal blog also offers helpful resources for strengthening students’ vocabulary. Meanwhile, for more information on identifying culturally diverse students, see our book Identifying and Serving Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Gifted Students.