Letter to the Editor, Published in the "Feedback" section of the School Library Journal, 59, 8:8-9. 2013.
Paige Jaeger ("Vulcanizing Vocabulary," June 13) acknowledges the contribution of reading to vocabulary growth, but suggests that we need more; we need to require "challenging nonfiction," "integrate academic vocabulary into our classes" and add word games.
We don't need more. School librarians know how to help students develop a large vocabulary: Provide a collection of engaging, comprehensible books, and help readers find the right books for them.
Studies show that when interesting and comprehensible books are available, young people read them, and that self-selected reading results in profound development of literacy, including vocabulary. Dedicated pleasure readers acquire thousands of words each year through reading, far more than they could from direct instruction programs or word games.
It is sometimes argued that voluntary reading may not include "the right stuff." We know, however, that dedicated pleasure readers typically choose more different kinds of reading and more complex reading as they mature (L. LaBrant, 1958, “An evaluation of free reading.” Hunnicutt and Iverson (Eds.), Research in the Three R’s. Harper and Brothers.). In fact, students involved in reading eventually choose what experts have decided were “good books” (R. Schoonover, 1938, “The case for voluminous reading.” English Journal 27, 114-118.
Also, even though different kinds of writing are written in different styles there is substantial overlap; anyone who reads deeply in any area will acquire a great deal of the academic style, enough to make a considerable amount of academic reading comprehensible. A student who has read extensively from books such as Fear Street, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Harry Potter, and Hunger Games will have a much easier time with a New York Times editorial than one who has not done a lot of this kind of reading. Self-selected reading is the bridge between conversational and academic language.
Jaeger notes that "Within the CCSS framework, everyone is in the vocabulary business." Librarians were in the vocabulary business long before the common core, and have been the most important part of it. Young people get a lot of their reading material from libraries, and for those living in poverty, the library is often their only source of books.