Stockton program gives Spragg students a vocabulary boost

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EGG HARBOR CITY – A former student’s desire to give back to her home town is helping students at the Charles L. Spragg School learn how to read better and improve their chances for success in life.

“The first four grades are the most important for vocabulary development,” said Amy Hadley, an associate professor of speech pathology and audiology at the Richard Stockton College of New Jersey. “What they lose during those four years they can never really make up.”

Children will struggle during their middle and high school years, “if they don’t have the fundamentals by the time they are expected to be able to read complex sentence structures,” she said. From left are Amy Hadley, 51, of Galloway, an associate professor of speech pathology and audiology at the Richard Stockton College of New Jersey; and graduate students Paula Levick, 29, of Cedarville; Kelly Maslanik, 40, of Pittsgrove and Kristopher Cleary, 25, of Mays Landing.

Hadley, 51, of Galloway, attended the Spragg School when “Mr. Spragg was still the principal,” she said with a smile.

So five years ago, Hadley reached out to the Spragg School staff with an idea to help her students gain valuable field experience while assisting the school’s teachers with vocabulary lessons.

They would provide one-on-one reading help with students who struggled with vocabulary, she said.

“Many students don’t want to admit they don’t know a word,” said Kristopher Cleary, 25, of Mays Landing. “So if they stumble over it while they are reading it out loud, I can help them with it.”

Hadley found the Spragg students needed the most help in learning multi-meaning words such as table, roll or bulb.

Last fall, the Stockton students tested the Spragg children using the Montgomery Assessment of Vocabulary Acquisition system and will retest students next fall to see the amount of improvement.

This year they continued reading to the students, but used an approach designed to help the children maximize their ability to learn new words.

A group of three Stockton students upped the ante by creating a research project designed to help students in grades one through four improve their vocabulary by as much as 15 percent.

Cleary, and fellow masters students Kelly Maslanik of Pittsgrove and Paula Levick of Cedarville, developed a training video to direct Stockton students on how to read and talk about confusing words to their Spragg students.

“Studies have shown that by reading to children you can increase their vocabulary by 15 percent,” Cleary said. “We are using an amusing book series called the ‘Amelia Bedelia’ book series in addition to workbooks and activities.”

In the book series, Amielia Bedelia, the main character, makes amusing mistakes when she misunderstands words that have more than one meeting, Cleary said.

In one story Bedelia mistakenly calls on her classmates to bring out their lunch rolls when her teacher asks her to call attendance instead.

When a reader gets to a multi-meaning word, he or she will stop on the word, show a picture and talk about the word with the children, Cleary said.

“We want to teach them new words on multiple levels,” said Maslanik, 40. “We want to show them pictures and talk about the word.”

The Stockton students will present their findings at the American Speech Hearing Language Association’s national convention next November in Atlanta.

“You almost feel like a professional,” Cleary said. “It’s more than just bouncing ideas around and off of each other. You are working together as a group.”

The Spragg students seem to like their Stockton advisors.

“They respect us,” Maslanik said. “They are excited to have us there.”

The program also benefits Stockton students, “who gain valuable research experience,” Hadley said.

Last year more than 30 members of Stockton’s speech and hearing club read to Spragg school students, Hadley said.

She suggested that adults can help children learn more words by talking to them while they do even the simplest of tasks, such as making dinner, for example.

“Talk to your children about what you are doing,” she said. “Describe it. Tell them about the steps. If you are making bread, talk about folding and kneading it. Talk about how if feels.”




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