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[Susan notes: ]

Submitted to Wall Street Journal but not published

To the editor

E. D. Hirsch asserts, "On average, students don't know the words they need to flourish as learners, earners or citizens." I think it would be very interesting to see a list of those words.

Hirsch makes an important point: Students don't learn new words by studying vocabulary lists. But after that, he blows it.

E.D. Hirsch is right when he asserts that we acquire vocabulary through reading ( Vocabulary declines, with unspeakable results, Dec. 12). He is right when he states that background knowledge helps us understand what we read and thereby stimulates vocabulary development. But his insistence that this reading must be non-fiction is not supported by empirical research.

Study after study shows that self-selected reading, or "free voluntary reading," results in profound development not only of vocabulary, but also of writing style, grammar, and spelling. It also results in knowledge of a wide variety of subjects. This provides the foundation for making academic texts more comprehensible.

Free voluntary reading often includes non-fiction, but for most people, a great deal of it is fiction.

If we are in fact suffering from a vocabulary gap, the solution is better access to a wide range of reading material: more support for libraries, especially for children of poverty, who typically have little access to books at home, at school, and in their communities.

Some sources

Self-selected reading and vocabulary, grammar, spelling, writing style:

McQuillan, J. 1998. The literacy crisis: False claims and real solutions. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Krashen, S. 2004. The Power of Reading. Heineman and Libraries Unlimited.

Krashen, S 2011. Free Voluntary Reading. Libraries Unlimited.

Lee, S. Y. 2005. Facilitating and inhibiting factors on EFL writing: A model testing with SEM. Language Learning 55 (2), 335-374.

Reading and knowledge:

e.g. Stanovich, K., West, R., and Harrison, M. 1995. Knowledge growth and maintenance across the life span: The role of print exposure. Developmental Psychology 31 (5): 811- 826.

Libraries and literacy development:

Krashen, S., Lee, SY., and McQuillan, J. 2012. Is the library important? Multivariate studies at the national and international level. Journal of Language and Literacy Education, 8(1)? 26-36.

Lance, K. C. The Impact of School Libraries on Student Achievement. http://www.lrs.org/impact.php

Poverty and access to books:

Allington, R., S. Guice, K. Baker, N. Michaelson, and S. Li. 1995. Access to books: Variations in schools and classrooms. The Language and Literacy Spectrum 5: 23-25.

Neuman, S., and D. Celano. 2001. Access to print in low-income and middle income communities. Reading Research Quarterly 36(1): 8-26.

Stephen Krashen

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