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Teacher talking with pupils Learn more about the VIAS project.

Learn more about the common research framework behind the VIAS subprojects and cores.

Resource Corner


Vocabulary Instruction and Assessment for Spanish Speakers (VIAS)


The VIAS program of research is comprised of four research subprojects, an administrative core, and a research core.

Subproject 1: Predicting Spanish-Speaking Children’s Growth in Reading: PreK through 7th Grade

Principal Investigator: Nonie Lesaux, Harvard University

Subproject 1, which began in 2001, investigates the development of English reading comprehension for 200 Spanish-speaking language minority learners in the United States, followed from age 4 to age 14. The longitudinal design enables the examination of change and growth over time in language and reading. Noteworthy findings focus on a striking reader profile: one with average levels of word reading and very low vocabulary and reading comprehension. The large, persistent gaps in vocabulary against national norms are juxtaposed against a rate of growth in vocabulary that is on par with national norms, highlighting the mismatch between developmental needs and instruction.

Subproject 2: Early Childhood Intervention Study—Improving the Language and Literacy Skills of Spanish-English Bilingual Kindergartners

Principal Investigator: Mariela Páez, Boston College

Subproject 2 is a longitudinal intervention study that compares the oral language proficiency and literacy development of kindergarteners from Spanish-speaking backgrounds participating in either an English classroom intervention, a Spanish home intervention linked to English classroom intervention, or no intervention. The goals of the study are to design and implement an intervention program that improves the vocabulary and extended discourse skills of bilingual Spanish–English kindergarten students and to assess the impact of the intervention on their early literacy development. This study differs from previous work of its kind in that it matches English language development in classrooms with Spanish language development in the home. Preliminary findings indicate that, on average, students could identify more vocabulary words instructed as part of the intervention at post-assessment compared with performance at pre-assessment. In addition, parents participating in the intervention responded very positively to the program and increased their language and literacy activities at home.

Subproject 3: Developing English Vocabulary in Spanish-Speaking English-Language Learners

Principal Investigator: Diane August, Center for Applied Linguistics
Co-Investigators: Coleen Carlson and Chris Barr, University of Houston; Paola Uccelli, Harvard University

The goals of Subproject 3 are to explore the vocabulary development of primary grade English language learners (ELLs) and their English-proficient peers by developing an assessment of vocabulary knowledge that indicates how well students at these grade levels know words that appear frequently in grade-level reading material, and by designing and evaluating two interventions focused on improving students’ vocabulary knowledge of high-frequency words that children at these grades have not yet acquired. Findings to date indicate that all students have the most difficulty acquiring conceptually complex words and that first language vocabulary knowledge helps ELLs understand English words when those words are cognates.

Subproject 4, Linked IES Research Project: Content-Based Vocabulary Instruction: Using Cognates to Promote the Vocabulary Development of Native Spanish Speakers

Principal Investigator: Igone Arteagoitia, Center for Applied Linguistics
Co-Investigator: Elizabeth Howard, University of Connecticut

This study investigates the effects of two cognate-based interventions on the development of literacy skills among Spanish-speaking adolescent students. The two approaches both focus on the same target words and employ the same research-based pedagogical strategies, but one approach (monolingual) is delivered solely in English and does not make any reference to the fact that all target words are cognates, while the second approach (cross-linguistic) makes this fact explicit and introduces the Spanish counterparts of target words as well as related roots and affixes. Having these two experimental conditions allows for investigation of the differential effects of the two approaches on participants’ vocabulary and reading comprehension skills and the extent to which these effects may vary as a function of instructional history, home language and literacy exposure, and/or students’ current levels of English and Spanish oral proficiency and literacy ability as measured by pretests. Preliminary findings indicate that most students in the monolingual condition do not make cognate connections on their own, but students in both groups make comparable gains in their mastery of taught words.

Core A: Administration

Principal Investigator: Diane August, Center for Applied Linguistics
Co-Principal Investigator: Catherine Snow, Harvard University
Co-Investigators: Donna Christian and Annette Zehler, Center for Applied Linguistics

The VIAS Administrative Core provides liaison between NICHD and the project’s researchers, facilitates coordination across the sub-projects, and provides support for the Research Core’s work with the subprojects on development of cross-project analyses, to help ensure that the goals of the overall program of research are addressed.

Core B: Research and Assessment

Principal Investigators: Diane August and Dorry Kenyon, Center for Applied Linguistics

The Research Core helps select common instruments for the four projects; develops new assessments, questionnaires, and protocols for the projects; maintains a cross-project database; analyzes data collected across the projects; reports on analyses of these data; and provides technical assistance to the projects in the areas of assessment and analysis. The Research Core is extending the work of the projects by developing an assessment of students’ general academic vocabulary (grades 1-8). It is also exploring approaches to testing depth of word knowledge and multi-word knowledge.

Vocabulary Improvement and Assessment of Spanish-speakers is supported by Grant No. 2 P01 HD39530-06 A2  from the Eunice Kennedy Schriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development and by Grant No. R305A070438 from the Institute of Education Sciences. However, the content of this Web site does not necessarily represent the positions or policies of these agencies, and you should not assume endorsement by the Federal Government.
Return to the VIAS main project page.