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13 Jan 2021

Features of Known and Unknown Words for First Graders of Different Proficiency Levels in Winter and Spring

Elfrieda H. Hiebert, Yukie Toyama, & Robin Irey

Journal Article

Hiebert, E. H., Toyama, Y., & Irey, R. (2020). Features of known and unknown words for first graders of different proficiency levels in winter and spring. Education Sciences, 10(12), 389.

Known Unknown Image

This study describes the features of words known and unknown by first graders of different proficiency levels in six instances of an oral reading fluency assessment: three in winter and three in spring. A sample of 411 students was placed into four groups (very high, high, middle, and low) based on their median correct words per minute in spring. Each word in the assessment was coded on 11 features: numbers of phonemes, letters, syllables, blends, morphemes, percentages of multisyllabic and of morphologically complex words, concreteness, age of acquisition, decodability, and U function. Words were classified as known if more than 50% of the students within a group were able to correctly read those words. Features of known and unknown words were contrasted for all but the highest group, which made no errors, at each point in time. An analysis of the patterns of known words across groups from winter to spring shows that students followed a similar general progression in the number and type of words recognized. The most prominent feature of unknown words in winter and spring for the middle group of students was the presence of multiple syllables. The lowest-performing group of students continued to be limited by word length and frequency in their recognition of words, but on both features, their proficiency increased from winter to spring. The discussion addresses several critical issues, most notably the relationship of words in oral reading assessments to the word recognition curriculum of many beginning reading programs.

Keywords: word recognition development; assessment texts