Congratulations are in order for Carolyn Streets, a 7th grade English teacher at the Engineering and Science University Magnet School in West Haven, Connecticut.

Ms. Streets won the 2018 Lynn Hall Prize for Teacher Action Research with her paper “Don’t Just Memorize. Achieve Mastery.” Her research measured the impact of Vocabulary.com on her students’ reading proficiency and concluded that adoption of the platform correlated with improved outcomes. She described the need for vocabulary instruction as "urgent" and the impact of the plaftorm as "transformational." Ms. Streets presented her winning paper at the Yale School of Management Education Leadership Conference last spring.

Vocabulary.com had a chance to talk with Ms. Streets after the conference, and we’re delighted to share her success story.

“Something was not jiving.”

Around this time last year, veteran English teacher Carolyn Streets took a look at her 7th graders’ fall benchmark scores in reading. The data indicated that, overall, her students were strong word decoders. Yet Ms. Streets could see that the whole reading picture wasn’t quite coming together for many learners. Streets explained, “Something was not jiving. Students were great decoders. But when we really got into core content, they were not reading critically.”

Eager to address the issue, Ms. Streets turned to the leading research for answers, including studies by Marzano, Sprenger, Tovani, and Beck, McKeown & Kucan. The research was conclusive, and affirmed Streets' own observations: “I realized there was a lack of clear understanding of Tier II vocabulary, which was needed to anchor their reading comprehension.”

Issue of Urgency

It was clear to Ms. Streets, from both the assessment data and the academic literature, that her students needed direct vocabulary instruction. In her research paper, Ms. Streets describes the need in these terms: “Providing more infrastructure to help students build their reading competencies was the issue of urgency.”

The next step was to select an approach to vocabulary instruction which aligned with the best practices outlined in the research and — just as crucially — which she and her students could stick with. When we asked Ms. Streets how she ended up choosing Vocabulary.com she explained, “For me it was instantaneous. It was direct instruction in Tier II and Tier III vocabulary, which is what I was specifically looking for. And I really enjoyed that the words were taught in the context of content. Also, the interface was easy, and the way that it was taught was very attractive to kids.”

Ms. Streets taught herself the basics of how to get her students up and running on Vocabulary.com, and embarked on the pilot. Her students used Vocabulary.com an average of three times per week, both as reinforcement in class and for homework.

Ms. Streets, who wanted to be sure that the words were connected to course content, found that Vocabulary.com was easy to integrate with what she was already teaching. “It dovetailed with curricular objectives, texts and tasks.” She also told us that the automatic follow-up and progress monitoring features “took out the need for having to go back and double check all the time.”

“The impact on student achievement was transformational.”

We asked Ms. Streets to describe what she noticed after students had been working with Vocabulary.com for a while. “As the quarter progressed, students began to reshape their academic identities from novice to expert learners,” she said. “They have a stronger deeper understanding of the text from their vocabulary that they didn’t have prior.”

As part of her regular instructional practice and as a qualitative measure, Ms. Streets routinely led conferences with her students and required them to reflect on their reading in written form. She described the impact of vocabulary improvement in the context of overall literacy skills, not merely in terms of vocabulary acquisition. “I see a major difference. They were reading and thinking about text on a level that required deeper extended thinking. Once they got there where they were able to do that with little or no help from me, was transformational for them.”

Improved Outcomes

After 12 weeks of implementation, Ms. Streets analyzed the quantitative and qualitative data. Qualitative measures included student conferences and brief writes. Quantitative data included district-approved standardized measures of reading proficiency and g.p.a., which includes summative assessments and standardized scores. Streets concluded that “by implementing a vocabulary program that was both effective and high interest, the impact on student achievement was transformational.” Her students’ second quarter mean grade point average increased, and all participants earned passing reading comprehension scores. She “firmly attributes” student success to their mastery of Tier II and Tier III vocabulary words. Ms. Street’s research is available here.

Next Steps and Another Award

From the inception of the Vocabulary.com pilot, Ms. Streets hoped that if her research could show measurable improvement in reading comprehension that she would be able to expand the program school-wide. Now that her study has confirmed that the implementation of Vocabulary.com was a success, she has been given the greenlight to do just that. In addition, Ms. Streets recently learned that she is a 2018 recipient of a Voya Unsung Hero grant, which will support her efforts to expand systematic vocabulary instruction beyond her classroom in the coming academic year.

The Vocabulary.com Team would like to congratulate Ms. Streets on her successes, and to thank her for sharing her work and her time.