The REAP Project Root Node
The REAP project investigates the effects of implicit and explicit instruction on the learning of word meanings. The REAP tutor (http://reap.cs.cmu.edu) is used as a enabling technology for LearnLab studies in the English Language Institute at the Univ. of Pittsburgh.
Implicit Learning: The learning of meaning for a word from the context in which that word occurs.
Explicit Learning: The learning of meaning for a word from explicit instruction, either in the form of a dictionary definition or a practice exercise.
Intentional Learning: The learning of meanings for words that are focused on in instructional materials. Targeted words might be highlighted in a reading, or practiced in vocabulary exercises.
Incidental Learning: The learning of meanings for words that appear in instructional materials but are not explicitly taught. For example, a student may learn an unknown word that occurs in a practice reading but is not the focus of the reading.
What are the characteristics of instruction that lead to robust knowledge of vocabulary? Do students learn better from explicit instruction (e.g., dictionary definitions), or can they learn implicitly (e.g., from context)? To what extent does incidental learning of vocabulary occur (e.g., learning of words not targeted by a practice reading, but looked up by the student as he or she read the text.)?
Immediate post-test scores on cloze (fill-in-the-blank) exercises similar to practice exercises.
Long-term retention test scores similar to post-test but administered months later.
Transfer of knowledge: sentence production tasks for target words, correct use of words in writing assignments for other courses.
e.g., availability of dictionary definitions, presentation of definitions, highlighting of target words in readings, personalization of readings by topics of interest, etc.
Students require both explicit and implicit instruction to effectively acquire vocabulary. Students do not efficiently learn vocabulary implicitly (e.g., from context alone). Similarly, learning solely from explicit dictionary definitions will lead to shallow acquisition. Students who only have definitions available will have difficulty generalizing their knowledge and producing sentences using new vocabulary. Therefore, words need to be seen in context with definitions available in order for robust learning to occur.
The words which the REAP tutor provides practice for are from the Academic Word List (Coxhead, 2000).
Beginning with the Spring 2006 study, dictionary definitions were available for all words in a reading unless noted otherwise. Definitions came from the Cambridge Advanced Learner's Dictionary (dictionary.cambridge.org) unless noted otherwise.
- REAP Summer 2005 Study
- REAP Fall 2005 Study
Coxhead, Averil (2000) A New Academic Word List. TESOL Quarterly, 34(2): 213-238.