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Title:Using definitions to understand new words
Author(s):Scott, Judith Ann
Doctoral Committee Chair(s):Anderson, Richard C.
Department / Program:Education
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Subject(s):Education, Elementary
Education, Educational Psychology
Education, Reading
Abstract:This research explores how students process information in definitions to understand meanings of new words. Previous research suggests that students often experience difficulty when asked to write sentences from definitions of unfamiliar words (Miller, 1986b; Miller & Gildea, 1987).
Three experimental studies and a think-aloud task were used to determine if similar errors occur in comprehension tasks and reasons for the errors. Fourth and sixth grade students received three types of sentences: sentences using the target word correctly, sentences in which an inappropriate fragment of the definition was used as the meaning of the target word (fragment selection errors), and sentences in which the use of the target word in the sentence was not semantically related to the words in the definition. The task was to evaluate whether the use of the word in the sentence matched the definition. Fragment selection errors indicate that students accept an inappropriate fragment of a definition (e.g., nose) as the meaning of a new word (e.g., a pseudoword stermate meaning to smell).
The studies indicate that upper elementary students at all ability levels have substantial difficulty processing information from definitions. The data suggests that these problems are not due to the selection of the wrong sense of a word or the strange conventions of definitions. Instead, students are not using information provided in definitions about general syntactic or semantic categories of new words. The think-aloud data suggests that students evaluate the sentences by attempting to develop a scenario based on salient words from both the definition and the sentence. When there is a correct match, the scenario is easily built. When there is no semantic overlap, the sentences are rejected, because the connections are implausible. However, if a plausible scenario could be constructed, the majority of students were unable to discern that the target word was used in a way that violated syntactic and semantic constraints on meaning.
Issue Date:1991
Rights Information:Copyright 1991 Scott, Judith Ann
Date Available in IDEALS:2011-05-07
Identifier in Online Catalog:AAI9210983
OCLC Identifier:(UMI)AAI9210983

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