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                   Visual Aids in the K-12 Educational System

                   Jesus Jacquez, Barbara Govea, Debra Peters

                      Angelica Villanueva and Cristina Faris

                    California State University, San Bernardino
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This paper attempts to bring into the foreground the needs associated with poor retention trends

that English Language Learners and other students whose are not considered English Language

proficient demonstrate. The positive attributes discovered with the use of media enhanced visual

aids in a classroom is examined in this paper and its possible impact on the K-12 educational

environment is studied. Group A students were given media enhanced vocabulary words

(vocabulary with an associated picture and/or sound) and showed a great degree of retention

when tested: Group B students who had paper visual aids showed only a modest improvement.

Teachers should be encouraged to integrate flash media into the classroom on a consistent basis.
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       English Language Learner (ELL) students and other students not considered English

Language proficient are failing to retain new vocabulary words that they are exposed to during

reading time. This creates a problem in their ability to comprehend that story and also future

stories and other vocabulary rich assignments. Students repeatedly were not reaching the

mastery level that the literature program was designed for them to achieve. Research shows that

different exercises and repeated study of the words is necessary for retention. Nicholson and Tan

declare vocabulary retention must go beyond merely pronunciation for students to retain the

vocabulary. Students who are learning the language but failing to learn sufficient words to

progress to the next level need additional activities with the vocabulary they are learning. Many

studies researching the use of flashcards have been done and several different methods for using

flashcards were suggested in the research we found (Joseph 2006).

       In the past the students in the K-12 educational system were told to write down the words

and their definitions on paper cards. The words were than reviewed during the reading and

during allotted discussion time, yet when the students were then tested they scored poorly.

Therefore our group decided to focus our attention on creating video flash cards (using

multimedia resources) and try to determine if this media presentation would help students’

vocabulary retention. The video flashcards were created using Microsoft’s PowerPoint software.

Each of the slides consisted of the vocabulary word, an associated picture and/or an identifying

sound. The slides were given great care and consideration to properly lay a foundation for

vocabulary retention.
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Statement of Problem

        The students’ poor vocabulary retention leads to a failure to achieve mastery level

performance and limited comprehension of vocabulary words. Since many of the subjects

students are enrolled in require comprehension of some sort to properly understand, utilize and

assimilate the material, retention and understanding are critical for all educational purposes.


        Our goal in conducting this test on a small sample of students consisting of two groups; a

control group and a test group, was to gather data to support our assertion that vocabulary

retention is best learned in an environment that integrates technology. This will give ELL

educators the tools necessary to improve retention of vocabulary words and enhance learning;

which is critical in achieving mastery level reading.


        The results of the study were significant because it showed the students retention levels,

for the group that received media enhanced visual aids, improved dramatically whereas the group

consisting of students receiving paper visual aids improved only moderately.

                                     LITERATURE REVIEW

Media Flashcards

        Admittedly, educational professionals acknowledge the fact that students who struggle in

reading comprehension struggle because they may lack the ability to comprehend words. Tan
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and Tom (1997) have established “merely training a child to say words quickly will not

necessarily result in improved comprehension” (p 277). Joseph (2006) recognized that “there are

several approaches to teaching word-reading skills, but few incorporate systemic procedures that

facilitate mastery, build fluency, and lead to retention of skills for struggling readers” (p 803).

Students who struggle in vocabulary acquisition skills need specific interventions to increase

their reading level and word knowledge. These interventions should be ongoing and occur early

in the learning process in order to ease the cognitive load at the student’s current reading level

and for the next grade level. Using media enriched flashcards to enhance reading vocabulary is a

strategy that has been researched and implemented into classrooms throughout the educational


       With the use of flashcards via index cards or PowerPoint slides, students could increase

their reading comprehension and hopefully at the same time their accuracy in word-reading

retention. Joseph (2006) promotes her research by stating, “research has shown that students

tend to be more motivated and choose to complete assignments and tasks that contain some items

that are known to them and that appear to demand lower levels of effort because they feel

confident about their ability to complete such tasks” (p 805). If implemented properly,

flashcards can make ongoing differences in the student’s ability to read with confidence

independently and continually. It is the consistency of vocabulary interventions that allows the

struggling student to see vocabulary terms within the reading passage if they are to expand their

knowledge of the vocabulary term. This can make the difference in their proficiency of language


       It is the acquisition of language that the struggling student must engage in through the

practice of vocabulary strategies via instructional media to stimulate their learning ability and
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reduce the student’s cognitive load while reading. Another activity that students could engage in

would be, “incremental rehearsal of flashcards can also be used in a peer-or-cross-age tutoring

context. Peers or older students can tutor students on reading words unknown to them using this

flashcard drill technique. In order to make it game-like, students can be encouraged to keep

score on how many unknown words become known” (Joseph 2006 p 806). Incorporating

instructional media is simply placing vocabulary terms on a PowerPoint presentation. More

Media Richness can be integrated with sound, animation, and music. Informal reading

assessments are administered to provide the classroom teacher with information to guide

instruction and to measure the effectiveness of a coherent reading program. Assessments may

consist of word recognition to identify the student’s successful ability to identify vocabulary

terms during the reading process. Also, the speed in which the student can identify vocabulary

terms will measure the student’s prior knowledge of identifying spelling patterns and morphemes

that have been taught.

       The goal of vocabulary interventions via media flashcards and Media Richness is to

enhance the student’s comprehension level during the reading process and increase retention

during independent reading. Vocabulary assessments should also be used for a precursor to

evaluate the student’s comprehension. Johnston (1997) proposed, “as children spend more and

more time reading and writing, many routines and common patterns become automatic, picking

up speed and actually going through a different part of the brain, no longer involving conscious

effort” (p145). This is an important factor if students are to become independent of the

classroom teacher. It is important to increase the student’s toolbox of vocabulary strategies, if

they are to know what to do at the point of difficulty. This means that the student can always ask

themselves questions at the point of difficulty during independent reading. Possessing the ability
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to comprehend vocabulary terms involves the ability to construct meaning from printed

information. Reading is viewed as the dynamic interaction among the student, the text, and

social context in which reading and takes place.


       Retention should be a requirement for the acquisition of vocabulary terms. Joseph (2008)

makes these recommendations, “in specific environmental conditions, words that were taught

were considered learned when they were read correctly on next-day retention probes. Words that

were not read correctly on next-day retention probes were not considered learned. Previously

taught but unlearned words were re-taught with the same instructional condition until they were

read correctly on next-day retention probes” (p 298). This would be a good procedure to follow

if learners are to heighten their retention of vocabulary terms. These retention probes were

designed to measure the student’s vocabulary acquisition. Retention probes were always

administered the day immediately following the instructional condition and before another round

of instructional conditions began. Each retention probe consisted of all the flashcards of

unknown words that were taught in the previous daily session. The flashcards were shuffled and

presented as one group of words to the student. This expounds on Johnston’s perspective to

provide students with many reading routines to formulate effortless learning.

       There is a cognitive rationale for students to retain learnt vocabulary terms if they are to

the successful during the reading process. The cognitive decision for students to access learnt

vocabulary terms would depend on what the student brings to the text. Media flashcards will

focus the student’s attention to how the printed text reads and help them to determine if what

they read does indeed make sense. In Joseph’s (2008) research reveals, “classroom teachers felt
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that four of the six students increased their word reading skills and that all of the instructional

approaches appeared valid for teaching words to students with word recognition difficulties.

“They indicated that they believed the traditional drill would be the most efficient for most

students” (p 302). If the traditional drill increases student learning and media enriched

flashcards stimulates more of the working and long-memory, then it make sense to enhance

traditional drill cards with rich media enhancements. Reiser and Dempsey (2007) state

“maximizing learning with rich media involves two memory systems: working memory and

long-term memory that shapes human learning” (p 314).

       Additionally, what information does the student know about the vocabulary term is

crucial when the teacher begins to design goals to assist student retention. It is important to

understand that reading is an active search for meaning that requires studying the relationships

between word meaning and passage comprehension. It is important to observe the student’s

thought process, language, and socio-cultural settings because the student will bring this covert

information to the learning process. In most research from the literature review retention would

occur overtime. If students are to retain learnt vocabulary terms they would need to have access

to those words regularly and often.


Research Questions

How can teachers help their ELL students increase their vocabulary retention?

Will the use of visual flashcards help the students master the new vocabulary?
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       Twelve third grade students were chosen for this study. A pre-test was given to all the

participating third graders for the purpose of finding out their prior knowledge of the vocabulary

words. Most of the students did not know most of the words except for student B6 who scored a

100% and student B5 who scored a 79%.

Students:                        Pretest                           Posttest

A2                               36%                               79%

A5                               50%                               100%

B4                               57%                               86%

A4                               43%                               100%

B3                               43%                               100%

A3                               43%                               100%

A6                               50%                               100%

B5                                79%                              100%

B2                               43%                               78%

A1                               14%                               100%

B1                               29%                               93%

B6                               100%                              100%

Group A students (in red) who were instructed via Microsoft PowerPoint visual aids.
Group B students (in black) who were instructed via paper visual aids.

Data Collection and Analysis
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       The students were separated into two groups (Group A and Group B) consisting of six

students. Group A received vocabulary instruction using Microsoft PowerPoint slides, which

included the vocabulary word, the definition and audio, while Group B used paper flash cards to

practice. Fourteen words were chosen from the Houghton-Mifflin Reading Textbook Story

Series called The Talking Cloth by Rhonda Mitchell to increase acquisition of vocabulary words

and improve reading comprehension. Both groups were given 20 minutes a day for 7

consecutive school days (Monday through Friday of week one and Monday and Tuesday of week

two) to practice their vocabulary. All the students were fully engaged during their study time.

       An observation made at the beginning of instruction using Microsoft PowerPoint slides

was that Group A students became excited and fully engaged in the use of this computer

program. They really enjoyed the animation, pictures and especially the interaction with the

media. Two examples of the media-enhanced flashcards are included in appendix 1.

       Two computers were utilized in the classroom; students from Group A worked in groups

of three on the computer at one time and the students in Group B also worked in groups of three

using paper visual aids at the same time as Group A. These students had paper visual cards with

no pictures and only the meaning attached to each word. Each student group was to ask their

partners what the words meant to see if they understood the vocabulary word. The students had

precisely twenty minutes every day for the seven consecutive days.

       The students were given a post-test after the seven day study period. The information

obtained from both the pre-test and post-test was used to gather the results indicated on the above

chart. During the pre-test comments were heard that the test was too hard. The students were
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reassured and instructed to do their best. During the post-test test the majority of the students

now stated that the test was too easy.

       Attached in appendix 2 is a copy of the test (the pre-test and post-test are the same). The

students did not know that they were part of a research project.

                                 RESULTS AND DISCUSSIONS

       The results of the pre- and post-tests indicated that students in Group A, students who

received media enhanced visual aids, scored significantly higher on the post-test. These same

students had a pre-test average score of 39.3% and a post-test average of 96.5%: an improvement

of over 140%. The students in Group B, students who did not receive any media enhanced

visual aids, had an average pre-test score of 58.5% and a post-test score of 92.83%: an

improvement of over 58%.
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       The results of the test signify that the use of flash media engages the students in more

ways than visual cards alone. Teachers should be encouraged to integrate flash media into the

classroom on a consistent basis.

       The introduction of multiple methods used to convey the definition of vocabulary words,

such as flash media with an associated picture and/or sound, will enhance learning. Students

respond to interactive technology that can be used to engage the student. These methods, as the

testing has shown, can be beneficial in an educational setting, most especially for English

Language Learners. Adapting this educational technology consistently and involving students in

there own education would lead to greater overall scores on tests and higher retention rates.

Limitation of Study

       The study was limited in its scope and time frame. We were only able to focus on a small

group of students in a single class and only for a short period of time. The students’ background

and prior knowledge was not categorized due to the limits of the study. This study would benefit

from a larger sample, preferably students in different classrooms and a longer time frame.

Perhaps the amount of time it would take to cover three vocabulary rich stories as recommended

by the school districts current standards.
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       Vocabulary retention is an essential part of the requirements for students to become good

readers. It is also an area which seems to be lacking in all learners, especially ELD students.

The focus of this action research project was to examine how technology might impact students

in acquiring important vocabulary which would in turn allow students to better understand the

material they are reading in their 3rd grade class. The goal was to utilize available technology to

see if it impacted the retention of a set of vocabulary terms that the students were studying. In

order to test this design, the students were split into the two groups and given a pre- and post-

test. Upon analysis of the results it was apparent that the students that were able to utilize the

electronic visual aids scored higher on the post-test. Therefore it has been recommended that

this strategy be utilized whenever possible to allow students to work to their full potential.

       Teachers should be encouraged to integrate flash media into the classroom on a

consistent basis. The introduction of multiple methods used to convey the definition of

vocabulary words, such as flash media with an associated picture and/or sound, will enhance

learning since it is evident that students respond to interactive technology and it can then be used

to engage the student.
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Cowan, J. (2008, November). Strategies for planning technology-enhanced learning experiences.
      Clearing House, 82(2), 55-59.

Keengwe, J., Onchwari, G., & Wachira, P. (2008, December). Computer technology integration
      and student learning: Barriers and promise. Journal of Science Education & Technology,
      17(6), 560-565.

Johnston, P. (2003, September). Assessment conversations. Reading Teacher, 59(8), 803-807.

Joseph, L. (2006, May). Incremental rehearsal: A flashcard drill technique for increasing
       retention of reading words. International Reading Association, 57(1), 90-92.

Joseph, L. & Lindsey, N. (2008, May). Effectiveness and efficiency of flashcard drill
       instructional methods on urban first-graders' word recognition, acquisition, maintenance,
       and generalization. School Psychology Review, 37(3), 294-308.

Tan, A., & Nicholson, T. (1997, June). Flashcards revisited: Training poor readers to read words
       faster improves their comprehension of vocabulary. Journal of Educational Psychology,
       89(2), 276.
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                                          APPENDIX 1

These are samples of slides one and two from the PowerPoint presentation. When viewing
slides, the students would see first the word, then the picture, at the same time they would hear
the word, and finally the definition would appear.


          A group of objects with something in common, often gathered and displayed.


                  A dramatic waving motion; a showy way of doing something.
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                                                 APPENDIX 2

The Talking Cloth
Vocabulary PRETEST/POSTEST                 Name: _____________ Date:________

Directions: Choose the best answer to the question.

1. Collection means ________________.

        A. to call long distance.                     B. a group of objects with something in common,
                                                      often gathered and displayed.

        C. to throw away.                             D. to be quiet in the library.

2. Flourish mostly means:

        A. to brush your teeth                        B. to feel so tired and sleepy.

        C. to jump up                                 D. a dramatic waving motion: a showy way of
                                                      doing something.
3. What does royalty mean?

        A. member of a royal family-                  B. a poor family in the woods.
           like a king or queen

        C. a subway sandwich                          C. a tasty treat

4. Embroidered mostly means:

        A. to boil water to make soup                 B. an unborn baby

        C. a cute dog                                 D. decorated by sewing design with a
                                                      needle and thread or yarn
5. What is mocha?

        A. a drink made from coffee,                  B. a piece of cake
           cocoa and milk

        C. to cut apart with scissors                 D. a type of beard

6. Wealth usually means?

        A. to feel good.                              B. to have lots of money or valuable things

        C. a type of chocolate candy                  D. a Christmas decoration
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7. A symbol is _________:

        A. a drum set                              B. a type of ball

        C. a pair of pants                         D. a design stands for things and ideas

8. Adding soap to a plant could stunt its development. Stunt means: ________.

        A. jumping high                            B. to get in the way of normal growth

        C. to get an electrical shock              D. to grow fast and healthy.

9. An adinkra is a _________________.

        A. to get a drink of something.            B. cloth made by Ashanti people for royalty

        C. Ashanti drink                           D. a girl’s name

10. Pinstripe is:

        A. a pin                                   B. where pigs and chickens are kept.

        C. cloth fabric that has narrow strips     D. used to write letters

11. Grubby means:

        A. something dirty                         B. something clean

        C. food                                    D. a fat person

12. To be offended means:

        A. to turn off something                   B. to hurt or make someone feel bad

        C. to make someone happy                   D. the end of a story

13. An aunt means:

        A. a bug                                   B. the sister of one’s mom or dad

        C. a friend                                D. a type of shoe

14. A princess is:

        A. the daughter of a king or queen         B. a giant ship
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C. someone’s cousin   D. my favorite doll