Reading and Writing

, Volume 29, Issue 4, pp 609–632 | Cite as

Accuracy feedback improves word learning from context: evidence from a meaning-generation task

  • Gwen A. FrishkoffEmail author
  • Kevyn Collins-Thompson
  • Leslie Hodges
  • Scott Crossley


The present study asked whether accuracy feedback on a meaning generation task would lead to improved contextual word learning (CWL). Active generation can facilitate learning by increasing task engagement and memory retrieval, which strengthens new word representations. However, forced generation results in increased errors, which can be detrimental for learning if they are not corrected. The goal of this study was to determine whether immediate feedback on response accuracy would ameliorate this risk. The study was conducted using an intelligent tutoring system, which presents target words in multiple contexts and prompts users to generate a target word meaning after each context. One group of participants (feedback group) received immediate feedback based on Markov Estimation of Semantic Association (MESA), which estimates the distance between the learner response and the target word meaning. The control group did not receive feedback. Results from conventional (pre/post-test) measures showed greater gains in accuracy and confidence for the feedback group. Moreover, when contextual support was decreased mid-way through the training (from trial 3 to trial 4), MESA measures showed a corresponding drop in accuracy, but only for the No-Feedback group. These findings suggest that accuracy feedback can improve outcomes in CWL, particularly when there is an increased risk of errors. This strengthens the case for meaning generation as a tool to build high-quality lexical representations.


Learning Reading Vocabulary Context 



We thank Theresa Maglio, Christina Yarbrough, Elizabeth Dlouhy and Jonathan McNair for their assistance with stimulus development, and recruitment and running of participants. We thank MacKenzie Bechtel-Hall, Yu Meng, and John Grese for their contributions to the design and implementation of the ITS. This research was funded by a grant from the Language & Literacy Initiative at Georgia State. It was also funded in part by an IES grant (R305A140647, Collins-Thompson & Frishkoff) and by a gift from Microsoft Research.


  1. Azevedo, R., & Bernard, R. M. (1995). A meta-analysis of the effects of feedback in computer-based instruction. Journal of Educational Computing Research, 13(2), 111–127. doi: 10.2190/9lmd-3u28-3a0g-ftqt.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Baumann, J. F., Edwards, E. C., Font, G., Tereshinski, C. A., Kame’enui, E. J., & Olejnik, S. (2002). Teaching morphemic and contextual analysis to fifth-grade students. Reading Research Quarterly, 37(2), 150–176. doi: 10.1598/rrq.37.2.3.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Beck, I., McKeown, M., & Kucan, L. (2013). Bringing words to life: Robust vocabulary instruction. New York: Guilford Press.Google Scholar
  4. Bolger, D. J., Balass, M., Landen, E., & Perfetti, C. A. (2008). Effects of contextual variation and definitions in learning the meaning of words. Discourse Processing, 45, 122–149. doi: 10.1080/01638530701792826.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Bourne, L. E, Jr., Dodd, D. H., Guy, D. E., & Justesen, D. R. (1968). Response-contingent intertrial intervals in concept identification. Journal of Experimental Psychology, 76, 601–608.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Butler, A. C., Karpicke, J. D., & Roediger, H. L. (2008). Correcting a metacognitive error: Feedback increases retention of low-confidence correct responses. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, Cognition, 34(4), 918–928. doi: 10.1037/0278-7393.34.4.918.Google Scholar
  7. Butterfield, B., & Metcalfe, J. (2001). Errors committed with high confidence are hypercorrected. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, Cognition, 27(6), 1491–1494. doi: 10.1037/0278-7393.27.6.1491.Google Scholar
  8. Cain, K., Oakhill, J. V., & Elbro, C. (2003). The ability to learn new word meanings from context by school-age children with and without language comprehension difficulties. Journal of Child Language, 30(3), 681–694. doi: 10.1017/s0305000903005713.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Cain, K., Oakhill, J., & Lemmon, K. (2004). Individual differences in the inference of word meanings from context: The influence of reading comprehension, vocabulary knowledge, and memory capacity. Journal of Educational Psychology, 96(4), 671–681. doi: 10.1037/0022-0663.96.4.671.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Carpenter, S. K., Pashler, H., Wixted, J. T., & Vul, E. (2008). The effects of tests on learning and forgetting. Memory & Cognition, 36(2), 438–448. doi: 10.3758/MC.36.2.438.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Chaffin, R. (1997). Associations to unfamiliar words: Learning the meanings of new words. Memory & Cognition, 25(2), 203–226. doi: 10.3758/BF03201113.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Chaffin, R., Morris, R. K., & Seely, R. E. (2001). Learning new word meanings from context: A study of eye movements. Journal of Experimental Psychology. Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 27(1), 225–235. doi: 10.1037/0278-7393.27.1.225.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Collins-Thompson, K., & Callan, J. (2007). Automatic and human scoring of word definition responses. In C. L. Sidner, T. Schultz, M. Stone, & C. Zhai (Eds.), Proceedings of the human language technology conference of the North American chapter of the association of computational linguistics (pp. 476–483).Google Scholar
  14. Collins-Thompson, K., Frishkoff, G., & Crossley, S. A. (2012). Definition response scoring with probabilistic ordinal regression. Proceedings of the International Conference on Computers in Education, 6, 101–105.Google Scholar
  15. Durso, F. T., & Shore, W. J. (1991). Partial knowledge of word meanings. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 120(2), 190.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Efron, B., & Tibshirani, R. J. (1994). An introduction to the bootstrap. London: Chapman and Hall.Google Scholar
  17. Elleman, A. M., Lindo, E. J., Morphy, P., & Compton, D. L. (2009). The impact of vocabulary instruction on passage-level comprehension of school-age children: A meta-analysis. Journal of Research on Educational Effectiveness, 2(1), 1–44. doi: 10.1080/19345740802539200.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Francis, W. N., & Kučera, H. (1982). Frequency analysis of English usage: Lexicon and grammar. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.Google Scholar
  19. Frishkoff, G., Collins-Thompson, K., Nam, S. J., Hodges, L. E., & Crossley, S. (2015). Dynamic support of contextual vocabulary acquisition for reading (DSCoVAR): An intelligent tutoring system for contextual word learning. In S.A. Crossley & D. S. McNamara (Eds.), Handbook on educational technologies for literacy (in press). Google Scholar
  20. Frishkoff, G. A., Collins-Thompson, K., Perfetti, C. A., & Callan, J. (2008). Measuring incremental changes in word knowledge: Experimental validation and implications for learning and assessment. Behavior Research Methods, 40(4), 907–925. doi: 10.3758/BRM.40.4.907.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Frishkoff, G. A., Perfetti, C. A., & Collins-Thompson, K. (2010). Lexical quality in the brain: ERP evidence for robust word learning from context. Developmental Neuropsychology, 35(4), 376–403. doi: 10.1080/87565641.2010.480915.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Frishkoff, G. A., Perfetti, C. A., & Collins-Thompson, K. (2011). Predicting robust vocabulary growth from measures of incremental learning. Scientific Studies of Reading, 15(1), 71–91. doi: 10.1080/10888438.2011.539076.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Frishkoff, G. A., Perfetti, C. A., & Westbury, C. (2009). ERP measures of partial semantic knowledge: Left temporal indices of skill differences and lexical quality. Biological Psychology, 80(1), 130–147. doi: 10.1016/j.biopsycho.2008.04.017.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Grimaldi, P. J., & Karpicke, J. D. (2012). When and why do retrieval attempts enhance subsequent encoding? Memory & Cognition, 40(4), 505–513. doi: 10.3758/s13421-011-0174-0.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Hintzman, D. L. (1990). Human learning and memory: Connections and dissociations. Annual Review of Psychology, 41(1), 109–139. doi: 10.1146/annurev.psych.41.1.109.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Hintzman, D. L., & Curran, T. (1995). When encoding fails: Instructions, feedback, and registration without learning. Memory & Cognition, 23(2), 213–226.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Jenkins, J. R., & Dixon, R. (1983). Vocabulary learning. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 8(3), 237–260. doi: 10.1016/0361-476X(83)90016-4.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Karpicke, J. D. (2009). Metacognitive control and strategy selection: Deciding to practice retrieval during learning. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 138(4), 469–486. doi: 10.1037/a0017341.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Koriat, A., & Bjork, R. A. (2005). Illusions of competence in monitoring one’s knowledge during study. Journal of Experimental Psychology. Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 31(2), 187–194. doi: 10.1037/0278-7393.31.2.187.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Lampinen, J. M., & Faries, J. M. (1994). Levels of semantic constraint and learning novel words. In Proceedings of the sixteenth annual conference of the cognitive science society: August 1316, 1994, cognitive science program, Georgia Institute of Technology (pp. 530–536).Google Scholar
  31. Loucky, J. P. (2013). TELL and CALL for ALL: Successful strategy use in second language learning. In Paper presented at the 2013 international conference on advanced ICT and education (ICAICTE-13).Google Scholar
  32. Ma, Q., & Kelly, P. (2006). Computer assisted vocabulary learning: Design and evaluation. Computer Assisted Language Learning, 19(1), 15–45. doi: 10.1080/09588220600803998.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. McKeown, M. G., Beck, I. L., Omanson, R. C., & Pople, M. T. (1985). Some effects of the nature and frequency of vocabulary instruction on the knowledge and use of words. Reading Research Quarterly, 20(5), 522–535. doi: 10.2307/747940.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Metcalfe, J., & Kornell, N. (2007). Principles of cognitive science in education: The effects of generation, errors, and feedback. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 14(2), 225–229. doi: 10.3758/bf03194056.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Metcalfe, J., Kornell, N., & Finn, B. (2009). Delayed versus immediate feedback in children’s and adults’ vocabulary learning. Memory & Cognition, 37(8), 1077–1087. doi: 10.3758/MC.37.8.1077.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Metcalfe, J., Kornell, N., & Son, L. K. (2007). A cognitive-science based programme to enhance study efficacy in a high and low risk setting. European Journal of Cognitive Psychology, 19(4–5), 743–768. doi: 10.1080/09541440701326063.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Nash, H., & Snowling, M. (2006). Teaching new words to children with poor existing vocabulary knowledge: A controlled evaluation of the definition and context methods. International Journal of Language & Communication Disorders, 41(3), 335–354. doi: 10.1080/13682820600602295.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. National Reading Panel (U.S.), & National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (U.S.). (2000). Report of the National Reading Panel: Teaching children to read: An evidence-based assessment of the scientific research literature on reading and its implications for reading instruction: Reports of the subgroups. Washington, D.C.: National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, National Institutes of Health.Google Scholar
  39. Pashler, H., Cepeda, N., Wixted, J., & Rohrer, D. (2005). When does feedback facilitate learning of words? Journal of Experimental Psychology. Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 31(1), 3–8.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Pashler, H., Rohrer, D., Cepeda, N. J., & Carpenter, S. K. (2007). Enhancing learning and retarding forgetting: Choices and consequences. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 14(2), 187–193. doi: 10.3758/BF03194050.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Roediger, H., & Karpicke, J. D. (2006). Test-enhanced learning: Taking memory tests improves long-term retention. Psychological Science, 17(3), 249–255. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-9280.2006.01693.x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Schmidt, R. A., & Bjork, R. A. (1992). New conceptualizations of practice: Common principles in three paradigms suggest new concepts for training. Psychological Science, 3(4), 207–217. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-9280.1992.tb00029.x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Shute, V. J. (2008). Focus on formative feedback. Review of Educational Research, 78(1), 153–189. doi: 10.3102/0034654307313795.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Stahl, S. A., & Fairbanks, M. M. (1986). The effects of vocabulary instruction: A model-based meta-analysis. Review of Educational Research, 56(1), 72–110. doi: 10.3102/00346543056001072.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Taylor, W. L. (1953). “Cloze procedure”: A new tool for measuring readability. Journalism Quarterly, 30, 415–433.Google Scholar
  46. Van der Kleij, F. M., Feskens, R. C., & Eggen, T. J. (2015). Effects of feedback in a computer-based learning environment on students’ learning outcomes: A meta-analysis. Review of Educational Research,. doi: 10.3102/0034654314564881.Google Scholar
  47. Walters, J. (2006). Methods of teaching inferring meaning from context. RELC Journal, 37(2), 176–190. doi: 10.1177/0033688206067427.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Warmington, M., & Hitch, G. J. (2014). Enhancing the learning of new words using an errorless learning procedure: evidence from typical adults. Memory, 22(5), 582–594. doi: 10.1080/09658211.2013.807841.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Wenger, S. K., Thompson, C. P., & Bartling, C. A. (1980). Recall facilitates subsequent recognition. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Learning and Memory, 6(2), 135. doi: 10.1037//0278-7393.6.2.135.Google Scholar
  50. Yonek, L. M. (2008). The effects of rich vocabulary instruction on students’ expository writing. Doctoral dissertation, University of Pittsburgh. Retrieved from

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Gwen A. Frishkoff
    • 1
    Email author
  • Kevyn Collins-Thompson
    • 2
  • Leslie Hodges
    • 1
  • Scott Crossley
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyGeorgia State UniversityAtlantaUSA
  2. 2.School of Information, Department of EE/Computer ScienceUniversity of MichiganAnn ArborUSA
  3. 3.Department of Applied LinguisticsGeorgia State UniversityAtlantaUSA

Personalised recommendations