Theory (Language)

Language provides the foundation for literacy (Dickinson, Golinkoff, & Hirsh-Pasek 2010). As middle schoolers read, they face the challenge of determining meaning from text. They must access lexical and sentence level meanings efficiently. Monster, P.I. provides a detailed picture of students’ thinking and language knowledge as applied to accessing meaning from the familiar and unfamiliar words, and syntactical structures that play a critical role in reading, [particularly in upper elementary and middle school time periods (Vellutino, Tunmer, Jaccard, & Chen, 2007)]. Recent research suggests that there are multiple components of language, and that these components relate. Based on findings that language is multidimensional, the Monster, P.I. researchers used theory to simplify the problem space of language, focusing on the language components which reveal the critical thinking and language knowledge that must be applied to accessing lexical and sentence level meanings.

Building from theory, the researchers considered three key aspects of language: 1) vocabulary, 2) morphology, and 3) syntactical knowledge. These are the areas of language most connected to meaning and the Monster, P.I. app pays attention to the content components within each area. The app’s vocabulary items assess semantic knowledge of “flexible representations of meanings”(Perfetti, 2007, p. 359) and assess different vocabulary content, moving beyond just assessing whether a word’s meaning is known to considering meaning knowledge as it relates to different concepts, ranges of meanings, and word relations. Morphology items assess students “knowledge about word forms (grammatical class, spellings and pronunciations) and meanings”(p. 357). Syntax items assess accessing the meanings of these words when combined in larger phrases and sentences, providing data on student performance connecting meaning to word order, grammatical markers, phrases, clauses, etc. These constructs tap what Gough and Tunmer (1986) describe as “the process by which given lexical (i.e., word) information [and] sentences … are interpreted” (p. 7).


Dickinson, D. K., Golinkoff, R. M., & Hirsh-Pasek, K. (2010). Speaking out for language: Why language is central to reading development. Educational Researcher, 39(4), 305-310.

Gough, P. B., & Tunmer, W. E. (1986). Decoding, reading, and reading disability. Remedial and Special Education, 7(1), 6-10.

Perfetti, C. (2007). Reading ability: Lexical quality to comprehension. Scientific Studies of Reading, 11(4), 357-383.

Vellutino, F. R., Tunmer, W. E., Jaccard, J. J., & Chen, R. (2007). Components of reading ability: Multivariate evidence for a convergent skills model of reading development. Scientific Studies of Reading, 11(1), 3-32.

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