Saturday, December 28, 2013

Vocabulary - Teaching Words That Matter Most - A Scholastic READ ABOUT

Common sense can tell us that we are the words that we know.   We are doctors, lawyers, teachers, researchers, technicians and scientists, to give a few examples, because of the words we know.  Vocabulary is important to effective communication in an ever changing and competitive world, where understanding one another in clear definitive way is not as commonplace as we would like it to be.  When it comes to the success of our children today, what emphasis do we place on learning vocabulary at home and in our schools?  Are the results our children are getting good enough for what we as parents would like from them or what the world expects of them? The following article from Scholastics Read About entitled Narrowing the Language Gap: The Case for Explicit Vocabulary Instruction takes a look at how vocabulary is taught in schools and given the pivotal role of vocabulary in virtually all aspects of academic competence, it is alarming that classroom research consistently reveals how relatively little focused academic vocabuarly instruction actually occurs in the typical K-12 classroom.

The article is upfront, to the point and backed by vocabulary research and with combined  50+ years of classroom experience of the authors and provides a clear foundation for an effective and efficient vocabulary instructional routine. The magic word here would be 'foundation' as without a proper foundation within words, how strong would the future of our children actually be? Imagine yourself standing on a 12 story building you personally built not realizing until the 12th floor that you did not even use footings.   Would you want to stand on that building or want your children to stand on it? The authors look at what a foundation with proper footings can look like at the instructional level within the classroom. 

"Something as rudimentary and essential to teachers as how to teach an important new word effectively is rarely mentioned in both language arts and content area curricula. Surprisingly, teacher’s editions of core curricula routinely direct teachers to address central lesson vocabulary with little more than the brief exhortation to preview, cover, review, or introduce key terms. Meanwhile, they neglect to provide any explicit direction in how to effectively and efficiently teach word meanings. The following steps can most certainly be elaborated and adapted, depending upon the relative importance of the words in question and students’ background knowledge. However, in our experience, students greatly benefit from a consistent and recognizable approach that incorporates the following steps:

1) Pronounce- Classroom observations indicate that, far too frequently, the teacher is the only person who pronounces and uses the academic language of the disciplines. Thus, the first step in teaching a new term is guiding students in correctly pronouncing the word.
2) Explain - Understanding the meaning of a new term requires a clear explanation
of the meaning, using language familiar to the student.
3) Provide Examples- Students will usually need at least two or three examples of a new term to firmly grasp the meaning. Moreover, these examples should be drawnfrom a variety of contexts, not only the one used in the reading or lesson.
 4) Elaborate - Research in cognitive psychology consistently indicates that learners understand and remember information better when they elaborate on it themselves.
 5) Assess- Researchers such as Baker et al., (1995) and Marzano (2004) have documented the importance of incorporating regular informal vocabulary assessment into the instructional process, especially with academically diverse learners. Assessment of vocabulary involves both formative, quick informal checking for understanding during the lesson, and summative evaluation as students subsequently take a formal quiz or test. In all forms of assessment, it is helpful to go beyond simple memorization or matching tasks and require students to demonstrate some deeper level of thinking and understanding.
The basic instructional process outlined above is offered as a foundational strategy, not an end point"

The above is just a snapshot view given as the authors go into more detail with comparisons of the how and the why as a building block and while looking at the information provided in the professional report it should be considered as parents that we can also follow this same consistent and recongizable approach and bring it to the home environment as well. We do not have to wait for a child to attend school before implementing what can easily be done at home.   The reality is for example, Durkin (1979) found that upper-elementary teachers spent less than 1% of their overall reading instruction focused on vocabulary. More recently, Scott and Nagy (1997) documented the paucity of vocabulary instruction in 23 ethnically diverse upper-elementary classrooms, reporting that only 6% of school time was devoted to vocabulary, with only 1.4% allotted to content area vocabulary. Biemiller (2001) reached a similar conclusion, noting that there appears to be relatively little explicit vocabulary teaching in the elementary grades. 

We have more responsibility as parents to set that foundation strong and secure and we as parents at the end of the day, know and understand the true potential of our own chidren better than anyone else and given a good blueprint for understanding words and how words create our world, we can ensure the success or our children so that their starting point or 'footings' is based on vocabulary and clear meanings of words that ultimatley ensure their success in life and the success of our nation. 


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