How do YOU feel about Vocabulary Acquisition?
In looking at the "Vocabulary Instruction" PowerPoint this week, it is easy to see that we are shifting our focus from the phonetics of words to the meanings of words. I found the PowerPoint especially useful in its categorization of the different purposes for vocabulary acquisition. In my teaching, I actually focus quite a bit on each of the different methods of vocabulary acquisition, but I had not put much thought into why I did this; it just always seemed logical. The students typically learn new meanings for known words and familiar concepts during their independent and guided reading. This seems to be the logical opportunity to learn new vocabulary since the terms are used in context and are likely words they are already familiar with phonetically. In science (and other content areas in years past), the students have the opportunity to learn new words for new concepts quite frequently. In addition to the more challenging words being used within the context of the material being studied, the students also have access to a fantastic "interactive glossary" as part of our online science textbook. The students have the outright definition presented in easy to understand terms, but also have access to videos featuring the use of that term, animations when appropriate, images, and sample sentences. It has been a huge help in improving content area vocabulary and allows the students more than one method of attaining the meaning. Typically, when you tell students to, "Look it up" how many times will the words actually be internalized? With the use of the interactive glossary, I have seen the words "stick" to the point where students are incorporating these new words into their writing and using them correctly.
Like the authors of the "What is Academic Vocabulary", I also assumed that I knew the definition of "academic vocabulary" and that there would be a somewhat simple explanation. I should have known better! It turns out that there are many different domains of academic vocabulary, or literacy. Based on the typologies provided, it seems that there are more or less 3 basic types of academic vocabularies. The first of which would include general vocabulary. These are words that are used in a variety of texts and are easily understandable. The second would include words that can appear in a variety of texts, but are used in the context of a specific discipline. For example, the word "problem" can mean many things and is not linked to a specific learning domain, but when used in mathematics it has a very specific meaning. The third vocabulary are domain specific words/clusters/symbols. Words such as photosynthesis, cytoplasm, and phloem are all domain specific.
Morrow and Gambrell also assert that students, "need supportive instruction in learning how to use the dictionary, an important word-learning tool." While I personally think it is an important skill, I do not think it is vital for the world in which today's students are growing up. As an adult, I cannot remember the last time that I used an actual, honest-to-goodness dictionary. If there is a word I am unsure of, I either search for it on Google or use a dictionary app on my phone. While I might not always have access to my phone or computer, I most certainly have these tools more readily available than a dictionary. Rather than learning the ins and outs of dictionaries, such as guide words, I think we as educators should focus more on teaching students to take apart the definitions, whether online or in print, and decipher what the definitions are telling us, how to use the pronunciations, and how to decide on the correct definition.
Instruction and Common Core
I could not get the PowerPoint focusing on Common Core to open, but I did find this one online published by the Illinois State Board of Education. In the PowerPoint, it is suggested that educators focus on the instruction of "Tier 2" words, which are similar to Fisher and Fry's "specialized words". These are words that are used in a variety of texts, but with different uses. By focusing on these Tier 2 words, students will be learning words that are more challenging that general words and will be valuable over a wide variety of texts than domain specific words. Both the Common Core reading and writing standards address the issue of analyzing words and word choice. By focusing on Tier 2, students will be able to make sense of a text and allowing for a better chance at making meaning for domain specific vocabulary using context clues provided in the text. In addition, the PowerPoint also provides a new strategy that I was not familiar with. It is called "SLAP" which stands for Say, Look, Ask, and Put. You say the word first, look for clues in the sentence, ask yourself what you think it means and pick a similar word, and then put that word in the place of the unfamiliar word. If it makes sense, it is likely that you have come up with the correct meaning. It seems simple enough, and how fun to tell your students to "SLAP" a word!
I'm Edie - wife, mom, teacher, instructional designer, home renovator,
and lover of nature, travel, technology, and vintage campers!