Sunday, March 17, 2013

Vocabulary Blues Part II: A Slowly Evolving Solution

This is the second part of a two-part post. Part I can be found here.

Yesterday, thanks to the suggestion from my reader kSm, I delved into the problem of teaching vocabulary. I mentioned that my fellow English 10 teacher in my building and I have started switching things up in order to prepare our students for the imminent ECA. One of the areas we decided we really needed to work on was vocabulary.

This bit of research, presented at the Smekens conference I attended (though I don't recall from whence it originally came), blew me away.

The average student requires fourteen exposures to a word before it becomes part of their vocabulary. The struggling student may require as many as forty exposures.

It is no damn wonder that my pitiful vocabulary units were not working. My students probably weren't getting more than five real exposures to each of those words.

After coming back from the literacy conference we had several ideas on how to spruce things up. Here are some things we're currently doing:

1. Right now, we've dropped our Sadlier-Oxford vocabulary books for the next eight weeks or so. Those books will be less than useful in this ECA preparation process.

2. We have developed our list of thirty core content words that our students must know to succeed on the ECA and to be well-prepared for the world of English 11. We will be strongly focusing on this list. (Our list includes words like protagonist, antagonist, author's purpose, allegory... and it also includes test-taking words like analyze, evaluate, and define.)

3. We are dedicating every Monday for the next eight weeks to learning core vocabulary.

4. We have already given a vocabulary pre-test to determine which core words our students are very comfortable with and which words are going to require some work.

5. On Tuesdays, when we work on reading comprehension, we doing a lot of work with incidental vocabulary and the use of context clues to determine what unknown words mean. This is a pretty large part of the ECA.

This is an evolving process, and it's going to take some time to get things right. I think, though, that we are on the right track with this.

Based on this approach and how well it works, I hope to implement some of these things in all of my classes from Day One of the 2013-2014 school year. I'm working on my personal list of improvements for teaching vocabulary in my classes. Here's what I've got so far:
  • Don't completely get rid of the Sadlier-Oxford books, but use them differently. I like the idea of using them to beef up student writing, to help them make better word choices in their own writing. I do not want to ever go back to using it the way I have the last two years.
  • Develop the core vocabulary list for my English 9H class and start working on that early. We've got to get a minimum of fourteen exposures in for each of those words!
  • Take time at the beginning of the school year to teach the eight types of context clues. Though it might slow things down to begin with, I believe this will ultimately be a major time saver and I think kids will feel less intimidated by outside reading if they know they will be able to figure out incidental words when they run into them.
  • Do more vocabulary work within our reading units. Instead of giving brief explanations of words or terms as we run into them, get the kids more involved in the process.
  • Keep a vocabulary notebook in our class binders. (*NOTE: I'm still working on a template that I like for this... stay tuned to see what develops!)
  • Use more vocabulary strategies. Work books and packets are so boring, for me and for the kids!
I plan to write about vocabulary again in the future, as I see how things develop and try out some new ideas.

Do you have a foolproof vocabulary plan or are you singing the vocabulary blues with me? Share your thoughts in the comments below!