Saturday, June 30, 2012

Vocabulary at the Center part 3

Vocabulary at the Center by Amy Benjamin and John T. Crow is primarily a book for teachers of secondary English. That being said, the text does have implications for other content areas. I have already written about how our beat ourselves over the head approach most commonly taken by teachers, especially English teachers, is a self-defeating ritual waste of educational time. Now I will begin to explain what the book recommends- deep, thoughtful instruction of a limited and useful vocabulary.

Vocabulary is the key to comprehension. Year in and year out I have had students who score well on the standardized tests of reading, but understand not what they read in school. Their limited prior knowledge and vocabulary preclude understanding. While there is not enough time in school to teach all important vocabulary, there is vocabulary that must be taught. Marzano and others have published lists of academic vocabulary that can be used as source of this vocabulary. These terms often cross curricular areas and are assumed to be understood. Indeed, many of our students do know the words. There remains, however, a significant group that are lost when asked to read textbooks and articles. As we are asked to increase the rigor of our reading selections, this group will be left farther behind. It is incumbent upon us to address the needs of students in ways that do not make them dread the printed word.

The authors suggest instruction that makes students manipulate the words, think about them and interact with their peers with them. An example of this is as follows:

Clinquant: glittering, especially with gold or tinsel
·    Comes from the French clinquinquer meaning to clink
·    Why is clinquant onomatopoetic?
·    Examples of usage:
Ø     A clinquant Christmas tree.
Ø     A clinquant evening gown.
·    What other examples can you come up with?
·    Synonym(s)?
·    Antonym(s)?
·    Shakespeare used it in Henry VIII: "To-day the French,/ All clinquant, all in gold, like heathen gods,/ Shone down the English"
·    What is the relationship between clinquant and bling?
·    Have you ever worn anything that could be called clinquant?
p. 104

As you can see this sort of deep inquiry forces students to think about a word in many ways to develop a variety of connections and links to words to facilitate memory. While the student is unlikely to actually use this word in conversation, it would be a delightful addition to a description.

I would see a content teacher using this kind of approach with critical vocabulary. The interesting thing is that in the other content areas, the vocabulary that students are asked to use are usually words that will receive a good bit of repetition and use.

For example:
Photosynthesis: The process by which green plants and some other organisms use sunlight to synthesize foods from carbon dioxide and water
o       Analyze the etymology: photo- = light; syn- = together, with, same; thesis = place, put
o       Identify other words that you know using the various roots and how those words are similar
o       Find the word in a sentence from the text that includes the word
o       Draw a picture of the definition
o       Act out the process of photosynthesis
o       Create a definition in your own words
o       Identify three living things that carry out photosynthesis and three that do not.

Many of these activities might be part of an introductory lesson on photosynthesis. Then the teacher would go into greater depth, perhaps with labs to explore various aspects of photosynthesis.

Another example might be
1. an overthrow or repudiation and the thorough replacement of an established government or political system by the people governed.

2. Sociology
. a radical and pervasive change in society and the social structure, especially one made suddenly and often accompanied by violence. Compare social evolution.
a sudden, complete or marked change in something: the present revolution in church architecture.
a procedure or course, as if in a circuit, back to a starting point.
a single turn of this kind.
o       Analyze the etymology: re- again; volvo- turn about, roll; tion- used to form nouns from verbs
o       Identify other words that you know using the various roots and how those words are similar
o       Find the word in a sentence from the text and identify which definition is appropriate for the sentence.
o   Identify the various forms of the word revolution: revolve, revolves, revolt, revolting, revolutionaries, ...
o       Why was the war for independence called the Revolutionary War?
o       Demonstrate the earth revolving around the sun.
o       Find pictures of two types of art or music that show a revolution. Think realism- impressionism or surrealism; romanticism - blockism; Picasso's early work to his blue period; gothic - romanesque; pop- hip hop or rap; Victorian - Flappers
o       What might your parents do to cause you to want to stage a revolution?
o       Fidel Castro said, “A revolution is not a bed of roses.” What did he mean?
o    We say that Earth revolves around the sun, but not the Earth revolves every 24 hours. It rotates every 24 hours.
o    Revolution is a formal word. We do not refer to revolution when speaking about turns in a board game. Think of another way we should not use revolution.

There are many avenues this lesson could take, depending what subject you teach. Social studies could study the differences between social and political revloutions. Science could then go deeper into astronomy, the movement of bodies in space, and their impact on Earth. English could read about important documents related to American history and write rhetorical speech for or against revolution. Math and technology could discuss ratios of gear revolutions. This list goes on.
Clearly, going into this kind of depth takes time. If we are not willing to commit the time necessary for students to actually learn the words, however, we might as well not teach them vocabulary at all. Because of the time required, we must pick our words carefully. We can pretest and give students words they really do not know or words they only partially understand. We can teach them word attack skills and memory skills to help them get the words into their long term vocabulary. Then we can have intermittent practice so that they do not forget them. Establish a word wall or notebook and reward using the new vocabulary. Perhaps with this kind of deep instruction, their verbal and written vocabularies will reflect the instruction that we have gone to such work to provide.

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