Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The Key Vocabulary Routine

Joan Sedita's The Key Vocabulary Routine: Content Vocabulary Instruction is a designed as a workbook. While the intent seems to be to buy/attend a workshop and read the material, it does stand alone. The first part of the book is a rationale for teaching vocabulary especially as it impacts comprehension. The second part introduces her routine for vocabulary instruction- one that she proposes be adopted by a school or district to minimize the need to spend time teaching the routine. The book also contains a comprehensive appendix of reproducible forms and one of sample student work. Most of these templates are readily available online. Each chapter begins with a graphic organizer illustrating the key elements of the chapter and ends with a summary.

Her five step routine is as follows:
  • preview difficult vocabulary
  • use activities to connect vocabulary to background knowledge
  • select specific words to teach in depth
  • identify opportunities to teach word learning strategies
  • promote word consciousness
The first step is preview words. This activates prior knowledge and facilitates comprehension. I found a SLP who had taken novels that his students were expected to read and annotated them, providing student friendly-definitions for challenging words or expressions. Having at least some of the challenging terms defined, went a long way to making the novel accessible. A teacher I worked with said she expected students to look up every word they encountered in reading that they did not know. This unrealistic expectation is not even true for adult sophisticated readers no less readers who may not even recognize when comprehension breaks down. Further, since using a dictionary tends to be a bad way to try and figure out the meaning of words for students, it is likely to be an unsuccessful strategy. Sedita's previewing is actually more than many teachers do with primary vocabulary instruction. She presents key words and has students complete word knowledge check lists to identify what words they know well, know somewhat or do not know.  Then uses discussion, semantic mapping, categorizing, semantic feature analysis or scaling to make connections and provide experience words so that comprehension of later reading is enhanced. Her description of sematic mapping and categorizing are more similar to word sorts than anything else.

I have used scaling in the past. I paired it with a visual- paint sample strips- to demonstrate gradations. The students immediately grasped the concept because they could see the intense color verse the pastel and connect it to variations in meaning. A number line might be a way to present the ideas to very numerically oriented students and a musical scale for musicians.

Important to note is her distinction between previewing vocabulary and selecting words/terms for in depth study. Sedita recognizes that students can be directly taught (to the point of actual learning)about 400 words a year. Not a year per subject, but a year. That means that teachers must be very careful in selecting words to teach. Her guidelines for selection are words that are:
  • essential to instructional goal
  • major concept words that are key for making connections and building schema
  • frequently encountered in reading material
  • unlikely to be learned independently through context or word analysis
  • provide good opportunities to practice word learning strategies
  • unique and increase curiosity                                                                                     p. 68-69
So when the social studies teacher presents all 25 terms the textbook highlights as critical vocabulary for the students to learn, we should not be surprised that the two week unit has kids memorize for the test and forget. Those activities (semantic mapping, categorizing, semantic feature analysis or scaling) are used to develop word meanings. Then additional time is spent with strategies such as the Frayer method, concept definition maps or two column notes. The author also advocates word walls and etymology study, but offers few suggestions with how to do this effectively. Her use of the two-column notes was very prescriptive, looking like this:

definition: mechanical and chemical processes that cause exposed rocks to  decompose or break down
part of speech: noun
synonym: erode, break down
antonym: remain the same
category/related words: geology, weather
example: water gets into the cracks in the rock, it freezes and expands which cause the rock to break
nonexample: rain rolls off the window of the car
multiple meanings: weather strip (as in around a door or window); state or condition that is common; to make heavy weather
sentence: As a result of weathering, the marble tombstone has worn down so that the writing can no longer be read.

As you can see, this modifies Cornell notes and requires extensive work on a word. It would not be practical to complete such an entry on the 35 words in the science chapter that includes this word, but, as a multi-meaning word that is used in both conversation and is a major science concept, it might make sense to apply this much time for this word. After students complete the notes, they could pair share their work and then splash on the blackboard, white board or chart paper their sentences to share with the class. Alternatively, small groups could be given different words to complete and then either share out loud or on chart paper with a gallery walk after groups were done.

The vocabulary routine then goes beyond the specific in depth words to teach strategies for figuring out words. First the author suggests explicit instruction in context clues with the direction that all troublesome words cannot be figured out through context clues. Then she suggest teaching word analysis through roots. You can refer to my last posting about Latin and Greek roots for additional information about teaching this skill.

Lastly the author recommends developing interest in words. Activities like reading and comment on unusually interesting or bland words or phrases, discussing how you went about learning a word and using your vocabulary are recommended. She also advocates word play: games, riddles and mainpulatives to reinforce the learning. She sees extensive classroom libraries as essential to vocabulary development- if students are directly taught 400 words and they learn 1200-2000 words a year through middle school, that leaves 800-1600 words for them to learn on their own. Learning words through exposure is important. For struggling readers this word exposure can be verbal or written language. That means we need to read to them as well as have them read.

This book is a quick read that discusses an approach to vocabulary instruction. Many other texts exist on this topic, several of which I have blogged about here, here and here among others. Marzano has a three book set on vocabulary instruction. For someone trying to think about changing how they approach vocabulary instruction, this book might be a good starting place.

No comments:

Post a Comment