Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Tuesday Afternoon -- Vocabulary

Learning Words Inside and Out
by Doug Fisher and Nancy Frey

The powerpoint for this session can be found on their website under resources -- it's called ira_vocab-blog. And it was excellent, or the presentation was. An action packed hour, I left with my brain heavy with ideas. Overwhelmed thinking about what I need to do with vocabulary in my classroom, in my school.

One of the things that left a big impression on me was a video clip they played of a history teacher doing a think aloud with his students showing them how to navigate the text and unfamiliar words in their book. I thought it was entertaining AND helpful. The clip for this is on the Heinemann site and the particular video clip is in chapter three "Making it Transparent."

Beacause I teach at an alternative school, I am constantly struggling with how to deliver mini-lessons and directions in a consistent manner to ALL students especially when I have new students in my classroom every Monday and Wednesday, with our rolling enrollment. However, it occurs to me that I could record myself doing a think aloud activity, for example and I could have it available on a class website OR on a disc for students to watch at various points in the course. I could do this same technique with key lessons that I want all students to hear and could also do live mini-lessons that supplement those too.

But I digress.

This vocab session was most excellent. I'm not even sure I can sum it up.

Fisher began with an anecdote about his experience taking a college class on the brain. He wanted to drop the class after his first reading assignment but pride prevented it. He showed us a sample of the textbook and it was crazy hard. He challenged us to use our comprehension strategies on the text... try to visualize what we were reading... how about make a connection... an inference? Here's a prediction. "I am not going to pass this class."

No amount of comprehension strategies can help if the student lacks the vocabulary and background knowledge. And vocabulary IS background knowledge. If you have a word for it, that shows you understand it.

In order to understand his brain textbook, Doug bought other books in an effort to build up his background knowledge. "Clinical Neuroanatomy Made Ridiculously Simple, the Interactive Edition." He watched over 100 you tube videos , watched a PBS special on the secret life of the brain, and he talked with peers. He took a wig stand, painted a brain on it, and used push pins to try to learn the parts of the brain.

You can't learn from books you can't read. But you CAN learn. He never did read the assigned book but he read widely from other resources and he relied on strategies.

Intentional Vocabulary Initiative -- 5 Priorities
1. Make it Intentional through word selection and intentional instruction
2. Make it Transparent through teacher modeling of word-solving and word learning
3. Make it Usable with collaborative learning
4. Make it Personal by fostering student ownership
5. Make it a Priority with school wide practices

Now to break that down:

1. Making it Intentional
Begin by assessing where you are as a school. There's a rubric for this on the Heinemann site.

Use gradual release of responsibility:
I do it (focused lesson), We do it (guided instruction), You do it together(collaboratively), You do it alone (independent practice)

But what words do we choose?
Consider the influence of background knowledge.
Types of vocab
  • tier 1 general (commonplace; learned from interactions with people)
  • tier 2 specialized (change meaning due to context)
  • tier 3 technical (specific to discipline)

Questions for selecting Vocab
1. representative -- Is it critical to understanding?
2. repeatable -- Will it be used again?
3. transportable -- Is it needed for discussiosn or writing?
4. contextual analysis -- Can they use context to figure it out?
5. structural analysis --Can they use structure?
6. cognitive load --Have I exceeded the number they can learn?

2. Make it Transparent -- Modeling
Show students how WE solve for unknown words. Don' t just tell them what words mean. Show students how to look inside (morphology and structure) and outside (context clues and resources) words (this is the point at which they showed us the think aloud video)

What to model?
  • Comprehension
  • Word Solving
  • Text Structure
  • Text Features
  • Context Clues
  • Morphology
  • Resources
Teach kids to go inside a word, then outside a word, THEN go to resources.

Context Clues
  • Definition/Explanation --Access to clean water would ameliorate, and improve upon, living conditions within the village.
  • Restatement/Synonym --Access to clean water would ameliorate living conditions within the village such that life would be tolerable for the people who live there.
  • Contrast/Antonym --Access to clean water would ameliorate living conditions within the village whereas continued reliance on a polluted river will exacerbate a bad situation.
  • Inference/General Context --Access to clean water would ameliorate living conditions within the village. Clean water would make life tolerable as residents could focus on other pressing needs such as finding food and shelter.
  • Punctuation-- Access to clean water would ameliorate--make tolerable--living conditions within the village.
Resources: peers, dictionaries, internet resources, phone a friend etc.

3. Make it Usable -- Collaborate with Peers
  • Partner and small-group discussions
  • Jigsaws
  • Student think-alouds
  • Reciprocal teaching
  • Co-constructed graphic organizers
  • Semantic feature analysis
Because of the nature of our school it is more challenging to collaborate since few students are ever doing the same assigment at the same time. One slide they used showed shades of meaning using a paint strip. I liked this idea and thought it could help teaching connotations of words which is something I teach in a poetry unit.

4. Make it Personal: Individual Activities

This section showed a variety of ways teachers could do individual assignments and this chart is just one example.

5. Make it a Priority: Creating a Schoolwide Focus

One emphasis was simply on silent sustained reading. The more kids read, the more words they are exposed to.

Another idea was to do WOW words -- Words of the Week. One school focused on SAT words and grouped their words by affix or derivation and featured five words a week (Fid, Fi: to trust -- affidavit, confidant, defiant, fidelity, infidel) Departments proposed words and they were introduced in English classes. One school's art and technology students made posters to hang around the school. I loved these and could really see how they'd attract attention, combine skills for the technology students and also support the learning of the words. Here are a few examples:

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