Friday, April 29, 2022

Keys to Vocabulary Instruction

I am so lucky to live and work where I do. I am grateful that we have had in person school, masks on, for nearly two full school years. Unlike some schools in Asia and Southeast Asia, we've been lucky to remain open and on campus with learners. Now that we are entering into an endemic stage of the pandemic; we are learning to live with the virus in ways that protect one another. As we emerge from the limits and challenges of the pandemic, like many others, we are rethinking, redesigning  and or relaunching teaching and learning practices.          

During the pandemic, leaders encouraged teachers to take things off of learners plates, to condense content down to core power skills, and to break larger summative assessments down into smaller chunks. Though we returned to school quickly after the lockdown, Circuit Breaker 2020, we are only now beginning to readjust our practices. Like educators everywhere, teachers at my school are thinking: 

            What do we abandon that we did before the pandemic?

            What do we go back to that we did before that we put aside because of the pandemic? 

            What did we learn to do differently that we'll continue to do? 

One thing my PLC wants to bring back is vocabulary instruction. I do too! 

Whenever I listen to talk about vocabulary instruction, Janet Allen's voice comes back to me: integration, repetition, meaningful use. Janet was my graduate advisor and continues to be my mentor and mother teacher. I first heard her cited those keys to vocabulary instruction at a literacy workshop somewhere in Florida or maybe Utah. She was citing Nagy's Teaching Vocabulary to Improve Reading Comprehension, and previewing essentials from her first book on vocabulary instruction, Words, Words, Words (1999).  One of Janet's many talents was moving research from theory into practice and for a time, these three words became our team's vocabulary mantra. 

They continue to resonate, more than twenty years since the publication of Words, Words, Words. Janet and  a host of others saw opportunities to address vocabulary instruction in ways that would be more meaningful than what was most often seen then: assign, memorize, test.

When Janet wrote Words, Words, Words, Florida was three years into the Sunshine State Standards and just beginning to grade schools as part of Jeb Bush's A+ plan to reform them.  The National Board was not a decade old and teaching folks were reflecting on authentic and meaningful ways to integrate the strands of the language arts: reading, writing, speaking, listening and language learning.  Part of that discussion was a response to the automation age and the factory model which in education relied on rote learning and repetitive tasks.

Rote learning certainly has its place. We must master alphabets and sounds and phonemes in order to grow into fluent readers and writers. We must master numbers and multiplication tables. Rote learning, according to some, is required to build a foundation for constructivist (meaningful) or conceptual learning which builds learners' capacities for creative and critical thinking. 

I question my teacher self and her thinking about rote learning. 
Is it required at all levels of learning?  
Is rote learning most powerful for learners when learning new content? 
How do we explicitly teach strategies and build practice into instructional routines? 
How do we integrate, repeat and make content learned by rote, meaningful? 

Ultimately, if we are teaching for understanding and transfer, integration, repetition and meaningful use are key.  In my own practice, beyond explicitly teaching words and concepts, we may use Quizlet Live or GimKit games to rehearse and learn new content collaboratively.  We may practice talking about concepts during think-pair-shares. We also use concept circles, on of my favorites, at the start, middle or end  of a unit (embedded below). I love them because they are flexible and give learners multiple pathways for demonstrating what they know.

Strategic options for integrating and practicing content are infinite. 

What are your go-to favorites?  

Tuesday, August 3, 2021

Reflecting on Feedback

Feedback matters.  Research from Rick Straub to John Hattie and Shirley Clarke and more confirms the importance of clear and timely feedback. I am really excited about shifts in my feedback practices. Let me nerd out a little bit about it, would you?
 Looking back, much of the feedback I received as a learner was a one-way: from teacher to learner.  Rarely did my teachers or professors step out of what Straub defines as "conventional roles of examiner, critic and judge" (92). Even with the growth and development of the writing process approach of the late 1970s and  the establishment of writing workshop approaches since Atwell first released In the Middle in 1987,  corrective or error-focused feedback was a common practice in public schools and universities.  More than ever, teachers take on roles of "reader, coach, mentor, fellow inquirer or guide"  as they respond to learners. My professor, Rick Straub certainly did as did all of the graduate assistants he trained to work at the Florida State University in late 80s, early 90s. That role shift grounds me.  When I respond to a writer as a "reader or fellow inquirer," feedback becomes a "conversation, a give-and-take dialogue" (Straub). The give and take, the seeking and receiving of feedback from learners. That's key.


Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Summative Assessment


"Okay, let's get started."

"Are you nervous," one student asks another.

I hear a high-pitch yes and see hand clutching and nervous jumping up and down out of the corner of my eye.

Students have an on-demand writing assessment today. Students write in between the lines above the directions and rubric in a Google document. 

Knowing I am deviating from the PLC's practice of giving the same passage to every student in a certain class period, I opened with, "Let me tell you how the assessment is put together."

"You will have the directions on one-side of the page in front of you, with a check list you can use before you submit. On the other side of the page is your passage. We will start with 10-15 minutes of close reading without our computers.  Everyone has a different passage and ---" 

A chorus of moans and groans interrupted me:




"Wait, what?" a student said.

"Everyone has a different passage," I repeated. "Is everything okay? You've got this. We've practiced. You're ready." Unbeknownst to students, I intentionally chose passages for each of them to align with thinking they've captured via Leticia Hughes' envelope analysis activities. They are not using their envelopes, nor are they using the one-pager of quotes and questions we used during a Socratic discussion; still, I am hoping ideas align.

"It's fine. It will be fine," one student says.

I was surprised by students' reactions.  What do you think they are expressing or reacting to, I wonder? 

The Slice of Life Story Challenge is hosted by the team at Two Writing Teachers
everyday in March and on Tuesdays throughout the year.