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?  

No comments:

Post a Comment