How many times have you experienced students who struggle with comprehending information? As teachers this is an area that many face year after year. Like many others, we implement different strategies and processes that support student’s comprehension. At times we’ve supported student’s progress while continuing to see many others suffer. Throughout my years of teaching and mentoring teachers I have observed students lacking basic analytical skills, not to mention struggling with comprehending grade level text. Since we expect students to comprehend and analyze information, we must consider how we can ensure their success. It is my experience that many students struggle with grade level reading comprehension due to a lack of vocabulary development and limited exposure to new learning (prior knowledge). This two fold coin tends to be the demise of many student’s academic success, thereby, in many cases, impeding their self esteem and limiting student engagement. Once student’s enter middle and high school the problem is exasperated by increased levels of expectation. When these students enter college it is evident that they are overwhelmed and unprepared. So we ask, “what’s in a word”?
What’s in a word is the depth of meaning that our students are required to have in order to excel academically and beyond. It plays a crucial role in their SAT scores and college success. To meet students needs for developing vocabulary, many teachers have implemented various strategies and processes ranging from context clues, parts of speech, rote learning, using words in a sentence, games, songs, class vocabulary list and the like. At times each has enhanced student’s learning. However, as we exam student outcomes for comprehension it is clear that positive long term outcomes are lagging.
I’ve observed that environments that make vocabulary development authentic and consistent tend to foster a love of words and learning; in turn expanding students vocabulary and increasing student achievement. When students use words in ways that connect to their lives, they can synthesize the information and apply it to future learning. The word’s meaning becomes relevant and is deepened. The process for ensuring authentic vocabulary development can be fairly simple. However, like all teaching and learning processes it requires creating systems to ensure consistency and monitor success. One effective process that supports student’s vocabulary development is creating a structure that reinforces students application of defining individual unfamiliar words. This requires that each student has leveled independent literature.
The following has proven to have longterm success in many classrooms:
- Students define tier 2 (high frequency) unfamiliar words
- Write them on index cards( plastic sleeves on desk)
- Vocabulary Notebook
- Apply in context during writing and speaking
- Monitor use through rubric
- Teacher Models application daily
In order to support success, students must learn what constitutes a tier 2 word (generally that does not pose a problem). Students write the definition on an index card (5 x 6), which is placed in a plastic sleeve ( two slots/one for each student that sits at that desk) tapped and on each desk. I’ve found that if index cards are out of sight students are less likely to utilize them. If you have 3 or more classes you may need to tape the plastic sleeves to the side of the desk. For writing and speaking tasks there is rubric criteria for implementing their independent unfamiliar words in context; two words per paragraph. Initially students may apply some words out of context. To address this, first students should write the sentence where they found the word in their vocabulary notebook that is structured alphabetically or research the word in context (example sentences). During collaborative discussions students are required to apply their unfamiliar words. Implementing positive reinforcements during collaborative discussions often promotes a higher level of engagement.
Again we ask, “what’s in a word”? It’s the difference between, teacher as facilitator with high student engagement and teacher as lecturer.