08 December 2012

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times (for vocabulary instruction)

Vocabulary instruction has been on my mind for a few months, so I decided to spend two weeks listening carefully to conversations (both face-to-face and virtually) among family, friends, and colleagues.  Below are the results of what I’ve heard and seen in the past two weeks.

Examples of worst practice shared with me by family, and colleagues friends from across the country

·         A high school student was asked to define 130 words before reading a short story in English class.

·         A group of middle school students were asked to copy dictionary definitions from the teacher’s powerpoint.

·         A middle schooler was still (it’s December) on the letter A for lists of words to define (using the dictionary) and take rote memory vocab tests over every Friday.

·         An elementary student was provided a list of definitions to accompany spelling words.  The definition provided for the word enclosure = the art of enclosing.

·         A middle school student was given a crossword puzzle worksheet and asked to define words.

·         A class of middle school students watched (while doing nothing) a video with kids talking about definitions for a paper topic.

·         A class was assigned a list of words for each chapter of a novel--words to be defined and memorized.

·         A science class was asked to define all the bold words in chapter of science textbook.  Memorize definitions & be prepared for a quiz on Friday. 

Examples of best practice as experienced by family, friends, and colleagues
from across the country

·         Teachers implementing Marzano’s strategies in a middle school classroom

·         Teachers facilitating class discussion of words in context from novel being read

·         Teachers modeling academic vocabulary when explaining directions and conducting think-alouds

·         Teachers demonstrating word analysis during study of Greek & Latin root words

As schools acknowledge the instructional shifts for literacy required in America’s schools because of the Common Core State Standards, we are seeing a need for an increased emphasis on vocabulary instruction.  With all the research and access to information via the World Wide Web, I find myself wondering why I continue to see and hear worst practice in vocabulary instruction.  Why is my list of examples of worst practice longer than my list of examples best practice?  Maybe two weeks wasn’t long enough for me to listen and record what I was seeing and hearing about vocabulary instruction?