Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Allowing Students to Differentiate with Vocabulary Strategies

As I become a more professional teacher, I become a more directed learner. Having read Marzano's Classroom Instruction that Works several years ago as part of a book study conducted in my building, I was particularly interested in the chapter on non-linguistic representations. Basically non-linguistic representations mean visual, but not verbal representations. For several years I have included doing as many of these in my classroom as I can. I even incorporated webbing into one of the note taking methods I teach my students.

Last year I was given A Handbook for Classroom Instruction that Works also by Marzano that our school used again for a book study. Last semester I was reading through parts of the book that hadn't been covered by the book study when I came upon a section on vocabulary. In that section there was a five step process that was recommended for teaching vocabulary. Basically, it asks the teacher to give an everyday definition of the word and then draw a graphic representation (picture aka non-linguistic representation) of what the word means to the teacher. The student is then directed to write the word's definition using their own words and draw their graphic representation. I required my students to not draw the same picture I drew.

A few months ago I noticed our reading class was getting stale. In fact, we were all bored. I decided I needed to do something different so I decided that I would add some extra work to the week. I gave my students an extra assignment tied to the story and added both skills and vocabulary options. Here is an example of a weekly reading cycle my students completed. Notice the vocabulary assignments.

Because I have been emphasizing students choosing what works best for them, I decided to allow them to choose two strategies they thought would be best for them. (We had extensive discussions about learning styles and what works well for the students before I implemented this.) Below are the choices I gave my students to use. I even allow them to use something not on the list if they ask me about it first. Every strategy here is used by at least one of my students!
  • Create graphic representations of each vocabulary word
  • Write definitions of each vocabulary word
  • Create a flash card with definitions for each vocabulary word
  • Use in graphic organizer as outlined in Skills section
  • Create a word web with synonyms of the vocabulary words
  • Create a word web with antonyms of the vocabulary words
Here is Gavin explaining what he does to learn the vocabulary words in reading.

Here is Megan explaining what she does to learn her vocabulary words for reading.

Here is Zac explaining what he does to learn his vocabulary words for reading.

Here is Slendy explaining how she learns her vocabulary words for reading.

This is an example of how students are becoming responsible for their learning. They are trying to choose the best strategies for them. Obviously, this is what we as educators should strive for, students that understand how they learn best using tools that best fit their learning.

I am sure you also noticed that two of the four students admitted they had not transferred these skills to other content areas. This is a big concern of mine, and I hope to address this very issue school wide next year. While the short term goal was to increase vocabulary in reading, the long term goal is to teach my students to become reflective learners.

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