When asked: How do you plan instruction for the diverse learners in your classrooms? A reading certified teacher who has taught for more than 10 years and works with students in grades kinder, first, second, and third grades said the following:
“Academic vocabulary is introduced first. Usually, through the lesson objectives for the day (repetition is important). Before the lesson, scan the reading text and underline vocabulary words I think students will struggle with. I will plan my whole group vocabulary instruction and a small group instruction for students who are still struggling with vocabulary words. In the whole group and small group, I model context clues, multiple meaning words, meaning given to the student in the text. Students are given opportunities to read independently with the new vocabulary words acquired.”
About 91% of all respondents in my dissertation study said that they teach academic vocabulary. This was exciting to me because, as an experienced teacher, I did not always know how to teach vocabulary, much less academic vocabulary. I define academic vocabulary as words used in academic conversation and text. I have talked about tiers of word in. previous blog, so I can also define academic vocabulary as those tier 2 and tier 3 words that are used by experienced language users.
In trainings with teachers, I refer to academic vocabulary as “the language of the standards”. I tend to get on my soap box when talking to early grade educators about academic vocabulary because some of them have expressed the idea that some words are too difficult for students to understand. We repeatedly hear and say the phrase “kid-friendly” language when referencing objective statements and teacher classroom talk. It is truly my belief that any words, ideas, or concepts can be “kid-friendly’ if we teach them. I like to call it incidentally intentional. If you expose children to those words early, those words become words that student own.
We can expose children to academic vocabulary, in incidental ways by speaking to our students using academic language. I like to use the example “Okay students make a horizontal fold in your paper, remember, that is like a hot dog bun across the horizon, or long ways…” I would say that while demonstrating the position the paper should be in when making that fold. As another example when stating a lesson objective, I might say: “Today we will be working on manipulating phonemes or changing sounds in words.” I feel it is important for it to be common practice for students to hear words that are new and different as often as possible, but for them to also see how those words are used. We can expose students to academic vocabulary intentionally by letting them see us use academic vocabulary for them in writing just as often as we are saying them. We can do that by using those words in modeled and shared writing opportunities. This allows our students to not only hear new words, but to also see them. That counts as two meaningful exposures to rich new words.
It is important to expose children to academic vocabulary early and often. This is a good way to generate and cultivate word consciousness. When children become word conscious, they are less likely to just skip past a word they are not familiar with. We as early grade teachers can create students who are curious about learning new words. One of the ways we can hook them is through using academic vocabulary.
Thank you for reading,
I have often shared that as a second-grade teacher, I discovered that I was not teaching vocabulary in a way that students learn and in fact, even my students who were doing well academically (and have proven so on norm-referenced assessment) were not doing well in vocabulary. As a result, I began to try to figure out what I needed to do. I wanted to understand what vocabulary instruction should look like in my classroom and in classrooms that look like mine. I have been a literacy coach and Texas Reading Academy Cohort Leader for the past few years and have observed numerous abouts of classroom instruction paying attention their literacy instruction and how they teach vocabulary. I have also studied reading and literacy both at the masters and doctorate level specifically so that I can answer that question. In brief, here is what I found.
Often early grade teachers’ focus is on teaching children how to read. Teaching reading has proven to be a daunting task, especially if you as an educator are not trained effectively to do so (I will not go into detail about that part here). It is no wonder that vocabulary instruction is not considered nor taught early. Early grade teachers are spending time helping students map speech to print and match print to speech, teaching children the meaning of those words is an added task that we sometimes don’t plan for nor have time to do. It is very important that we change this narrative! Our children come to us with a varied about of words known, used, and heard so some children may come to us behind their peers and if that is not tackled early we send those children to third grade, fourth grade, and fifth grade even further behind because the text they are reading then are filled with academic and higher level words they may not know how to read and don’t know how to figure the meaning of. We run the risk of losing those students because children that read and enjoy reading, read more; and consequently, children that don’t enjoy reading, read less, and may display habits that deflect from reading at all. Okay, off my soapbox (for now), what does early grade vocabulary instruction look like? I will tell you now… I must get a little technical, but I will break it down for you.
Word learning theorist say that there is a particular way that children learn to read words, I’m examining pre-reading here. It starts with what they hear. Without going too far down the rabbit hole, children hear conversations (in their native language) some debate before they are born, but certainly after they are born, they hear adults talk and engage in conversations, they see movies and television shows, and they hear stories read and told to them. Eventually they learn that the sounds they hear represent language and can then equate that to print, first environmental print like seeing a store sign and knowing that is where I get my happy meal, but not necessarily that that golden arch is an “m”. Early grade teachers help children match letters and letter combinations with the sounds that they make to read and spell words. Vocabulary instruction can start then!
Oral language is still a very important tool to help children learn. Since children are still learning to master the alphabetic principle (the understanding that words are made up of letters and letter combinations that represent sounds), teachers can and should read aloud books with rich vocabulary that children may not have already been exposed to. Teachers should also be using academic language interchanging the academic term for a synonym children may be more familiar with. In fact, during these early phases children should be exposed to a breath of vocabulary words to fill their mental backpack with. As they are learning to read words, they should also be exposed to lots of words. Children certainly do need to learn word learning strategies, like how to use context and illustrations to understand the meaning of words they do not know. Teachers should model how this is done, when they are reading and rereading aloud those books to children. As children matriculate through school and encounter “increasingly challenging text” teachers can begin to introduce word study and morphology (the study of units of sound that have meaning) and expose them to deeper meanings of the words they are learning, introducing them to how interconnected words and word families.
What does this all mean? In sum, vocabulary instruction in the early grade classroom looks like exposing children to lots of words, by reading to them, talking to them, and letting them talk to each other about what they are learning-in authentic ways, when possible. Teachers are not only exposing children to rich new words, but they are also modeling how to figure out the meaning of unfamiliar words and letting children practice that on their own. Think breath of word learning early and depth of work knowledge and they begin to learn more words and sprinkling in word learning strategies as the children are exposed to “increasingly challenging text”. This will ensure children are being set up for success as they begin to practice these skills independently.
Thank you for reading,
How Can We Intentionally Expose Children to Rich Tier 2 Language and Model Vocabulary Acquisition Skills Using Incidental Means?
Young children learn words and language from interactions with parents, family, other children, and other adults. Classic research from studies like those done by Hart and Risley have shown that those interactions can vary depending on things like economic statues and basically put, the number of words a child hears and speaks. It is because of this that the number of words a child knows before coming to school is vast and varied. We as educators can combat this by being intentional when teaching children new words and their meanings.
From my review of literature, I have learned that children do not learn as many words from reading in the early grades because much of what they are reading comes from leveled or decodable text that are designed to help them practice spelling patterns and comprehension strategies to build accuracy with those specific spelling patterns and comprehension strategies. Those decodable text are mostly made up of words that students already know. From my observations of several classroom, I notice that early grade educators spend a good majority of their instructional time helping student learn to decode and recognize words, and rightfully so because this is a big part of children being able to independently read and comprehend text. It is important to mention that Gough and Tunmer's Simple View of Reading (1986) notes that skilled reading is both language comprehension and word recognition. This serves as a reminder that both sides of the equations are important to help students achieve skilled reading. The question is, what can we as educators do to intentionally expose the children we teach to rich tier 2 vocabulary?
Research shows that word meanings are learned both incidentally through exposure and intentionally through word teaching. It makes sense that early grade teachers would do both. Further, since this is true, it is also true that intentionally creating incidental opportunities for children to learn words also makes sense. Below 👇🏾 I have a list of resources to help teachers teach vocabulary with incidental and intentional exposure in their classrooms.
Incidental Exposures (Read Alouds)
I have an interest in the impact of early grade teachers teaching academic vocabulary — or the words that are typically used in academic dialogue and text -- as a part of their classroom instruction across subject area. I believe that an intentional focus on academic vocabulary when teaching across the content areas in the early grades will help close the achievement gap as well as help students comprehend grade level text independently as they matriculate through school and encounter increasingly challenging text. I believe that teaching academic vocabulary will help build children's content knowledge across subject areas.
As a part of my research, I surveyed 58 early grade teachers who work with children in kindergarten, first, second, and third grade. About 90% of them said that they teach academic vocabulary to their students. Those teachers who said they did not teach academic vocabulary taught third grade, though that group only amounted to about 6 teachers in this study, it still was interesting to think about. The survey question gave respondents the opportunity to answer "yes" or "no". It is true that this survey had a very small sample size and as such, it is possible that those teachers who said that they teach academic vocabulary knew that answering in the affirmative was "the right thing to do", but the responses did peek my interest. And so, this post is the beginnings of the research on the impact of early grade teachers teaching with a focus on academic vocabulary across subject area.
There is a case for the fact that children come to school with varying levels of word knowledge, whether because of economic status, home language, or a general lack of exposure to words spoken around them before beginning school. It is also important to note that along with these varying levels of word knowledge, there is also a variability in the rate that words are acquired for similar reasons. It is safe to say that these differences have been known to increase over time which can widen the gap between student groups which Keith Stanovich called the Matthew Effect in 1986 although it is debatable if the Matthew Effect applies to vocabulary knowledge.
From the work of Isabel Beck and her colleagues, academic vocabulary refers to the words that occur often across your curriculum in spoken or written school discourse. These words are important for comprehension of text read and heard in school and are often not known by some of our students who come to school with less exposure to english in the home. Beck and her colleagues suggested a system that can help educators priorities vocabulary for instruction in 2002. They tiered vocabulary for maximum impact. I will point out here that the idea of tiered vocabulary instruction may not be the only idea of how to prioritize which words to focus intentional vocabulary instruction on. It is the idea that I choose to use and may be the most familiar to educators. Both tier 2 (high utility words) and tier 3 (content [situation] specific words) are considered academic vocabulary and are the words I believe educators should center their vocabulary instruction around though there may be some instances and situations where tier 1 (basic words) may need to be directly taught if students do not get those word by incidental means.
Our basal reading programs have a vocabulary component that teachers can follow and according to my survey results, lots of early grade teachers use the words that our basal programs suggest to teach vocabulary. As I observe teachers and examine their lesson plans, I have noticed that some of the words that our basal programs suggest are not high utility tier 2 words or content specific tier 3 words (more research can be done here). Those words, though strategically placed, may be added to our basal texts to help with other skills necessary to reading comprehension, so we may need to begin to supplement words to teach to help students gain more word knowledge. Educators can supplement their vocabulary instruction with read aloud and shared reading opportunities to supplement basal reading programs in order to bring into our classroom instruction more depth and exposed children to rich different words that they may not otherwise be exposed to.
It is also important to expose children to what I like to say is the "language of the TEKS". I mean, words that are in our state standards or any state standards like, demonstrate, examine, manipulate, or identify. I have often heard the phase "Kid-friendly language" being used when conducting or planning instruction. I do agree that when stating the lesson objective, children should understand what teachers want them to do. What I am suggesting is that the language of the TEKS should be intentionally, explicitly taught so that those words can be considered kid-friendly. It is also important to intentional focus on content specific vocabulary, even in the early grades. Words that identify content across subject area like food chain, predator, water cycle, compose and decompose should also be intentionally, explicitly taught.
Once we have intentionally chosen words to teach, there are several strategies that have been used with students in grades 3-8 that can be added to vocabulary instruction by reading events like the read aloud and shared reading as a scaffold to help students begin to use those words in there reading, writing, listening, and speaking. Howard Goldstein and his colleagues wrote an article in 2017. In the article they suggest we consider the following when teaching vocabulary.
Do note when conducting vocabulary instruction it is important to know that new vocabulary knowledge builds on existing knowledge so when working with content specific vocabulary students will benefit from work helping them connect vocabulary words together by concept. Also remember that students who know fewer words may need additional support.
Information for this blog was taken from the following source:
Goldstein, H., Ziolkowski, R., Bojczyk, K., Marty, A., Schneider, N., Harpring, J. and Haring, C., 2017. Academic Vocabulary Learning in First Through Third Grade in Low-Income Schools: Effects of Automated Supplemental Instruction. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, 60(11), pp.3237-3258.
Thank you for reading,
I have often told the story about myself as a second grade teacher. As awesome as I thought I was as an educator, data speaks when gauging and understanding student academic achievement. Even if you dispute this thought, the fact that numbers don't lie still proves that data is important to understand and consider. My data was showing that the students I taught, both low achieving and normally achieving where not scoring well when it came to vocabulary. One of my core values both professional and personal is to make a difference so, to see that my students were not doing well did not leave me feeling effective. That thought is a seed that was planted and has grown into my research focus today. By the way, that research topic is still ever-evolving and growing as I both learn new ideas and experience new issues to explore. It became my mission to understand what I could do to change what the numbers revealed. I first needed to understand what it really meant to change those numbers.
My first thoughts were; "How do you even test for knowledge of words?" Vocabulary knowledge is an unconstrained skill (a skill that is learned gradually over time as your are exposed to "increasingly challenge words.). It is not like learning the letters of the alphabet and the sounds that go with them (even though English is a complex language, we can still learn all about them in a fixed amount of time). I will admit, my first thoughts were to find the words that were being tested and just teach those, but would that really "teach" children all the words they would need to be able to comprehend the text they word be exposed to when they left me and went to those tested grades later in their school careers? No it would not! I needed to teach them some words and also teach them how to figure out the meaning of other words. So, yes I started by teaching my students specific words (like the ones they would see on a standardized test, but I also began paying attention to what students were supposed to know about vocabulary before they got to me (second grade) and what they needed to learn while they were with me, but I am rambling on and getting off track. Here is why I feel teaching vocabulary in the early grades is important.
Vocabulary, whether you consider it the knowledge of words or the knowledge of word meanings is important to comprehending the text we read and hear. If we don't know the words we are reading or hearing, the text being read or heard may as well be a foreign language. The extent of knowledge I have about a topic depends on the vocabulary I use and understand about it. A researcher said; we think in words, so to change our thinking we learn more words. It is very true that students who know words, (and by know words I mean understand and use) learn more words and a greater rate than students who don't know many words. It is also very true that students who don't know many words when they begin school, will struggle to understand the text they hear or read. We cannot really control the amount of words (word meanings) children know when they get to us, but we can control their exposure to words while they are with us. The Matthew effect says "the rich get richer" this is one of the reasons that teaching vocabulary in the early grades is important.
We can begin to level the playing field for our students by teaching them more words, both intentionally by explicitly teaching words, word meanings, parts of speech, synonyms and antonyms, and morphology and by exposing them to more words through reading aloud to them and exposing them to classroom discussions and talk. It is important to do this while students are also learning the alphabetic principle and using that knowledge to learn to read words. When students begin to encounter those "increasingly challenging"(language from the TEKS) text we spoke about earlier, students are learning to use the skills they learned in the early grades both more strategically and with more automatically. Students learn about using context clues, using dictionaries, understanding the word parts carry meaning, and that words can relate to other words in the early grades through teachers reading aloud texts and modeling the skills they need to understand text and share learning experiences with other texts, but as children matriculate through each grade level, the amount of shared responsibility and understanding shifts to them as students carrying more of the load. It is at this point where we begin to see more of an issue if students don't have a strong foundation from the earlier grades. Those teachers who teach third, fourth, and fifth grade begin to see evidence of what is called the fourth grade slump. Students tend to struggle to comprehend text at the fourth grade level because of the increasingly challenging nature of text at that level and because of the student not being prepared well enough to tackle challenge of that text independently.
It is our responsibility as early grade educators to prepare our students to be able to handle the task of reading and comprehending text as it becomes increasingly challenging when they move from one grade to the next. We are teaching students to read and comprehend text so that when they get to the upper elementary grades they can use those skills to comprehend and gain knowledge from text independently at their current grade level or above.
Thank you for reading...
As a classroom teacher, with a little bit of experience under my belt, I used data and feedback from peers to drive my instruction. It was important to me to not only feel like I was an effective educator, I wanted to “look good on paper” too. I mean, it is one thing to hear administrators and other teachers talk about how effective you are as an educator, but if the data doesn’t reflect that then you have to ask yourself; “Am I really doing right by my students?” So, here was my epiphany! I guess it was about year 16 or 17 as an educator. I was thinking I am a fabulous educator and looking at my data and discovering that even my brightest students were not scoring well in vocabulary. That is when I realized that I didn’t know as much as I thought about teaching reading and more specifically, vocabulary instruction. I made it my mission that day to learn about how and why we should teach vocabulary in the early grades. I made vocabulary instruction my SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, timely) goal, my SLO (student learning outcome) goal and the focus of my graduate studies. I focused my time and energy on learning all I could about what vocabulary instruction was and why is was important to teach.
Why Teach Vocabulary?
Well, the biggest thing I can think of is the fact that words carry meaning, so like Arthur Draper and Gerald Mueller said in 1971; “we think with words, therefore to improve thinking; teach vocabulary”. I had to learn more about why it was important to teach vocabulary so, I began to research. The link between vocabulary knowledge and comprehension is very clear. No one can argue that students would not be able to comprehend the text they read if they don’t understand the words they are reading. In fact, vocabulary knowledge in reading is one of the best predictors of school success for most students whether their first language is English or not (Cooter, 2010; Solari, Aceves, Higareda, Richards-Tutor, Filippini, Gerber, & Leafstedt, 2014). One thing I have found encouraging is that although there is debatably a knowledge, learning, and education gap and although children do begin school knowing a different and varying about of words, Tanya Wright and Susan Neuman (2014) say that a good vocabulary instruction intervention can make reading struggles better later on and can help get students on track by 4th grade.
As a second grade teacher, I found it imperative that I begin teaching children vocabulary acquisition strategies and teaching them as much as I could about words and their meanings. I now know that it is important to have vocabulary instruction in the early grades to help students acquire and use these skills while they are learning to read because of what Chall and Jacobs (1983) call the “fourth grade slump”. The slump describes the dip in (scores) reading ability of fourth grade students because of the change in academic language and rigor of fourth grade content as reading instruction shifts from “learning to read” with its emphasis on understanding words and decoding to “reading to learn” with its emphasis on comprehending text at increasingly challenging rates.
What is the Science of Reading?
It seems as of late, that the phrases “science of reading” or the “science of teaching reading” have become buzz words, but what do these phrases really mean? Is reading or teaching reading a science? Indeed it is! Timothy Shanahan said that any real science of reading would include methods, approaches that have been found, through research to give kids a learning advantage in reading. If you ask some people what the science of teaching reading is, some will tell you that it is “teaching phonics”. Others will say they don’t really know. I will admit that until recently I had not even heard of the phrase at all, but my pursuit of knowledge about effectively teaching vocabulary brought me right to it. The science of reading or of teaching reading is basically the idea that I, as an educator use what research says is best for children, to teach them how to read. It pulls from brain research and from teacher’s practices as well as from what college professors, linguistic experts, reading specialists, and other experts all have proven from research studies and observations of classroom teaching. I had to dig into what others have shown and proved to work in order to learn what best to do for my students. I have had to digest ideas like the Simple View of Reading and the Reading Rope to see how to teach reading and to see how vocabulary instruction fit into the idea of skilled reading. The ideas are explained below.
The Simple View of Reading
In 1986, Philip Gough and William Tunmer developed a theory to explain the idea of skilled reading. They say that skilled reading is the product of word recognition and language comprehension. To learn more about the simple view check out this site: https://www.readingrockets.org/article/simple-view-reading. What I find interesting about this idea is that it can be used to explain why students have reading difficulties. It also can show why it is important to have a reading program that has a balance of portion of both word recognition and language comprehension instruction. It is important to note that this does not mean 50% and 50%. It means that your classroom instruction have the correct balance of each of these. In the early grades students are spending more time “learning to read” so the bigger portion of time might be spent in word recognition strategies rather than language comprehension, but language comprehension should not be ignored. I can use Hollis Scarborough’s Reading Rope to explain the idea with more detail.
Scarborough’s Reading Rope
In 2001 Hollis Scarborough used the model of an intertwined rope to illustrate what skilled reading looks like. The strands weave into two bigger strands, labeled similar to the components of the above mentioned Simple View —word recognition and language comprehension — and eventually into one woven rope that represents skilled reading .
Each strand unwoven correlates to a part of what skilled reading is. The bottom portion of the rope represents the components of word recognition which are phonological awareness, decoding and sight recognition which all become increasingly automatic as they interconnect toward skilled reading. The top portion of the rope represents the components of language comprehension which are background knowledge, vocabulary, language structures, verbal reasoning, and literacy knowledge and become increasingly strategic as they interconnect toward skilled reading.
How Does Vocabulary Instruction fit?
Vocabulary knowledge falls under the language comprehension strand according to the Reading Rope (2001). It consists of aspect of knowing what a word means in order to comprehend texts that are read and/or heard. Our knowledge of a word’s meaning becomes increasingly strategic the more we are exposed to that word and words that are related to that word. In order to know a word we must know a lot about it. We should know the words part of speech, the words meaning in context, and well as how to read the word when we see it in print. Teaching students words, word meanings and strategies for figuring out meaning of unfamiliar words is very important because understanding word meanings is an important part of reading comprehension. Vocabulary instruction is a way to help students begin to know more words and to figure out the meaning of words that they don’t know. Understanding the importance of vocabulary instruction in reading comprehension is crucial.
Starting vocabulary instruction when students are “learning to read” in the early grades is a good way to ensure that students will have those crucial skills with they are “reading to learn” in late elementary where some students fall prey to what Jeanne Chall and Vicky Jacobs call the 4th grade slump (1983). To better understand the terms reading to learn and learning to read, I will refer to the reading rope again. The reading rope is sectioned into language comprehension and word recognition as I have mentioned above. Thinking about how children learn to read we understand that they must learn sounds, letters, and decoding and blending to begin to learn words. This all happens in the word recognition portion of the reading rope so we start there and word recognition becomes more automatic as children learn more (learning to read). It is important to note that the stands in the rope do intertwine and connect so, although we should begin with word recognition that does not mean that we teach our way from word recognizing to language comprehension, it mean that as our students gain automatic word reading skills, we are teaching language comprehension and word meanings first in isolation and then in context. As word recognition is becoming more automatic language comprehension is becoming more strategic. At this point, reading instruction shifts focus from learning to read to reading to learn. Then, teachers focus more on comprehension of increasingly challenging text and strategies that help students with comprehension, like vocabulary instruction. Vocabulary instruction, early and intentionally can help combat the knowledge gap students may come to school with. Keith Stanovich, coin the phrase “the Matthew Effect” in 1986. The Mathew Effect “the rich get richer” from Matthew in the bible. This idea says that children with poor reading ability tend to continually struggle; but children who have good reading ability, maintain, and grow their reading ability throughout their schooling. Good vocabulary instruction can combat these struggles and with time reverse them.
What does this mean for Teachers?
Again, like the Simple View of reading, the Reading Rope details how word recognition and language comprehension come together to show skilled reading; but what is interesting about the Reading Rope is that it lays out each of the components in much greater detail and our Texas standards for reading/language arts are aligned to the strands. All components come together, either increasingly strategic (language comprehension) or increasingly automatic (word recognition) but begin as skills introduced and learned in isolation. Because each component is truly meant to be performed in an interconnected way, once a skill or set of skills is learned (Introduced explicitly and systematically, modeled by the teacher, and practiced by the students) students should be allowed to practice the skills not only in isolation but also in the context of authentic reading and writing opportunities
What really is equity in education? It is a freedom from bias or favoritism. We also have to consider diversity. Everyone has a uniqueness to them that spans across race and culture and even household. We as educators have to embrace and cultivate this uniqueness. This has been on my mind and I am sure I am not alone. Educators know and have discussed the word gap, the knowledge gap or whatever you choose to call it. We talk about schools in low income areas not having enough resources to effectively educate children who are already grade levels behind their peers. We have even come up with a few ideas to help level the playing field so to speak, but this pandemic has exposed some more real inequalities to the world. School district and state officials are working on plans to lay out what instruction will look like in the next school year and are sure to focus on the digital divide as well as the gap that student groups who fall short academically will face so I will focus more on racial equity in this blog post.
2020 has been a year of a heighten awareness and exposure to the obvious signs that we STILL have issues with inequity in education and to add fuel to the fire, because of the exposure social media brings, we are also witnesses to the ongoing racial inequities that are causing uprisings all over the country. COVID-19 and the killing of blacks by police seems to be unfairly impacting the African American community. This inequity is visible across race and economic status but mostly targets poor people of color. We all see it even if we don’t admit it. Seeing these matters playing out in the news daily is a great stress on my spirit! If it is affecting me, I cannot imagine how it is affecting children and that is all children, not just children of color!
Children may experience emotions from fear, to depression, or anger or possibly a combination of this. I often reflect on the question of “what can I do for children?” especially children of color. I also think about how I can help prepare the teachers that I work with because quite often African American children and other children of color are not being supported and valued in their classrooms and communities. Teachers being aware of this is the first step in dealing with it. Something must be done! I am compelled to be an advocate and a voice for my community as it relates to education and educators, because that is where my real passion lies. My mind is in deep thought and I am seeking to answer the question: "What can I do to level the playing field?" How can I help teachers, teach all children?
I feel I need to say that black lives matter here and I also need to state, as has been echoed by others, that my previous statement does not mean that all other lives don’t matter, but that we matter too equally whether we are rich or poor! As an African American educator, I see the need to discuss these issues and write about what education should look like during these times and for the future because we are working through these issues, but still need to think about how to educate our future leaders. I am considering how we can cultivate diversity in our classrooms to better support all student, especially students of color. My thoughts are simply that if we show, discuss, and share the cultural differences each of the children in our classrooms have, we help build their pride and self-confidence. We also teach children to embrace the unique culture of others. I believe that this is the beginning of healing process of the racial tension we have. Start with the children! We can start with helping them build pride in self and an understanding and appreciation of others. A good way to do this is with multicultural literature.
Teachers introducing multicultural literature functions as an influential tool in empowering students to gain a better understanding of both their own culture and the cultures of others. Children develop better cognitive skills as they learn to engage with and critically evaluate the texts that they read as they learn their own culture and the culture of others. Teachers can and should consider ways to help their students engage in interacting with these types of texts. Suzanne Evans conducted a study in 2010 and found that exposure to multicultural literature increased children’s awareness of the social practices, values and belief systems of other cultures. I believe it is this awareness that is a part of the racial healing process we need.
Students are learning about their culture and the cultures of others as a part of the educational routine of the day. They are learning to think critically and to respond to literature and to life situations as independent thinkers who are aware of who they are and are aware of the cultures of others. They are also learning to esteem themselves when they see positive self-images. This combats the negative feelings students may face because of what they see on the news and on social media now. Once we build each students pride in self, we must continue to education them. Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed stated: Education either serves as a tool to enable incorporation of the younger generation into the logic of the present system and bring about conformity or it becomes the practice of freedom, the means by which men and women deal critically and creatively with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of their world. It is our job as educators to help children speak freely about the system they are growing up in. We must educate and cultivate our future! We can do this by introducing children to their culture and the culture of others and by being culturally responsive teachers.
Culturally Responsive Teaching
Culture is who we are and teachers understanding that is a cornerstone to aid with learning. For teachers to be culturally responsive we have to think about reshaping our thinking process to create a pedagogy that recognizes, celebrates, and responds to all a culture offers and creates fair access to all students from all cultures. Gloria Ladson-Billings, the author of The Dream Keepers lists and explains some characteristics of culturally responsive teaching. They are:
Zaretta Hammond says that being a culturally responsive teacher begins with building relationships. Getting to know our students is one of the best ways to help educate them. As Theodore Roosevelt said, nobody cares how much you know until they know how much you care. Our children need a champion! Children know when you are not being genuine. Taking time to get to know them is a good way to reach them and engage them in new learning. They will be more receptive to you as an educator and you will have a bit better insight into what to do to understand each of their unique needs. Feeling sorry for their status in life will only coddle them and keep you from applying the correct amount of push to keep them grappling in the zone of proximal development (Vygotsky) where the learning happens. We as educators — and yes I said we— should learn culturally relevant teaching. Culturally relevant teaching according to the National Center for Culturally Responsive Educational Systems (NCCRESt) the ability to learn from and relate respectfully with people of your own culture as well as those from other cultures. It is this willingness that will help cultivate the relationships we build with our students as we teach them. It is our job as educators to teach children respectfully and equitably. It may require a little mindset change for some, but it is imperative that we do it. Our children are our future so in order to have a better, healed, well balanced tomorrow, we need to work on it today.
Thank you for reading!
As a classroom teacher, I found that my students who were mostly from low income areas were not acquiring and using new vocabulary in their reading, writing, and speaking. The problem with that for me really was discovering that even my students who would normally achieve and thrive, who were not from low-income backgrounds, were also not acquiring and using new vocabulary in their writing or speaking. I had been teaching awhile and considered myself an expert teacher, but the data was not reflecting that, not formally or informally.
I began to look for ways to combat the fact that students were not achieving this goal by looking at the state standards for vocabulary instruction to understand what they should know at their current grade level, what they should already know and what they will learn in subsequent years. I also began to look at what vocabulary instruction was from a research standpoint. I wanted to know more about teaching vocabulary. I wanted to know how vocabulary knowledge fit in the science of teaching reading and I wanted to know what other teachers were doing to teach vocabulary to their students.
Teaching second grade was my favorite time because these students were moving through learning to read and for the most part were grasping decoding and blending and are able to apply those skills to reading and comprehending more challenging texts. Developmentally, students in second grade are working with skills they learned in first grade and preparing to apply those skills to content they will learn in 3 grade when teachers’ focus transitions to instruction that has students reading to learn and focusing more on comprehension. Third grade is also when students in Texas begin to take standardized test, so second grade is a good grade to have students practice using skills that will become more challenging when teachers’ focus changes.
In second grade students need to know how to use print and digital resources, use context to determine the meaning of words that are unfamiliar, identify the meaning of and use words with affixes and explain the meaning and uses of synonyms, antonyms, idioms, and homographs as well as respond to text using new vocabulary when it is appropriate. I wanted to understand how vocabulary should be taught to help students achieve these expectations.
I read studies like the one that Lynn Cohen and Katherine Bynes (2007) a professor and a classroom teacher respectively conducted. Their action research was conducted to understand which instructional procedures for teaching vocabulary support of third grade bilingual and monolingual students’ use of literacy. Their research compared two instructional approaches. One that used read-aloud trade books that had targeted vocabulary and opportunities for daily direct word learning strategies and the other was a traditional definitional approach. Their findings showed that helping students develop strong vocabulary requires more than them looking up words in the dictionary. Another article I found informative focused on the types of children I taught. Lovelace and Stewart (2009) examined the effects of systematic vocabulary instruction techniques with African American 2nd grade children with below average vocabulary skills and also to examine the role of book type in the retaining novel vocabulary words. The study took a look at the use of multicultural books on word knowledge of these children. This study resulted in those students gaining word knowledge and maintaining at least two weeks after the introduction of those new words. These findings show that there is a potential impact of vocabulary instruction for facilitating vocabulary development with these children, but that the book choice did not matter as much as the robust instruction.
A thought emerged; what would happen if I was intentional with the way I taught vocabulary? What if, I thoughtfully choose words, planned how and when they were taught and created opportunities for students to use those new words in their reading, writing, listening and speaking? What would happen if I created opportunities for students to revisit words that they were exposed to previously and helped them connect those words to other thoughts, topics, and ideas? What does robust vocabulary instruction look like? My dissertation topic was born from these thoughts. My research has taken on a life of its own and I am excited by what I have learned. I began to share what I was learning with other teachers, but I also noticed that there were some educator who were already teaching vocabulary and that was evident because their students where using new words. Not only understanding them when reading, but also in their conversations and in writing. I want to study teachers’ thoughts, ideas, and practices around teaching vocabulary. I have chosen to do my study with second grade teachers because I believe that teaching vocabulary early and effectively can prevent and/or correct the knowledge gaps that some children may come to school with.
I have always worked in the public school setting and with students from low income areas and as I studied and read more, I understood that some students may come to school with achievement gaps so it is very important for teachers to be intentional with their classroom instruction and especially with vocabulary instruction because there is a direct link to comprehension of increasingly challenging text. The gap that some students come to school with is disheartening especially when I think about the link between early vocabulary knowledge and early reading achievement (Snow, Burns & Griffin, 1998; Berne & Blackowicz, 2009).
Thank you for reading. I would love to hear your thoughts,
Pearl Garden, Ed.D has completed her dissertation research involving understanding the vocabulary instruction practices of early grade teachers. She has a passion for the new and novice educator, and it is her goal to help educators tackle the achievement gap with her research findings. She will use this blog to share what she has learned in “pearls of literacy”. The ideas come from her dissertation titled “A Content Analysis of the Vocabulary Instruction Habits by Early Grade Teachers”.