Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Creating Robust Vocabulary

When I saw that Isabell Beck and Margaret McKeown had written a follow up book to their highly successful Bringing Words to Life, I couldn't wait to get my hands on it. When it finally came in the mail, I sat right down and began reading. The book answers frequently asked questions about their original vocabulary strategies, but it is of such interest to me right now because I have joined with with a group of primary teachers to write our own vocabulary activities based on books we already had in our classrooms.  After spending the last year writing, field testing, assessing, and rewriting activities, I was interested to see if the book answered any of the questions that we have had over the last year. It did!

I do feel like I have an even better grasp of Tier Two words and understand which ones provide "mileage" and should or shouldn't be included for robust instruction. I realize that we have a few words in our unit that don't really meet the criteria for "robust" instruction (such as rumpus from Where the Wild Things Are which is NOT a word that meets the "mileage" criteria), but that's what makes the experiences of the last year so interesting.

I guess my biggest "a-ha" was realizing that most Science words are Tier Three words and would not be good choices for the type of robust instruction that is contained in Beck and McKeown's work. Most Science words are specific to that genre and are not words with mileage across curriculum areas. I had thought that we might incorporate Science vocabulary into our vocabulary instruction but am now rethinking that.

I have also broadened my ideas about ways to assess vocabulary. Of course, we don't have vocabulary grades in Kindergarten, so our reason for assessment would be simply to see if the children are internalizing the words. I guess one of the things that I realized is that I CAN depend on how the children are reacting to the words and examples as I teach. "Reading the room" as I go is a great way to assess along with beginning to see the words used in the children's writing as ways to evaluate the quality of instruction. We may not need anything additional in assessment in Kindergarten.

The only unanswered question that I still have is that Beck and McKeown really never mentioned using picture cards to associate with the words. This is something that teachers really seemed to like and feel was important. I would be interested to know Beck and McKeown's take on using picture cards paired with the words...

All in all, this book is a quick read, has an excellent section of examples for teaching vocabulary as professional development to specific grade level teachers, has a great list of possible activities for teaching new words through literature, includes lots of intermediate activities and was validating that we are indeed on the right track!


Susan T. Phillips said...

Well I am ordering this right now - you holding out any other cool info from me?

Stacey from Two Writing Teachers said...

I think I'm going to get it. Thanks for the tip!!!

debrennersmith said...

Especially with ELL students, I think that the picture cards are vital and necessary. What do your teachers think?