The Missouri Reader Vol. 43, Issue 2 - Page 29

29

by

Mitzi S. Brammer

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About the International Literacy Association

The International Literacy Association (ILA) is a global advocacy and membership organization dedicated to advancing literacy for all through its network of more than 300,000 literacy educators, researchers and experts across 146 countries. With over 60 years of experience, ILA has set the standard for how literacy is defined, taught and evaluated. ILA’s Standards for the Preparation of Literacy Professionals 2017 provides an evidence-based benchmark for the development and evaluation of literacy professional preparation programs. ILA collaborates with partners across the world to develop, gather and disseminate high-quality resources, best practices and cutting-edge research to empower educators, inspire students and inform policymakers. ILA publishes The Reading Teacher, Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy and Reading Research Quarterly, which are peer reviewed and edited by leaders in the field. For more information, visit literacyworldwide.org.

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Practical Evidence-Based Strategies for Teaching Vocabulary

MO Write to Learn Conference

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● How deeply does the word need to be understood?

● Does the child only need surface-level knowledge of the word or does s/he need to be able to apply the word in multiple academic contexts?

● Will there be opportunities for additional exposures to the word?

● Is it a Tier 1, Tier 2, or Tier 3 level vocabulary word?

Tier 1 words are common, everyday words that most children learn from experience and exposure to language such as “drink” or “run.” Tier 2

vocabulary words include those content area words learned in school that have high utility. That is, the words may be a strong part of listening, speaking, reading, and writing vocabularies. They can also be applied across subject areas. Finally, Tier 3 words are content-specific vocabulary that do not usually have high utility across content areas. Examples of Tier 3 vocabulary words are “photosynthesis” or “hypotenuse.” These questions will help to determine whether fast mapping can be useful for vocabulary instruction.

Building Word Consciousness

An important instructional objective in a comprehensive vocabulary program is to help students develop an increased awareness of words and to experience confidence and satisfaction in the use and application of vocabulary (Scott & Nagy, 2009). Building word consciousness is not a separate activity, per se, that is “added on” to a vocabulary development program. Rather, it takes into account opportunities throughout the day to build awareness of words around us—what they mean, how they are used, or why one specific word may be used over another. When a child has word consciousness, more time is spent paying attention to words.

Word consciousness requires metalinguistic awareness. Metalinguistic awareness is defined by Levey and Polirstok (2011) as an individual’s “ability to manipulate subsystems of language independently of the meaning conveyed in the message” (p. 152). That is, can the individual think and talk about the language in use? Overturf, Montgomery, and Smith (2013) suggest embedding higher level vocabulary in everyday conversation and embedding meaningful context so that children can understand the word’s meaning. For example, a classroom teacher might say, “Please leave the door ajar. I would like for it to be open just a little so that I can hear the rest of the students coming in from band.” In the past, educators have thought it best to simplify vocabulary to make it easier for students who may be struggling. However, when given a useful context, this type of scaffolding allows for children to pick up on a more complex word’s meaning. Another way to accomplish this is to utilize higher level academic vocabulary in directions, again within a meaningful context, to help students pick up on the meaning. Rather than saying, “Pass out the papers,” the teacher could say, “Distribute the exams so that everyone gets a test.” Also, encourage students to use the new words they hear throughout the day and communicate with them about their correct usage of a higher level vocabulary word to foster continued usage. When opportunities are created for students to use academic language, this not only builds word consciousness, but also increases their speaking vocabulary and confidence in using speaking vocabulary.

Explicit Vocabulary Instruction

For some vocabulary words, it is not enough to introduce the word’s meaning and use it in a relevant context (e.g., pictures, used in a sentence, etc.). While these are two very important steps in explicit vocabulary instruction and should not be eliminated or skipped, there is much more to explicit instruction than that. To deeply understand, apply and retain the word’s meaning educators must implement activities and strategies that will enable the student to actively engage with the word in a variety of contexts. Stahl and Kapinus (2001) stated, “When children ‘know’ a word, they not only know the word’s definition and its logical relationship with other words, they also know how the word functions in different contexts” (p. 13). This explicit vocabulary instruction, or extended mapping, affords multiple exposures to the word to deepen knowledge and retention. Table 1 shows different ways that a child can engage in extended mapping activities after the initial presentation of the definition.