Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Diets and Vocabulary

After putting on a bijillion pounds of baby weight, I have discovered that it sure takes a long time to get that baby weight off. My baby is over a year old now. Which means he’s not a baby. Which means I don’t have baby weight anymore. I just have weight. :)

Thankfully, there are plenty of healthy, reasonable diets, programs, and regimens out there.

The one that seems to work best for me is pretty flexible. It lets me eat a lot of the foods I like - -provided I budget them well. So, if someone brings in donuts in the morning (fist shaking!) and I splurge (yum!)-- then I don’t get to eat something ELSE I like later in the day. Like skim ice cream. If I exercise, I get to eat a little more. If I don’t exercise that day, I don't get to eat as much.

If I don’t follow the rules, I don’t lose weight. I’m not successful that way.

If I do follow the rules, I am successful. And slowly but surely I am finding success.

It’s all kind of logical, but I am the person who needs to count and have a program help me do that budgeting of food and calories.

I would like to think of the budgeting of calories and the budgeting of vocabulary as similar ideas.

If I eat too many poor food choices -- I’m not healthy.
If our kids have too many poorly-chosen vocabulary terms -- their vocabularies don’t stay healthy.

What I mean is, if they try to digest too many vocabulary terms, they won’t be successful. Just like if I try to digest too many Valentine’s candies, I won’t be successful at my goals either.

Kids -- particularly lower-performing readers, ESE, and ELL students -- can’t handle too many vocabulary words at once. The more we give them, the less successful those struggling kids will be with them.

So here is my plea today -- figure out which words kids really, really can’t live without. And teach the heck out of those words. Make your kids OWN those words. Like a BOSS.

And then build on those.

So how do I figure out which words to teach? Well the bold words are a good place to start. But they shouldn’t be the only place you start. You’ll be amazed at how rarely our kids look at non-bold words and try to decipher their meaning.

Here are some ideas about how to choose good words, according to the brilliant Dr. Anita Archer’s book Explicit Instruction.
  1. Choose words your kids don’t actually know.  This sounds obvious, but it’s hard for us to know what words came up in reading class or a rap song or in the Big Bang Theory that everyone  in your class knows. Give informal formative assessment and ASK your kids what words they know well.
  2. Choose words that your kids actually need to understand the passage. “Manifest Destiny” is pretty crucial. “Compromise” is pretty important. “Bleeding Kansas” is secondary.
  3. Choose words that will come up again. Choose words that are not one-hit-wonders but are words that will come up again in your class, in conversation, in other classes.
  4. Choose words that are tough to learn. Many (not all) kids will get “isolationist” from “isolation”. So maybe that word isn’t worth as much time as you think it is.
Like my current eating habits, teaching vocabulary is a budgeting process. You can’t give struggling kids a big list and ask them to master the whole thing. They won’t be successful at much -- if any of it.

There is no magic number of words that kids will or won’t master. Some lower-performing students can handle fewer than their more academically successful peers.

I don’t mean that we shouldn’t challenge our kids. But I do mean that we should focus more on less. Give them fewer words and then make sure our kids really, really master those words.

WE’ll talk soon about some bang-for-your-buck vocab strategies. But in the meantime, look at your next unit of vocabulary and see if you can figure out which words to teach to mastery and which ones to just “touch on”.

Any thoughts on vocabulary selection? As always, I love to hear from you!

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