Thursday, March 7, 2013

Words, Words, Words...and Phrases

"So much to say, so much to say, so much to say." Dave Matthews Band

It happened tonight. I read with Carson Ann and stumbled upon a word I'd never in my life (nearly 40 years of it) encountered. It was in a children's book- a book about horses. She's become quite interested in horses these days and so we checked out a few books, a few fiction stories, on horses to read at home. So, at bedtime she began to read from one of them and came upon the word "forelock". Even with the complete sentence, coupled with the context of the  words and sentences before and after it, in addition to the illustration...we still had to infer its meaning. I relied upon my understanding of the prefix "fore" (meaning before) and my schema for my "forehead" and my previous experience with the word "lock" related to "locks of hair" (Thanks, Goldilocks.) to come to the understanding that maybe it related to the hair on the front of the horse's head. And even with those ideas in my mind, I was still not 100% certain I knew the meaning. You might already have guessed that my experiences and schema for horses is very limited- even being a born and bred Kentucky girl. 
Regardless of the exact meaning, we did our best to infer and moved along. The mental image in our minds worked and the story continued. A few minutes later we ended that chapter and switched books so I could read the more complex text to her and she began to fall asleep. I bet we made it three pages into the story before the word "forelock" popped up, again. This time the author offered more descriptive and explanatory sentences, and a more detailed illustration so that we did confirm our original thinking about the "forelock" being the patch or tuft of hair on or just above a horse's forehead--or as Carson Ann called them 'bangs'. Our new horse-related vocabulary word immediately became part of our new schema and a permanent mental image stuck. 
 It was at that point that synthesis occurred for me related to the KCAS. Aha! I get it. I now understand the need for the standard related to the understanding and use of general and domain or content specific and vocabulary, along with Greek and Latin roots and affixes! How many of us (and our kids) would have just skipped over that word- figuring it didn't matter and banking on the fact they'd never see it again...only to encounter it again and again as they studied or read about a particular subject or topic? How many are "okay" with a general or basic understanding of a words and phrases and don't search for multiple or deeper meanings (as explained below in the Literacyhead example)? What value do specific words have?

Believe it or not, words convey more than meaning. They convey the author's perspective, tone, and even subtle suggestions. Just as you determine and select specific words to use (for different purposes, audiences, and topics) so do authors; and it's worth our time and effort to support our students in STOPPING to make meaning of those words, or deepen their understanding of a possible single-dimension understanding. Why? Because we all seek deeper understanding. Why else? Because when we stretch our schema as readers and thinkers, we also extend ourselves as effective communicators and writers.

Who knows how many books I'll be reading about horses in the next few months. If it is as many as I read when my son was on his "squid kick", I am sure that I'll be banking some new vocabulary words and phrases, thus growing in a field I never thought I would. I say, "Bring it on!" because when it comes time to transfer my learning through reading, oral communication, or writing, I'll surely have "So much to say, so much to say, so much to say."

Check out these sites below for more insight into the power of intentional vocabulary work.
Choice Literacy:
Though it's a podcast, it's totally worth listening to or reading the transcript. He talks about everything from the need to purposefully teach vocabulary (and refers to the three tiers) to the including of small group work based on assessments. 

Doug Fisher talks about Vocabulary, Comprehension, and the Common Core in this podcast:

Goodbye, memorization.
Hello, memorable vocabulary lessons! 

The more words children know, the more texts they can read and understand, and the more they are likely to learn.  In fact, vocabulary knowledge is the strongest predictor of reading success across content areas.

When a text presents challenging words, we stop and ask students to think about what they know about the word. We encourage children to turn and talk about the word, which they do obediently, but when we listen closely, what they’re saying is, “Do you know what it means? Me neither.” They shrug and dream up a definition based on imagination or loose connections. Not very productive.
Rather than using the collective knowledge of students in the class to come up with a pieced together definition of a challenging word, we have begun to extend our directions, saying “Turn and talk to the person next to you about the word endless. Look at these two pictures for some clues. What can you figure out about endless?"
Desert Ride by Jeff Mahorney
Globe (detail) by Justin Richel
Or, as an alternative, before or after reading a book, we might say, “Let’s try to figure out the word endless. If you don’t know what it means, consider the way it is used in these examples and try to come up with a definition:
  • The endless rain filled the yard with water.
  • I was eating an endless lollipop; it lasted the whole movie!
  • The book felt endless as I tried to finish the 400 pages for the book report.
Finally, we might show students a picture of the opposite of endless.
Curiouser and Curiouser by Yann PENDARIES
By the end of the lesson, students who knew nothing about the word endless, will have a working understanding of the word. Students who already knew the word endless will have deeper understandings.

Asking students to work through vocabulary in these ways forces them to practice reading closely and work to use additional text resources to build background knowledge. It invites students to deeply process the word based on text as opposed to grabbing at straws. The kids are doing the work, but their efforts aren’t random. Instead, images and sample sentences (other texts) serve as scaffolds (rather than us!).

Don't have to extra time to build the image-filled lessons we're describing? We've done it for you in Literacyhead's vocabulary lessons.
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