Saturday, March 14, 2009

Vocabulary and other rambles...

It's Saturday morning which always seems to be my blogging time. I spent all of yesterday basically in my office, a very unusual occurrence. No schools, no formal meetings. My cubicle often looks like a cyclone went through-me. This was a chance to try to sort things out. I have to say that the best part of our evolving project is the opportunity for me to spend more time in schools, teaching and learning. The magic of running into a student who has just come from the library and wants to show me the new "just right" book he has ready to read to himself, students asking me if they are going to get to write today anything they want again, teachers asking when I will be back. It's really special. Those of us in consultant positions don't always get the day to day high of seeing students engage in learning so again many thanks to those teachers who open their rooms to me.
Part of my job is reading "the books" and "work shopping"them etc., but in the last month as I have directly worked in classrooms with teachers incorporating The Daily Five (Three, four) and R5 at Maple Grove, Queen Elizabeth and Moberly, and watching the excitement of teachers and students has been incredible. It's funny, several years ago, I became excited about the book, Small Group Reading Instructionand gave workshops. I had done small group instruction and had my students working independently but it was a bit of a complicated process not easily transferable to others. Jodi Carson started working with small group reading instruction and through Shelagh Maguire she discovered The Daily Five, incorporated them into her fourth grade classroom, and teachers in Vancouver started using the strategies. BCLCIRA and LOMCIRA brought The Sisters to Vancouver. Study groups flourished. Although I advocated and actively promoted the approach, not having my own classroom but I actually hadn't really "experience it" myself until this year with my focus on six elementary schools.
So to the point. At Moberly this week, we introduced the fourth element of The Daily Five, word work in a second grade and fourth grade classroom. In my work in my district I have been increasingly concerned about vocabulary and how to make our students word savvy. We work in a multicultural setting with many students who have English as a second language. Some of these students are very proficient in their first language, others are not. We also have students who may have English as a first language but still do not enter school with large vocabularies. This lack of vocabulary really is a problem for comprehension. So much work on vocabulary shows us now that we need to place a greater emphasis on this for all our students. This year I have spent a fair amount of time reading about how to effectively teach vocabulary and what vocabulary to teach.
I was excited to see the latest International Reading Association book club selection was Teaching Individual Words by Michael F. Graves. This follows his other book, The Vocabulary Book which I admit I haven't read. The components of vocabulary instruction he advocates are 1. Providing Frequent, Varied and Extensive Language Experiences
2. Teaching Individual Words.
3. Teaching Word-Learning Strategies
4. Fostering Word Consciousness

I don't know if he is planning a book on each of these but he has written this book because he thinks teaching individual words is central to vocabulary instruction. The book is very useful as it has many strategies that can be used k to high school but it isn't to me an easily accessible book. The layout of a book like Janet Allen's book, Inside Words, is so much more user friendly. One problem I had is that the examples were not always right where the explanations of the strategies were. And I also had to question the proofreading as in an example of Venn Diagrams we are told Canada has seven provinces while the U.S. has 50 states. Sorry, a bit off putting. Last time I checked we had ten! Two very useful things that I did discover from reading this book were google images. If you need a picture all you have to do is google google images. Excellent! And I now know about useful sources of student friendly definitions, the Collins COBUILD New Student's Dictionary and the Longman Study Dictionary of American English which I plan to check out. Also I was reminded of the first 4000 word list. And there are many useful strategies that I hope to incorporate in my teaching such as how to use picture books in k-2 to instill vocabulary.

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