Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Tuesdays from the Teacher- Vocabulary and Your Child

Ms. B. is a 7th grade Language Arts teacher in the Midwest. She has been teaching for 15 years, having taught Special Education for 4 years and Language Arts for 11 years. Ms. B. has a degree in Special Education, Reading and her Masters in Education. In her free time she enjoys gardening, baking bread, being a grandparent and eating fine, imported dark chocolate. 

Today we are going to talk about vocabulary. The decrease in quality of my students' vocabulary is a trend I've noticed over the past 15 years. I have struggled to teach it in my classroom and this year finally figured out the problem! My students really do not have any idea how to learn a word, especially my struggling readers. We started an independent vocab program that requires students to record how they learn a word. Initially, almost all of the students simply recorded the definition-- whether the definition made sense or not.  Through trial and error, eventually my students realized that learning a new word has very little to do with the definition! Learning a new word requires either finding a similar word (synonym) they already know or connecting it to some kind of visual. Then they must figure out a way to review that new word 13 times to permanently add it to their vocabulary. 

I have a copy of my great grandfather's obituary from the newspaper.  It is a wonderful descriptive piece about my great grandfather and so beautifully written. Given it was done for a small town newspaper in the 1920's, it was not written by anyone with a degree in English. Why, 90 years later and with education so improved, is our vocabulary decreasing? I suspect it is primarily due to increased time in front of the TV, computer and texting. When I was a child, we played games with our friends. When family and friends came over to the house, we did not watch a movie together. We talked with each other or played board games. We also ate a meal together! My family ate almost all of our meals together even though there were hours of chores and field work to accomplish every day. Some of my fondest memories are of extended family meals and card parties with neighbors and friends.

What can parents of guardians do to help their children increase their vocabularies? Make a game of learning new words! There are lots of places to find them- while you are reading together, word of the day or week lists, crossword puzzles or websites of recommended vocab lists. Talk with your children, limit TV and computer time. Please shut off that video in the car; you have a captive audience! As a mom, some of my favorite memories are of the road trips I took with my kids. We used that time to listen to (quality) music, read a book or just talk. Talking with your children is one of the most wonderful habits you can create. It will offer so many rewarding experiences as they are children and later when they are adults. I still love the conversations I have with my adult children and always look forward to spending time with them. 

Through something so simple as increasing conversation, we have the ability to reverse the trend and improve the quality of our children's vocabulary. Helping your child to increase their vocab will also tie into improving their ability to read. The better they are at reading, the greater their self-confidence and success will be in school. We want every door to be open for our children! 

Here are some potential resources to help you get started:


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