Saturday, September 17, 2016

Learn Vocabulary: Clever Word Attack Tactics & Context Clues Are NOT Enough

I'm on a mission and in a hurry. We need to move education forward but we seem to sound like a broken record repeating some things that just aren't true and that just aren't working.

It's no secret. Reading comprehension around the country continues to be a problem. A big problem. It's a big problem in elementary schools and it only gets worse from there.  Our students are not making the progress that they should and part of the answer to me seems to be simple.

The fact is that if the kids don't understand enough of the words that they are reading, they can't comprehend the text. They just can't.  Where I get impatient is that so many school systems, teachers, bloggers and social media people seem to keep repeating that the kids should learn to use context clues and word attack strategies based word roots and affixes.  And they say it as if only the kids would read more, they'd pick up the vocabulary that they need.

The problem with these ideas is that it has either been proven to be untrue or at least,  has not been proven to work. Yet they keep repeating it as if it's the solution to the problem.  It's not.  Lets look at it point by point.

There are a lot of words that students need to learn. Beck organizes them into Tier I, II, and III. There's also strategically important academic vocabulary and content vocabulary.    As far as I can tell, nobody has ever quantified what percent of the Tier I & II words can be accessed through word roots and affixes. I believe it's a tiny percent, less than 15%. Probably less than 5%. And in fact, in a good percentage of the words, the apparent word root is more misleading than illuminating.  Yet, we keep promoting these word attack strategies as if they are going to move mountains. They are not, they are side shows to the core problem of learning thousands of words, thousands of words per year! These tactics are not magic keys to building vocabulary.

Does reading enough help students master the vocabulary that they need? Empirically, this has been shown to be false. NOT TRUE,  Also, basic common sense suggests that it's not true too. Research (and most people's experience) has shown that a few encounters to a word does not lead to proficiency or mastery of it. The research says that students, to learn and retain a word must:

  • Encountere it 12 to 14 times
  • Encounter  in a variety of modalities meaning the word must be heard, read, spoken, written, and played with. Seeing it while reading is just one modality and the least likely one to lead to retention.
  • Encountered over a spaced period of 4-5 weeks
We all know that students can cram for a test on a Friday, get 100% on the meaning of the words, and know practically none of these words a week later. Cramming and random encounters with words are not a vocabulary building strategy, they are just wishful thinking but way too many schools base their vocabulary program on this type of wishful thinking.

Basic stats:  The National Research Council said that 70% of our comprehension problem is a vocabulary problem. Not 7%, but 70%. They were looking specifically at elementary schools (actually fourth grade). 

Schools talk about how students need to build reading endurance which makes me crazy angry.  There's no point making students struggle through long passages if they kids aren't getting anything from the exercise.  And while the kids today do seem to have strong proficiency at decoding, they are not understanding very much primarily because they don't hit the minimum threshold of vocabulary knowledge or automaticity required to decipher the rest. (Some background sources: Professor Tim Rasinski on Automaticity and McREL's Research Paper on Vocabulary Building). 

Here's where I get crazy annoyed. The teachers and curriculum are actually doing a solid job of introducing and teaching new vocabulary to students. I see this in classroom after classroom. But they introduce and teach each week and then they move onto the next lesson the next week and they don't have the time, tools, or training to translate their teaching into retention.  Vocabulary retention requires strategic spaced practice over a number of weeks. 

VocabularySpellingCity has as its mission, the creation and dissemination of a system so that students retain a far larger percentage of the vocabulary words that they are being taught.  Join us now on this vocabulary matters journey!

Monday, September 12, 2016

Vocabulary Matter - SpellingCity Became VocabularySpellingCity

VocabularySpellingCity went through a transition, moving from spelling to vocabulary-building. Here’s the story:.
Our Journey from SpellingCity to VocabularySpellingCity
Our Journey from SpellingCity to VocabularySpellingCity

SpellingCity was how the company was first started.  After a while, it emerged that the educational excitement was all about vocabulary. Ironically, at the same time, schools stopped reporting vocabulary scores from the standardized tests and now only comprehension is reported.
In fast, the vocabulary tested was sort of dumb, it really focused on memorized definitions more than core literacy skills so all in all, it's a good switch. But it did sort of fake out many schools who stopped focusing on vocabulary. This turns out to be dumb.

Every school needs a strong program to build vocabulary. And I quote the president of VocabularySpellingcity:

I’m just back from the International Literacy Conference and I was struck my some apparent elementary ELA industry trends:
Games on VocabularySpellingCity.
Games on VocabularySpellingCity.
  • Principals, literacy coaches, and teachers all seemed to be moving away from basal readers as core curriculum. More often, they are now using them as supplementary materials.
  • The educational standards are taking center stage as the organizing principle of ELA curriculum. In many cases, they are taking the “One Standard a Week” approach, which everyone knows is an odd way to organize curriculum. Despite that, they like the focus on core skills as defined by the standards.
  • Many schools are using modified Depth of Knowledge (DOK) approaches with their own interpretations of the DOK.
  • Words Their Way (WTW) seems to be growing in popularity, although I often heard that they are “taking a WTW approach” but not necessarily trying for a high fidelity implementation.
  • The role that technology-based solutions can play in ELA is becoming much better understood.
  • The need for better vocabulary-building strategies is being recognized as a missing link or key strategy to improve reading comprehension and to build overall academic success and reading habits. Several people mentioned the statistic that 70% of reading comprehension problems can be traced to vocabulary issues.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Isabel Beck - The Tiers of Vocabulary Words

These are my working notes as I work my way through the literature on learning vocabulary. Just rough notes for myself. Kept here so I don't lose them and htey don't clutter up my desk.

Beck has several tiers.

Tier 1.  About 5K words, Known to native speakers. Sad, funny, blue, old, etc
Tier 2.   About 7K words. These we need to learn. adept, adopt, conundrum, remorse. These are basically words with a shade of difference meaning than a tier 1 word. Example: "sad" is a tier 1 word but "forlorn", "regretful",  "melancholy", and "depressed" would be tier 2. (source: John & Beck Videos)
Tier 3.   About 10K more words of domain specific and academic vocabulary.
Tier 4.   There's also another 300K of very specialized vocabulary.

Sadly, many schools have students from language deprived backgrounds who need help mastering even the basic 5K of Tier 1 words.

VocabularySpellingCity is doing this research review on vocabulary so that we fully understnad which words lists are worth studying and in which way.  Of course, the gola is tention and our key is to avoid the weekly cycle with cramming, to support a multiweek cycle of encounters with the words which include 12-1 word encounters of a large variety of types.  And to truly deal with nuance and context, not just to oversimplify...

For instance (and I quote):

VocabularySpellingCity offers hundreds of free second grade spelling and vocabulary lists that correlate with 2nd grade state standards. Second grade teachers have the option of importing from a wide variety of word lists and assigning interactive games and activities to students. Teachers can also access supplemental literacy tools, such as free handwriting printables, via VocabularySpellingCity.
Second grade spelling word lists include Dolch and Fry sight word lists, Words Their Way® word pattern lists, and word structure lists (compound words). Second grade students can build sight word fluency and phonics mastery through the use of VocabularySpellingCity’s interactive online games. Second grade games feature both audio and visual elements, an effective learning tool for all maturing readers and writers, specifically English Language Learners (ELLs).

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Make It Stick: Education and Learning

I'm reading a book which I will start annotating here on the blog about Learning.  The focus of the book is that they methodology of learning, the science of learning, is now (and has been for awhile) largely understood.  And ignored in common practice.

Yes, we know how to make learning stick. It does not cost more. It is not really harder to do. It just means following a methodology. But mostly we don't...

Stay tuned...

Monday, May 16, 2016

Build Vocabulary: Alters Students’ Destiny

I'm trying to analyze what you've drafted and what we need. I'm falling back on  outlining as a  way to analyze what we're saying and trying to say.

5/15/16 First Draft
Audience: Administrators and District People
Outline of...

 Vocab sets destiny:
- Who holds the key? Teachers! (Raises distracting questions of role of parents who empirically, hold the key. The real question is whether schools can give kids a second chance)

- Poor kids have much worse vocabularies ..
“A person’s vocabulary level was the best single measure for predicting occupational success in every area. Furthermore, vocabulary is not innate, and can be acquired by everybody.”

School learning pattern of weekly word list...Need a transition from former section on significance of vocabulary

(finish outline...)

I love the emphasis on methodology in writing and technique. I'm embracing it. I'm also totally on board with the idea this white paper merits our best efforts since it sets the tone of all of our marketing. I think we should start all over and again (We'll probably do this several times) and I'd start by building several paragraph blocks first and then organize them with an outline:

In terms of metaphors and approaches. I'm cooling on the "vocabulary is destiny" since I'm warming on "Superpower or kryptonite" and I feare that we risk using too many metaphors.

The “vocab is destiny” is an over-the-top statement which sometimes worries me. Would a “missing link” metaphor be better (ie missing link between phonics and reading comprehension?)

explain method in writing

picking the metaphor should be based on:
- what gets used

- what works


What is done in school's today: 
1. weekly word lists tied to studies. Linking them to studies is good. But in the ongoing battle to do things in adequate depth versus to cover all the materials, the collateral damage is retention in general and vocabulary in particular.
2. de-emphasis of the weekly word list since it's been shown, in some studies, to not work. This has led to reliance on two ideas, both sadly, bebunked myths:
- "If they read enough, they'll pick up the vocabulary that they need"
- Context clues, latin & greek word roots, and the concepts of figurative language constitute an adequate foundation of a vocabulary-building program.
Also, the superior educational value of words in context over words learned by definitions has erroneously led to vilifcation of the idea of word lists as a construct.
Ironically, teachers are reluctant to give up on the weekly word list. Our interviews indicate that they cling to this for several reasons, some more valid than others:
- Parents expect weekly word lists. They know, they like to help with it, it's popular and simple.
- They have seen it work and as an academic construct, it has withstood the test of time. It is a foundational concept which, despite some shifts, feels too powerful and useful to throw out.
It's this second concept which is dead on.  Direct vocabulary instruction, built around an word lists, is a rock solid educational concepts. It should be tweeked and refined but not trashed....

What works? Direct instruction works if:
- instruction is adequately spaced to hit long term memory
- the word is touched 12-14 times
- the touches are multimodal enough: hear, say, read, play with, phonically analysed, morphologically worked, word relationships worked.
- the right volume of vocab words
- the right strategic vocabulary is worked

A Vocabulary Building Solution
- overlay a 4 week cycle of retention-building over the weekly cycle of introduction
- deploy tools that enable these two structures and multiple multimodal context-rich touches
- make tough decisions on what vocabulary is strategic. Cut back to 8-14 words per week (depending on grade and students). Less is more (less volume leads to much more retention).
- emphasize integration of vocabulary lists with class studies...
- word lists can be used in games that emphasize the use of words in context, the sounds of the words, the syllables in the words, word relationships...
How VSC relates to what works?

Thursday, May 12, 2016

She's a teacher at the middle school, not a gator farmer!

This lady doesn't work on a gator farm, she works in a middle school. Her name is Lisa Lee and here is her education TEDx talk which is an inspiration!  She spoke at TEDxCrestmoorParkED on November 11, 2013.

If you are very lucky, you might meet a teacher like her.
- John Steinbeck

She points out there are a lot of meetings in education and she hopes to "pass on" (ie die, it comes through more clearly when she says it) during a meeting .


Need to put up other ted talks from Broward, identify people...

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Word Relationships

The CCSS and most educational language arts program include specific elements to help students understand the relationships between words.  The CCSS added "shades of meaning" as a core concept which is far more rigorous than just discussing words as synonyms.  

Here is a list of some types of word relationships.

Homographs are words that are spelled the same, but have different meanings and different pronunciations: bow as in arrow vs bow as in taking a bow after a performance, bass as in fish vs bass as in a stringed instrument. Wind as windy, wind as in what to do with an old clock.

heteronyms - multiple meaning words.  ie fish, fly, fit, fan, fix, fire, free, 

polysemy - related to "which words are multiple meaning words as intended in the CCSS and when they are just words with more than one meaning"

hypernym - is the category (automobile)

hyponym - are synonymy of types of words associated with that category (sedan, SUV, coop, van, etc)

synonyms - meaning something like the same thing

antonyms -opposites

capitonyms - sound and spelling the same but different meanings, one of which is a proper nounhomophones/ homonyms - sound alike words:  no, know, ate, eight, sight, site

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Robert Marzano, “Building Background Knowledge”

Robert Marzano, “Building Background Knowledge”
  • An outline of points relevant to VSC Vocab’s Challenges by John

  1. Background knowledge sets the stage for more learning.
    1. Academic background knowledge is most relevant to academic learning
    2. We acquire background knowledge thru:
      1. Our ability to process & store info
      2. The number & frequency of our academic experiences
    3. Poverty, ethnicity, and impact of schools
    4. Direct & indirect academic learning experiences
  2. An Indirect Approach…For the relationship between vocabulary and background knowledge
    1. Stored in Bimodal (linguistic & nonlinguistic) Packets (nature of memory connections & imagery),
    2. Process of storing experiences in permanent memory can be enhanced. Analysis of relationships of working permanent, and sensory memory
    3. Background knowledge is multidimensional and its value is contextual...ED Hirsch’s 1987 claim that “cultural literacy requires knowledge of common background, a common core of knowledge.” Identified 4,546 terms and phrases required to operate..
    4. Even surface level background knowledge is useful
    5. Background knowledge manifests as Vocabulary Knowledge
    6. Words are...tags or labels for packets of knowledge (p33). Drum and Knopak. Each word is not an object, it’s a label for a class or knowledge packets
    7. Virtual experiences are educational: they build background knowledge. Analysis of reading, language interaction and educ’l TV as virtual experience
    8. Summary of recommendation: 1. Install knowledge into permanent memory by 2. Having multiple exposures to target info. 3 Focus on accurate surface level info in broad areas 4 with linguistic and non-linguistic aspects with 5 labels for packets of experiential knowledge (ie direct vocab instruction), and 6 rely on virtual experiences of reading, language interaction, and ed’l visual media
  3. The power of Wide Reading & Language Experiences...A Five-Step approach to using SSR (sustained silent reading) to enhance academic background
  4. Building academic background knowledge thru Direct Vocabulary Instruction
    1. Case against:  Size paradox: Why teach 300 directly when 2-3K is goal? Why not read a lot and hope statistics work out?
    2. Case for:
      1. Estimates of Vocab vary dramatically;
        1. 1st grade: 2.7K-26K
        2. 3rd grade: 2K - 25K
        3. 7th grade: 4.7K - 51K
      2. Wide reading for vocab-building is no longer really believed….analysis…
      3. Direct Vocabulary Instruction Works -Stahl & Fairbanks: Direct Vocab instruction amplifies learning trend
    3. Characteristics of Effective Direct Instruction
      1. Descriptions, not definitions. Effective vocabulary instruction does NOT rely on definitions
      2. Knowledge of words must be both linguistic and non linguistic
        1. Long term memory tagging requires both words and images…
      3. Process: Gradual shaping of word meanings through multiple exposures
        1. First contact, repeated exposure, different uses, and types of interaction
        2. Comparing, contrasting, & classifying words, similiarities and differences, really important (Should VSC create logic maps of words? Borrow anything from wordnet)? Metaphors and analogies are high level word processing processes..
      4. Word Parts help particularly pattern recognition skills…
      5. Different types of words learned differently
        1. Nouns v Verbs, concrete nouns v abstract nouns
        2. Large analysis of words by category and semantic features
      6. Students should discuss terms that they are learning
      7. Students should play with words..Logology: Word and language play
      8. Focus on critical vocab.
        1. Beck: 3 tiers with direct instruction focused on tier 2: Marzano disputes that word frequency  defines words’ significance, feels that words critical to academics should be identified
  5. Six Steps to Effective Vocabulary Instruction. Should have vocabulary journal for them.
    1. Teachers provide a description, explanation, or example
      1. Example: “Discovery” Discuss examples of discoveries. Make them vivid. Categorize them as man-made events.
      2. Ex: Deductive reasoning: Take students through a process of deductive reasoning.  
    2. Have students explain term
    3. Have students create a nonlinguistic representation of the term:
      1. Graphics organizer, picture, pictogram
      2. Would a word web or word relationships help here?
    4. Periodically reuse terms, in a separate week, not just in context but as part of higher order thinking: comparing, classifying, figurative language,
    5. Have students discuss terms
    6. Have students play games with terms.
  6. Defining an Academic Vocabulary. High frequency is NOT worthwhile for direct instruction.
    1. Standard setting has since Reagans’ call to focus on education, critical!
      1. McREL 2000: Content Compendium (Kendall & Marzano)
      2. CBE 1998: Standards for Excellence in Education
    2. These standards carry vocabulary implications?
      1. ED Hirsch in 1987, 4,546 facts required to be culturally literate
      2. Marzano built his own academic vocabulary lists from McRel & CBE std compendiums
        1. 782 terms, K-2nd: Across all subjects - p115
        2. 2398 terms, 3rd-5th: this is the band with largest volume of terms
  7. Setting up a program for schools or districts
    1. Reasonable goals: focus on key subjects
    2. Pick essential terms
  8. Appendix: terms by subjects…

Monday, April 11, 2016

Elementary Education: Meaningful Vocabulary Instruction

Here's some key  points on Meaningful Vocabulary Instruction for elementary students.

  1. Vocabulary is destiny. Kids with stronger vocabularies learn faster. Kids with weak vocabularies have trouble mastering new lessons. Vocabulary is destiny.  
  2. Build your vocabulary, change your destiny.   
  3. Direct instruction in vocabulary, done right, works!
  4. Done right?
    1. Pick meaningful significant words. The most important words are those that are tags for important academic concepts. First learn the concepts, then be sure to master and retain the name for them.
    2. Retention requires multimodal learning. Not just the meaning, properly explored and nuanced (and certainly not the definition) but also the phonics and make-up of the word. This builds retention.
    3. Multiple encounters with the word. Ten is good, fifteen is better. Read it, hear it, say it, write it, play it.  And again. Three times through the set.
    4. NOT all at once. While a one-week cycle is adequate for introducing a word, a three week cycle is required for long term retention.
Sources (full bibliography to follow) :

Points 1 & 2.  Johnson O'Conner conducted research that  A person’s vocabulary level was the best single measure for predicting occupational success in every area. Furthermore, vocabulary is not innate, and can be acquired by everybody. 

Point 3  Lots of research to back this up.  This report from National Reading Technical Assistance Center summaries it.