It’s that time of year again. The time where chocolate is flowing from staff rooms, teachers’ drawers, and the hands of your principal. If you just look at the counselor, he’ll have a cup of coffee in your hand. And if a primary teacher walks by, they look at you with empathetic eyes and sweep you up into a big bear hug. After all, you need every ounce of support you can get. You know this time of year. For us it is the MSP and/or SBAC. If you’re not in Washington, it’s called something else. However, the testing window for your standardized test exists.
It really is a big time for celebration. As a teacher, you can confidently release your students to a test to demonstrate what they’ve been taught all year. If you really sit back and think about it, the test(s) assesses just a portion of what you’ve taught all year, so your accomplishment as a teacher and the accomplishments of your students are HUGE! Yet, we all pace the room, biting our nails, asking for every ounce of luck there is. Because, we might, just *might,* experience what I did a few years ago. A student raised his hand and asked me to define a tier 2 vocabulary word for him. YIKES! First of all, I couldn’t help him and stood there wanting so badly to do something, anything, to make the child successful. Secondly, I had taught vocabulary. As in, used every strategy I knew all year to teach children the definitions of words and strategies for constructing meaning. Yet somehow this one word slipped through the cracks (at least for that child). Nothing will leave you feeling like you failed a child more quickly than knowing they could have success if they only knew one word.
Vocabulary is imperative in learning vocabulary. It’s essential for literary and language success in life. More than showing up on tests, it’s important to reading in general. In fact the CCSS has three language standards related to vocabulary acquisition.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.L.4 – Determine or clarify the meaning of unknown and multiple-meaning words and phrases by using context clues, analyzing meaningful word parts, and consulting general and specialized reference materials, as appropriate.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.L.5 – Demonstrate understanding of figurative language, word relationships, and nuances in word meanings.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.L.6 – Acquire and use accurately a range of general academic and domain-specific words and phrases sufficient for reading, writing, speaking, and listening at the college and career readiness level; demonstrate independence in gathering vocabulary knowledge when encountering an unknown term important to comprehension or expression.
Tier 2 words are the most difficult for me to teach. In addition to feeling like I often don’t have the concrete examples to provide, I struggle with knowing what words to focus on. GLAD strategies have helped me with the former (read more about that here!), but it’s wasn’t until recently I really found a great strategy for narrowing my focus. I recently attended a professional development session facilitated by Argentina Back of PSESD. The course was about using the Washington English Language Proficiency Assessment (WELPA) results to help guide our ELL students. I’m sure, no matter where you’re reading this blog from, you face the same challenge that we do in our region … HOW can we help our ELLs grow in both content and language acquisition? The class addressed vocabulary and strategies to help all learners.
At that class, I was introduced to the work of Larry Bell. He created a list of “12 Power Words.” These are the most common words that show up in academic settings. Are you ready for them? It was suggested to be sure your school-wide plan includes instruction of these words every year:
trace, support, analyze, explain, infer, summarize, evaluate, compare, contrast, formulate, describe and predict
This PowerPoint provides great kid-friendly definitions of all of these words. It also has a phenomenal resource page. I was sold even more when I found out that there are numerous songs on YouTube that help teach this vocabulary! See my favorite one here. It doesn’t get more engaging than this!
We worked through an activity where we created common definitions, visuals, chants and total physical responses (TPRs) for our building. This was a powerful experience because it led the teams to alignment of vocabulary instruction.
I honestly do not believe that teaching these 12 magic words alone will solve all of our ELA instructional challenges, nor do I believe that a focus on testing words is a quality education. I do, however, believe that tier 2 words are important for student success. This list could be adapted to fit the needs of your building, district or region. The bottom line is that deliberate vocabulary instruction, based on necessary academic language, has to be present in every building plan!
Now, testing is confidential, so I can’t tell you which word my student wanted defined. And, honestly, it doesn’t really matter. However, I can tell you, if I had known about Larry Bell and his strategies, I would have been more deliberate about instruction of tier 2 words; I wouldn’t have been standing there that day wondering if the chocolate and coffee were available via IV and sending my hair stylist a text message after school asking for an appointment for a coloring. Most importantly, my student would have been much more likely to have breeze through on his own. That’s what teaching is all about – empowering students to feel successful!
I grew up here in Western Washington, wanting to be a teacher for as long as I can remember. As the oldest child in my family, I had plenty of opportunities to "practice" teaching my younger siblings. I enjoyed this. They may not have. :) When I'm not working, I enjoy outdoor activities with my husband and our two Australian Shepherds (whom are far too spoiled for their own good!). I also love spending time with my family, being an auntie (to the cutest kids ever to grace this planet!), hosting dinner parties for friends, crafting, taking photographs and shopping.