Friday, March 22, 2013

CRISS Crumble, March 22, 2013

In the last few weeks I have been investigating a theory I have about our students who lack progress in areas of comprehension and fluency.  When a student lacks comprehension, we generally teach comprehension strategies - predicting, connecting, inferring, etc.  When a student lacks in fluency, we generally intervene with fluency-directed interventions - repeated readings are the strategy for our intervention SLC classes.  But when a student lacks response to these types of interventions, what do we do?  This is the conversation I have been having with many of you around the building as we puzzle over data and bang our heads against walls in frustration. When we are intervening and it doesn't work, what next?

The more I work one-on-one with one student, in particular, I am starting to realize that no matter how much I ignore it, this one piece of reading instruction is not going to teach itself, and its about time that I attack it head on: VOCABULARY.  This particular young lady and I have been working through multisyllabic training since November, and although I don't see her big hangup being with phonics anymore, she lacks so much vocabulary!  No wonder she's not making the progress we would like her to make!  I am finding, however, that when my one-on-one students and I work on words, they starve for more words and can't wait to wrap their heads around more.  One of the most fun things I do is watch a student grasp a Greek or Latin root and then start connecting to words they've encountered but never owned before.  It's like another light in the English language has just been turned on, and these kiddos are thrilled!

Without the vocabulary, I can teach comprehension strategies up one wall and down another, but it won't matter if my students lack the vocabulary to make meaning of the text. If a student lacks the oral vocabulary to make comprehension, word recall and reading fluency may be stagnant. As I listen to my third grade daughter read to me sometimes, I am amazed at the way that she relies on her knowledge of words to help her recall and read words. This is a problem. One that we address, but not with the ferocity that I think we need.

That being said - try some vocabulary acquisition strategies in the month of April.  Teaching vocabulary is more than just picking a bunch of words and teaching their definitions.  Its about introducing and using academic language with your students and expecting them to use it as well.  Our sixth grade intervention teacher introduces one new word a day.  Why not?  Here are some of her ideas for adding new vocabulary with some of mine thrown in for fun.  These ideas are not my own.  In fact, nothing I write is my own.  I'm a pretty good collector of ideas.  Many of these ideas come from Project CRISS, but some are Marzano as well. Others are ideas I've picked up around the building, and still others are morphed versions of everthing I've learned over the last sixteen years of teaching.  Feel free to use them all, but don't use none of them. 
  • Introduce a new word in context.  For example, tell the students the word and give them a sentence or short paragraph from which the word was taken.
  • Allow students to use their previously-taught skills to make a guess at the definition (write it down, even).
  • Don't define it.  Explain it.  Give examples.  Connect it to their lives.  For example, if the word is ratio, explain it by giving ratio examples of kids in the class or taking a quick pole of kids who use facebook, twitter, instagram, etc.  Then show that ratio. 
  • Come up with a class definition based upon your examples and explanation.  Have the students write it down.
  • Require students to draw a picture to represent the word.
  • Require students to write down an example.
  • Require students to use the word during the lesson . . . for days. 
  • Give an extra credit point for every student who uses it correctly in classroom conversation. 
  • Ask students to have an example of the word used in real-life.  Law of attraction shows that once something is brought to our attention, we start seeing it all over the place.  We notice it more.  Your students will begin noticing words more if you ask it of them.
My goal for next year will be to hit vocabulary acquisition hard.  I'll be focusing much of my CRISS crumbles on vocabulary instruction and usage, so be ready for this.  I'm looking forward to seeing our students grow for the remainder of the year and into next year as we begin building upon our already-strong reading and content-area vocabulary instruction.  Keep on, my friends!

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