Preview: The Burning Question About Vocabulary Instruction Blog Series

It’s been an extremely long time since I’ve posted!  I’ve been reading, reading, reading all the good work of bloggers who’ve kept up with posting and I salute your perseverance.  The low-key summertime vibe kept me lulled into a state of relaxation…and then there was that little event…my wedding!  Yes, my wedding!  And to be honest, who am I kidding?  That was THE thing keeping my mind off all things literacy.

Indulge me for just a moment, please!
Indulge me for just a moment, please!

So, since I’ve lived happily in newlywed bliss for the past few months it’s time to get back to work!

The school year always starts with a flurry of activity.  Getting to know new students, learning new district and curricula changes, pre-assessing to know where students are in their learning, and the list goes on-and-on.  All these elements make that initial September rush something akin to jumping into a cold pool.  The initial shock stuns you, but you fight as quickly as possible to get through it.

And we all do get through it.  Inevitably, the craziness passes and we find ourselves functioning normally. Once the school year had settled into its normal day-in, day-out routine (just in time for the holidays to create their annual turmoil) I usually found myself beginning to think reflectively on what was happening in my classroom.  Ready to continue the good work of making my students the best readers and writers they can be, I turned my attention to what was working in my classroom as well as what was not.

Our school district, like many others, implemented the reading and writing workshop structure.  Last year, we adopted the Units of Study for Opinion/Argument, Information, and Narrative Writing by Lucy Calkins and Colleagues in grades 1-8.  Next year, we will officially begin using the Units of Study for  Teaching Reading in grades 1-5 (sadly, there are not reading units available for middle school).  Over and over, the question I get from the teachers I work with is,

“How do I incorporate vocabulary instruction into my reading and writing workshop?”

If you’ve taught the workshop approach, you know the answer that comes from The Greats.  We are told vocabulary instruction should be embedded into our workshop naturally.  We should expose students to various words through mentor texts and have them notice words during their independent read. Our job, as the teacher, is pop those words out and encourage their use.

But as a classroom teacher, this sort of response was frustrating.  In the many readers and writers workshop resources I’ve read, there was never a clear-cut answer to the burning vocabulary question.

The principles behind embedded instruction are very clear to me.  I understand the importance of creating vocabulary experiences that make meaningful vocabulary connections for students.  I understand the importance of using authentic words found in classroom readings.  I understand that “drill-and-kill” lists do not work (I only need to think back to the SAT class I took in high school to realize that the isolated learning of vocabulary words is ineffective).  But I don’t understand where it all fits in. Within the workshop structure, where and how, exactly, does vocabulary instruction fit? (I know that word is a near impossibility in workshop teaching, since each classroom and teacher will be different, but I like schedules and frameworks.  I need them to structure my thinking about my teaching.)

So, my quest began.  I set out to research three big questions about vocabulary instruction.

  • Which words do we teach?
  • Where do we get those words?
  • How do we teach vocabulary in the workshop model?

These three questions will be addressed in the following blog series, which will share findings and new understandings about vocabulary instruction.  Stay tuned…

Let’s keep the conversation going-

Lindsay

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