Monday, November 1, 2010

Vocabulary in Middle School

Researchers at the Harvard Graduate School of Education have looked at the teaching of vocabulary in middle schools and have noted what parents have also observed -- that while elementary students routinely learn vocabulary words as part of their spelling lessons, and high school students drill intensively in vocabulary as part of their preparation for standardized tests, like the SAT and ACT, there is not much direct vocabulary instruction given to middle school students.

The authors of an article in the October issue of the journal Educational Leadership look at existing research and conclude that " a system of cross-content, whole-school vocabulary instruction can result in better reading comprehension." What do they mean by that? Words that students encounter frequently, in various academic settings, and in somewhat different formats, need to be not just familiar to students, but thoroughly understood. They recommend The Academic Word List as one source of these words - such words as "distribute," "perceive" and "contrast," which students may encounter in such diverse subjects as literature, science, and history. They go on to note that it is important to consider the difficulty and frequency of specific words in an academic context and suggest such online tools as Word Count to help select those words which students might most benefit from studying and understanding. The authors found that students need multiple exposures in these important words, across content areas, to fully understand their meaning. They suggest that vocabulary instruction be limited to only a few words each week, with teachers of different subject matters using the same words (hence the "whole school" aspect of this instruction) and demonstrating that they can take on different meaning from one area of academic study to another.

 For situations where teachers may have difficulty with defining specfic words in a clear enough manner to instruct their classes, the authors suggest such resources as the Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English. The authors conclude their article with lists of resources to support the instruction of vocabulary in middle schools. Even where schools may not adopt this type of program, parents can implement some of its elements at home.

1 comment:

  1. I have never thought about that but it’s true. We have a middle school boy who stopped studying and learning vocabulary words once he started middle school while the other boy, who is in elementary school, has a vocabulary test every Friday. I think that vocabulary learning should be incorporated into every middle school reading class with mandatory testing once a week for a grade followed up with application of the use of the new words through various writing assignments as well as being able to employ the words orally in class discussions.