June 30, 2007

I May Have Found My Voice

Maria reports from Summer School:

One thing I learned from the class readings, which was reinforced oddly enough in my summer school Kindergarten job today, is that the best way to engage students is to share your own writing with them. Show them your own struggles/process/evolution as a writer. Invite their input.

I tried it with Kindergarteners today, with phenomenal success.

As I relayed a description of my backyard, using simple drawings on a whiteboard and labeling the pictures, the students enthusiastically chimed in with suggestions of what to add ("How about a cat who wants to eat the goldfish in your pond?"); comments about their own backyards ("My dad built a waterfall in ours."); and helpful hints on spelling ("Sun" is spelled s-u-n.). Then, when I had the students develop their own stories in their journals, I found myself absorbed in the details of their lives. In the past, I have insisted that they write something first, then illustrate it. I learned today how unnatural that is for young writers. I also learned how much fun it is to hear other people's stories, even 6-year-olds!

Tomorrow, I am going to revisit the description of my backyard with my young charges. I am going to muse out loud about whether there is anything I could add to my story, either in the form of more pictures, or more words. Perhaps I will even venture to write a sentence about it. I will teach them, subtly, that you can go back to a piece anytime you want, planting the seeds of "revision". I will ask them to revisit their stories from yesterday, and decide if there is anything they wish to add.

(You may or may not recognize that I got the Kindergarten ideas from author Lucy Caulkins and her books on writer's workshop. Her work reinforces my conviction that sharing my writing with students is a sure way to prime their creative pump.)

June 8, 2007

Online Discussion: Vocabulary Lists & Word Choice

1 - Question - Terese
I am curious about how educators feel about vocabulary lists. Are they a necessary evil? I know I have introduced vocabulary lists to my first graders from their reading stories. We have learned to use dictionaries and thesauruses this way. The children are writing the definitions weekly and are tested. Of course, we do other activities with the words, but does defining them help retention? Are the tried and true vocab. lists and word choice activities such as we have read about best when combined to help students retain meaning and build vocabulary?

2 - Re: Question - Eryn
I think that vocabulary lists can be helpful. I also think its great that you are introducing them to dictionary's and the thesaurus. What a great skill to develop when you are young. Many kids get to the upper elementary grades and above and don't have any idea about using a dictionary. I also think its helpful for students to understand the meaning behind the words they are reading in their stories. It helps not only with reading comprehension but with writing too. Great question!~Eryn

3 - Re: Question - Terese
Thanks for your encouragement. My kids actually love doing it. I let them think they are doing third grade work and it makes them feel great.

4 - Re: Question - Shirley
My only question would be can the first graders understand the words in the dictionaries and thesauruses? If so, then you are teaching them to use these books instead of fear them!Shirley

5 - Re: Question - Terese
Yes, they can understand them. They are dictionaries and thesauruses made for young children, not the ones older children would be using. They definitely regard it as work that should be for much older children. I try to make them think that they are so smart that they can do it anyway. It works!

6 - Re: Question - Shirley
I love having the children think they are doing work that should be for older children too. Just yesterday I was teaching art and did a project with 1st graders that was designed for older children. I made sure they knew they were "extra talented!"

7 - Re: Question - Terese
That's one of the glories of teaching young children. It is so easy to make them feel special. I love it!

8 - Re: Question - Kathy
I personally have never in first grade used a vocabulary list. We stop and explore the meaning of words in our shared and guided stories by looking at synonyms and antonyms and definitions. I like the idea in the book about keeping a list of these new words that they learn so that they don't forget to use them. I don't know if we need to have them writing the definitions and being tested on them. Is that part of your curriculum?just a friendly opinion:)

9 - Re: Question - Terese
Yes, it is in our curriculum. My students actually love doing it and it is building their confidence.

10 - Re: Question - Jennifer
I think vocabulary lists and isolated word lists can be beneficial when our purpose is to open our students' eyes to word possibilities. However, we have got to make sure that we make explicit connections back to real-life, meaningful writing experiences.In my classroom, my first graders circle words that they think they will need to change the spelling of or use a different word or words during the act of writing. Then after they have done the really hard work of recording their message, they go back and fix those words. Jennifer

11 - Re: Question - Terese
I agree. I know my students remember their vocabulary words because they are connected to a reading story. I hear them saying things such as, "Oh, that was a vocabulary word" and they go searching through their vocabulary notebook. They use this as one more resource for both word choice and for spelling.

12 - Re: Question - Elizabeth
Here is my two cents from an ESL stand point : research has shown that a child needs to hear a word in context 50+ times before it is added to their internal vocabulary. Lists are not bad things - remember we all have different learning styles!

13 - Re: Question - Terese
Thanks for that reminder. You are so right.

14 - Re: Question - Mary Catherine Bolton ( Mar 1, 2007 5:28 PM )
Well, speaking for the OLDER kids (2nd grade:), we intro vocabulary before we begin reading their weekly story in their anthology. We orally define this vocab, read a "getting ready to start" page that introduces this same vocab, listen to the story, then the students have to use each vocab word in a sentence for homework that night. We review these words again when we read the story the next day, and the day after that they take home their anthologies to read the story to their parents. Kind of a traditional approach, but it seems to work in helping them get a feel for the words for reading comprehension. In addition to this, we have a word wall and individual word lists which we use when we come across interesting words.

15 - Re: Question - Mark
I have done extensive research into the area of spelling and vocabulary use. For my entire life I have struggled with spelling and word usage. And I was raised on word lists. I did this research to help me improve my own spelling, after all I teach English and spelling is somewhat important. Well, Based on this research I completely redesigned the focus of spelling and word use in my classroom.

Essentially, what I found was that in normal circumstances we all use a set amount of words, but we do not All use the same words in our writing. Variety in our message is achieved by rearranging these words. Because of this we all have words in our individual schema that overlap…it is these overlapped words that appear on lists of most commonly misspelled words along with other word groups such as modifiers and conjunctions.

This is so oversimplified but the long and the short of it was is that people will only use words they are comfortable with, unless they have to go out of that comfort zone. The further they go out of that zone, the more errors they will make. So, in my mind, the road to improved word use and spelling was to create a place where my kids would feel safe so that they could experiment with unfamiliar words.

Ahhh… You may say, didn't you say that if they leave this zone their misspellings increase?…Yes in fact I did. And that's what I want. I want them to increase their personal vocabulary and their accuracy in that set of words.

So instead of using lists, I find their vocabulary and spelling in their writing. For a number of reasons I find it easier, and more authentic for them. As part of their editing they need to identify misspellings in their papers, and most of the time it is the same words. Once identified, they choose ten words to work on. And working on them is simple. They write the word ten times in a system called old way – new way. Essentially, they spell the word incorrectly, then correctly next to it – close their eyes and spell it out loud and then write it into a sentence. They do that five times per word, and then their done. Until the next time they misspell another word.

I have been amazed at how much their spelling has improved within the context of their writing. I know this works because of the improvement I have seen in my own nemesis.

Uh… is this what you were talking about?

16 - Re: Question - Terese
I think your idea is great. I think I will try it or something similar. Thanks.

17 - Re: Question - Kathy
I agree with you. Our spelling instruction is built in to our writing curriculum. It is hard for teachers to pull away from lists. However, research shows that students tend to memorize the list for a test and not retain the information. I look for words in my students writing and then common misspelled words are added to our word wall. Individual words that are misspelled are added to personal dictionaries. I think this is so meaningful for students.

18 - Re: Question - Mark
Yes, we do personal dictionaries as well. I forgot to mention that in my first post. For me, the coolest thing is to see them go for the personal dictionary before going for the Webster which, my class has nick named the Onion. Long story...

19 - The Onion - Shirley
In this class we are talking about writing, so when you feel that need to practice your writing . . . we would love to read the long story about the "Onion"!Shirley