Last July, I wrote the first of a two-part blog post (see part 1 here) sharing some early musings around the best approach for a new vocabulary model that we wanted to introduce at my school. This generated much interest and a number of people since have asked for the second instalment. As a result of the programme’s ongoing evolution, there have been alterations along the way. Nevertheless, I finally present to you the sequel, in the form of a write-up from my session at ResearchED last Saturday. My colleague, Phil Stock, has also written about this here.
Footage of the session will be available here soon.
On Saturday 7th November, I was privileged to speak at the first ResearchED Secondary English & Literacy conference at Swindon Academy. (To see my Top 5 takeaway points from the day, see here.) My session explored the importance of direct vocabulary instruction.
To begin, I asked those present to spend a few minutes discussing where they would rank each of these actions on a scale from least energy required to most.
When feeding back as a group, two members of the audience beat me to my own teaching point, making the case that this task would be impossible without the semantic knowledge of the words in bold. I then displayed the following slide, which I had composed to exemplify how unfamiliar words can instantaneously become unwelcome hurdles that students must face when trying to comprehend a given text.
“Those who know 90 percent of the words in a text will understand its meaning and, because they understand, they will also begin to learn the other 10 percent of the words.” (E.D. Hirsch, 2003)
I proceeded to explain that a study conducted by Beck et al. into the acquisition of new vocabulary resulted in the speculation of a continuum, whereby different texts can present a reader with a variety of scenarios, some which offer the necessary clues to help us learn a word meaning and, for others, no clues at all. More information is given in the PPT slides embedded at the foot of this post.
As a result of their studies, Beck’s team resolved that “…relying on learning word meanings from independent reading is not an adequate way to deal with students’ vocabulary development.” Beck, McKeown & Kucan (2013)
I’m in full agreement with this, not least because there are a great number of students who won’t necessarily come into contact with unfamiliar vocabulary through independent reading anyway, as a result of a lack of interest in books, or they may be reading texts that lack enough challenge.
Next, I outlined the memory process we believe to be true when acquiring new information. I shared Anderson’s theory (1994), asserting that information is stored in biomodal packets, separated into linguistic packets called ‘logogens’ and non-linguistic packets called ‘imagens’.
Both Anderson’s theory and that of Sadoski and Paivio’s Dual Coding Theory (1994), support the notion that experiences are stored in language terms but also in ways more connected to senses, feelings, emotions, visual perceptions etc. From these theories, it can be ascertained that an individual learns new information by initially creating an episodic memory of an event (ie. a one-off experience) which, with repetition, can become a semantic experience whereby the learner begins to assimilate new information as part of a deeper network of knowledge around a particular idea or theme.
I noted the importance of Graham Nuthall’s working memory model here, stressing that three conditions that lead to effective processing are:
- Strength – multiple exposures to new information (at least 3 or 4 within a limited time) is essential in order to embed knowledge
- Depth – ensuring students think ‘hard’ about new information so as not to allow it to just hover on the surface, instead challenging learners to wrestle with new ideas and concepts to ensure they are deeply rooted
- Elaboration – providing opportunities for learners to make connections and associations with previously acquired knowledge, in order for this to ‘latch’ onto something
In discussing which words should be targetted for direct instruction, I made reference to three sources:
- Rolfus and Ackerman (1999) asserted that subject knowledge has a high degree of specificity i.e. little transfer. The five particular areas they recommend to teach are:
a) Subject specific words and phrases embody deep, underlying concepts e.g. condensation, genre
b) Roots and suffixes e.g. gen, anti-
c) Proper nouns e.g. Carl Lewis
d) Compound words e.g. drummer boy
e) Subject and verb phrases e.g. book review
- Beck’s contribution of the tiered vocabulary pyramid suggests that words can be categorised into three tiers.
The advice from Beck suggests that it is Tier 2 words that should be taught explicitly, since these are the words that arise less frequently in conversation, more in writing. This theory would suggest that, as a result of teaching Tier 2 words, Tier 3 words can then be accessed more easily by the learner. While there is some sense in this approach, much of the research undertaken in the area of memory would dispute this method, arguing that the teaching of words need to be deeply rooted within their subject domain, in order to connect new information to already-learnt knowledge.
- The final source was taken from a synthesis of research studies undertaken by the National Reading Panel (NRP) in the US, 2010. As a result of their analysis, they identified eight findings that provide a scientifically based foundation for the design of rich vocabulary instruction. These were:
These findings, as well as the great research undertaken by Robert J. Marzano in his book “Building Academic Vocabulary“, have directly informed our delivery of vocabulary instruction at Greenshaw.
All too aware of the gap between word-rich and word-poor students, we recognise the crucial importance of providing all students with direct and indirect experiences, broadening their understanding of the world, enabling students from both privileged and disadvantaged backgrounds alike to obtain and retain new words taught.
“[There is an] estimated difference of vocabulary knowledge of 4,700 words between students of high and low social economic status.” (Templin, 1957)
It is through the mediums of those listed below that we might be able to develop students’ vocabulary in a way that meets their individual needs.
Taking direction from Marzano’s work, we have implemented 6 steps of effective vocabulary instruction in our Year 7 research trial.
See slides 41-60 of the PPT shared at the bottom of this post for more information and the filmed session, which will be available here shortly.
In closing, I will attempt to outline the structure we have designed, in order to deliver two strands of vocabulary instruction, namely subject-specific English words (Tier 2&3) and roots, prefixes and suffixes.
As you can see from the image above, one tutor time session a week is reserved for a morphology and etymology focus on words. During this time, tutors across a range of different curriculum subjects deliver 15 minutes of intensive vocabulary delivery, teaching the meaning of common roots required at KS3 and beyond.
In addition to this, students are also explicitly taught Tier 2 and 3 subject-specific words in their English classes, directly linked to the text being studied at the time. See the slide below for our first cycle of Autumn term words and roots taught.
Here is a rough idea of how much direct instruction students might receive over a fortnight’s cycle.
As I explained in my talk and, as is the reality for so many teachers, there is never enough time to teach the content of the curriculum, let alone trying to cram in additional vocabulary content. This is why we have moved some of the definitions and connections tasks originally designed to take place in English lessons to our online learning platform, giving students the opportunity to revisit information multiple times by completing multiple choice quizzes and games online between lessons, set as homework. (When I figure out how to share the demo of this on here, I will!)
I hope this has given some insight into the development of our vocabulary curriculum design, but would encourage you to check out the footage from the session when it becomes available for a complete walk through.
PPT slides here: