KinderGals: Academic Vocabulary..What is it, Why is it important, and How do we teach it!

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Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Academic Vocabulary..What is it, Why is it important, and How do we teach it!

Academic Vocabulary...what is it? Why is it important? How can we have a systematic approach to teaching it?  Ever ask any of these questions? We can take a few minutes to explore these questions.

What is it?

Academic Vocabulary words are the words that we use to engage in conversations about academic topics! Makes sense, right?  These include the words that we use while teaching reading and math.   Academic Vocabulary words are Tier 2 Vocabulary words. This means that these words are content specific and should be taught as needed for comprehension and fluency.  Research has shown that nearly 80% of comprehension in nonfiction depends on the child's ability to understand the vocabulary. 
Each week, we look carefully at the content we are teaching in literacy. We made word cards for each of these words.
Then, we created a "word wall" that would hold just the literacy vocabulary words.  Each week we add our new words.
We did the same thing for our math vocabulary. 
We created a separate word wall for the math words. 

What is it important?

Academic Vocabulary words are the words that children need in order to talk about their learning. If children are to engage in peer to peer conversations about their learning, knowing and understanding these words is essential. HOWEVER, some words are more important than other words. These are the words for which we want kids to develop a DEEP understanding. Not all words will be taken to this level.  We asked ourselves, which vocabulary words are used in standards that grow over time. For example, it is essential that children have a deep understanding of the word "add".  They need to have a mental image of combining sets! This means that it is important for teachers to create a streamlined list of words to focus our instructional efforts.

What is a systematic approach to teaching academic vocabulary?

1. First, pick a word. Once the WHOLE list of words have been identified, we want to narrow that list down to the MOST important words.  Then, we select one literacy word and one math word for each week.  These are words that the children already know. The vocabulary word has been used in instruction for a few weeks. Now, we want to take that word to a deeper level of understanding. 
2. Next, develop a linguistic representation of the word. According to the work of Marzano, children need to generate a linguistic representation of the word. This is often referred to a "definition". But, it is very different! Children are not remembering a definition given by the teacher. Instead, a discussion among the children develops this linguistic representation.
3. Last, the children draw a nonlinguistic representation of the word.  Marzano tells us it is important for the children to draw a picture that illustrates the word.  I think, the children draw on their mental image of the word. Their ability to draw a representation of the word is evidence of their mental image!
While these charts can be produced with no prep by just writing on a piece of chart paper, Megan created this reusable vocabulary chart. She laminated the chart. Then, each week we use post it notes and paper to show our learning. Here's an actual lesson...
Megan posted the word "vowels". The children already know the word! It is time to develop that deeper understanding.  After the discussion about the word, we used interactive writing to record our linguistic representation of the word.
Then, we gave each child a piece of paper to draw their understanding of the word. This is the nonlinguistic representation.
Here's the completed chart.
To extend the learning, each child has a Vocabulary Journal. Here they work independently to record their own linguistic and nonlinguistic representation of the word.
We made a cover for the vocabulary journal.
Then we made the vocabulary journal pages. We created a space for the children to record their linguistic and nonlinguistic representation. Marzano also tell us the importance of the children rating their understanding of the word.  While young children usually color the smiley face, this begins a practice that will be used in the other grades in our school.
At the end of the lesson, I asked the kids, "Do all words have vowels?" I invited the children to be on the lookout for words without vowels. During the day, as they found the words, they were to record the words on the chart. Did they find any? At first we might say no, but the children recorded all of the "y" words. What a fun way to introduce "y" as a vowel!
You can find all of the vocabulary word cards, the pieces to make the chart, and the student journal in this Academic Vocabulary unit.
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