Week 26: Academic Vocabulary

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When it comes to academic vocabulary, most teachers would agree every student could be considered a language learner especially in the early primary grades. With the increased expectations in the CCSS, students not only need to understand but use academic vocabulary in speaking and writing.  With a focus on language, looking at student writings and listening to students’ questions, responses to prompts or lack of response had me thinking about ways to refine current practices to meet the needs of students at varying stages of language development. 

The last few weeks, students have been learning how to determine a central idea in a non-fiction text and how to organize the details. With the first book, I modeled using words like central idea, example, organize notes, and features of non-fiction texts.  The following books, we did as a shared experience and students had many opportunities to turn and talk and share their thinking with a partner and sharing out in our whole group discussions. We wrote together a central idea with supporting details taken from our notes.  I used different color markers to write the different parts of the structure. I used black for the sentence frame, blue for the title and central idea and the corresponding colors for each of the details.  The completed text we wrote together then became a shared reading.  As a literacy center, students had an opportunity to write using a piece we worked on together as a model. To assess what students had taken, a book was read aloud and they were then asked to write a central idea with supporting details from the text.

Noticing what students could and couldn’t do I decided to have them self assess to help them see what they had and what they needed to work on.   Using the document camera, we looked at a proficient student’s paper and scored it using a four-point rubric.  They gave themselves a point for having a central idea, a point for each example using the transitions for example and in addition, and using capitals and end punctuations in every sentence.  Students became aware what they were missing and needed to add. The following day, I read another book and again had students write to show their understanding. I reminded them what they needed to do to get four points.  

This time a few more students were able to demonstrate their understanding. But then, there were still quite a few who still demonstrated lack of understanding.  So, I decided to move from independent practice to guided practice to determine where the break down or disconnect was for these students as well as to alleviate feelings of helplessness and frustration. Here’s a sampling of my one-on-one conversations with three of the students I conferred with: 

Student A is my ELL focus student. Teacher: What is the central idea?  Student A: No response. Teacher: What did you learn about in All Kinds of Eyes?  ELL Student: No response. Teacher: Did you learn about toys, eyes, or food?  ELL Student: eyes Teacher: Did you learn about people’s eyes or animals’ eyes? ELL Student: animal eyes.  I was able to assess the student knew the main topic.  

Another ELL student wrote, “The central idea. For example.  In addition.”  When I told him he had to write a central idea and examples, he asked, “What is for example?”  At first, his question at this point in time was disheartening.  However, the fact he was able to ask the question was evidence of growth in his oral language. And to know that he didn’t know is metacognition!  

English Only Student (EOS): “I don’t get it.”  Teacher: What don’t you get? EOS: Everything.   Rather then asking what is the central idea, I asked what did the author teach her. She was able to state the topic and with prompting came up with the central idea.   She then told me the details.  I then showed how to take the details to use as examples.  Labeling what she knew was the approach for her to understand and use the academic vocabularies. 

Looking and listening for what students understand and hold then adjusting in the moment I think will be key in making sure the language gap does not widen. What I find most challenging is searching for words students, especially those just learning English, can understand to clarify difficult concepts and vocabulary words.  

 

 

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