Friday, March 29, 2013

Common Core Vocabulary

I am officially on Spring Break. Holla! We have today off and all of next week, not going back until April 8. Even though I brought home a tote full of papers to grade next week, I would much rather grade during daylight hours at Starbucks or Barnes & Noble than at home at night or trying to squeeze it in during prep. So I won't complain too much.

Today also actually FELT like spring with sun and temps nearing 60. I got a pedicure this morning and now my tootsies are a pretty shade of pink. I also did some spring shopping with my birthday gift cards and played with Roxie outside. A pretty good first day off.

We did find out this week that my father-in-law will have to have brain surgery on April 9 to remove two masses on his brain and are currently trying to figure out how we will go up to be with him (4 hours away) on surgery day with our super hyper, anxious dog that doesn't like car rides or strangers (she'd have to stay with my parents). So send good thoughts to us and our family if you could, please, for all of this!

Anyways, Common Core is on my mind because on our SIP day yesterday, the CC committee that I'm on met and we spent most of our time discussing vocabulary. I thought I would briefly explain the CC vocabulary stuff, post some resources or ideas I have found through this committee, and then see if anyone else has some good ideas to share!

Basically, there are three tiers of vocabulary in Common Core.

Tier 1 are words that show up in common conversation and vocabulary, like dog or bike or run. These don't really need much instruction (at the HS level, I have to do zero with tier 1 words).

Tier 2 words are high-frequency words that mature language users need to know. At a workshop I attended, the speaker described these as being "cross-curricular" words. English teachers should NOT be the only ones teaching tier 2 words. They may take on different meanings in different subject areas, so individual teachers should teach the meaning that relates to their subject area.
For example: "equality" means one thing in a history classroom and a different thing in a math class. That is a fairly simple example and they get more complex as the grade level goes up, but you get the idea.

Tier 3 words are content-specific vocab. So as an English teacher, I only teach those words that pertain to my subject area.
Examples: tragic hero, alliteration, hyperbole, etc.
I have heard numerous times that we should just give these definitions to students when we are teaching them. Each teacher would be responsible for teaching words just pertaining to their area.

I found a really good website (well it's really a blog) called Reading Sage  that has an excellent list of sample tier 2 words, definitions of each of the tiers, and a bunch of vocab. activities you can do with different tiered words for varying educational levels. If you scroll down the page, there are even links to other CCSS websites. This is probably the best vocab. resource I have found thus far in my Internet searching.

Basically, vocab. should not just be taught out of a vocab. workbook series anymore. We are getting rid of ours starting next year. It isn't effective to have students memorize 12 words for the quiz and then promptly forget them.

The workshop I attended also said students can only learn 3-4 new vocab. words (and learn them meaning understand them enough to incorporate them in their own vocabulary) per week, and that includes ALL the new words they are learning from ALL subjects, not just English. Yikes! No wonder they have a hard time on vocab. quizzes. After a new word is learned, it was suggested you build a word wall in your classroom so those words are always visible and accessible to students. I like this idea and will probably try it out next year.

The best way to combat the CC vocab. is to take it on as a whole school, at least in my very humble opinion. Our principal wanted us to focus on school-wide vocab. even this year, so we have tried something that works out pretty well if anyone wants to suggest it at their school. The English Dept. kind of spear-headed this and everyone else jumped on board.

My principal printed up a list of 100 words HS students should know (I think she got it through the SAT page). You could obviously adapt this to lower grade levels too (next year, we will probably do this with tier 2 CC words).

Every Friday is Vocab. Fun Friday. There is a list of all 100 words plus definitions in the mail room and every Friday morning, each teacher gets a sticky name tag in his/her mailbox. Each week you choose a new word and write either just the word or the word + definition on your name tag and wear it all day.

The idea is to get kids asking and thinking about the words. I know I have done, as well as some other teachers, an extra credit opportunity where I let students get 10 words from 10 teachers that day, write down the definition and make up a sentence using that word and they get a couple extra points. I know some teachers (and I have tried this too, though none of my students did it) tell their students they will get an extra point if they correctly use one of those vocab. words in another class and have the teacher sign-off that they used it correctly.

Our principal also had a huge spinning wheel made up with a bunch of the vocab. words on it. At lunch, she will occasionally (maybe once every other week) stand in the hall with the big wheel and let students spin it at lunch. If they can provide the definition of the word it lands on, they get a prize (typically a huge candy bar). She then asks the which teacher taught them that word and the teacher ALSO gets a prize (I think their prize is a gift card to a local shop). It has worked well so far! 

Just a couple ideas to get you thinking about the CC vocab. coming down the chute. Through all my work with CC thus far, I have found that it isn't drastically different from what we do now. We are teaching pretty much the same stuff, but the WAY in which we teach it might change slightly. I know I am already doing a lot of things CC has us do, like writing argumentatively, doing close readings, providing textual evidence, etc. So it isn't as scary as it might initially seem.

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