The Buzz About Phonics and Word Study From Spelling Bees to Classrooms – Sparking Students’ Interest in Words

by Jillian Fountain, Intermediate/Middle Literacy Trainer, Lesley University Center for Reading Recovery and Literacy Collaborative

Jillian FountainLast month, ESPN aired the 90th Scripps National Spelling Bee.  You may have watched some of the contestants as they asked for the etymology of a word, the pronunciation again, or the familiar question, “Can you please use it in a sentence?”  The contestants certainly appeared nervous, but if you looked closely, you would also have recognized the moment when a child’s eyes glimmered, the corner of her mouth ticked up just a bit, and she allowed herself to exhale.  The expression on each contestant’s face in that moment of recognition made me realize something.  We, as educators, craft belief statements about literacy instruction, but often we leave word study out of these written proclamations.  Yet, learning about words and how they work impacts all aspects of literacy.

I am in awe of how much interest the spellers in the Scripps National Spelling Bee have in words and how they work, and I began to think about what I might begin to put in a belief statement about phonics, vocabulary, and spelling.

Students will develop curiosity and excitement about words and how they work.

When children feel excited about something, it drives them to discover more about it.  Students who are curious and excited about words will notice new words and share them with classmates, talk about favorite words, and use words or parts of words learned in various instructional contexts in their own reading, listening, speaking, and writing.  The energy they exhibit becomes infectious.

Students will use what they understand about words to expand their knowledge.

Phonics, spelling, and vocabulary are complex concepts that require many years to develop.  As adults, we continue to grow our understandings of words and how they work.  We also know that learning builds on learning, meaning that broad understandings get refined as students participate in reading, writing, speaking, and listening over time.  If during a word study minilesson, a class learned that adding the suffix –al to a noun makes it an adjective, meaning “related to,” the next time they encountered a word like chemical, the students would notice it and refer back to their previous learning.  In writing, if a student wanted to describe something that happens over and over again, he could think about how it is a cycle, and use his knowledge of the –al suffix to call it cyclical.

Phonics_Event_PhotoStudents will recognize relationships between words.

Words are closely connected with one another.  Synonyms, antonyms, homophones, homographs, words that have similar meanings that are not exactly the same, multiple meaning words, words that share the same base word, etc., turn language into a puzzle.  If students can spend time thinking about how words are related, it will deepen their understanding of words and how they work, as well as help them more quickly recognize words and their meanings, and more rapidly access words to use in talk and writing.

Students will use their knowledge of words to more clearly understand, and more precisely communicate. 

Ultimately, the point of teaching phonics, spelling, and word analysis strategies is to develop students’ proficiency as readers, writers, speakers, and listeners.  If students internalize word-solving strategies, they can quickly and without much effort, accurately read books, articles, letters, and other pieces.  They can also produce a large amount of writing to create readable stories, poems, essays, and other pieces.  If they know a lot about parts of words and relationships between words, they can understand what the writer of a piece or a speaker is trying to communicate.  They can also consider the same information when deciding how to say or write something to get across the message they are hoping to convey.  Think of the power that lies in understanding and communicating precisely.

The Scripps National Spelling Bee occurs once per year, but what I learned from watching this year’s event will stay with me.  As I continue to help teachers think about word study instruction, and how to support students’ understandings of how words work across the school day, I hope teachers see the value in this work.  A curiosity and excitement for, and a depth of knowledge of words will help students throughout their lives.

For more information on our Phonics, Vocabulary, and Spelling in the Reading/Writing Classroom K-3 course August 7-11, 2017 in Cambridge, MA, click here!

 

Developing and Celebrating Students’ Academic Vocabulary Knowledge

By MaryEllen Vogt, Author, Professor Emerita, California State University, Long Beach, and 2013 Literacy for All Conference Speaker

It’s no surprise to educators that academic vocabulary is a hot-button issue, especially with the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and the much-anticipated, related assessments.  We’ve known for years that there’s a strong correlation between vocabulary knowledge and comprehension, and revisiting this relationship is critical to helping students meet the challenging new literacy standards.

MaryEllen Vogt's blog graphicWithin the SIOP Model (Echevarria, Vogt, & Short, 2013; 2014a; 2014b), we use the metaphor of a three-legged stool when we consider the academic vocabulary that is especially critical for English learners’ language growth. Each leg of the stool is of the same length (think “importance”), and if one leg is broken or missing, the “academic vocabulary stool” won’t be able to stand independently.  The three “legs” of academic vocabulary include:

  1. Content Vocabulary: Subject Specific and Technical Terms.  Key words, terms, and phrases related specifically to the topic of a lesson; these words and terms are often highlighted in textbooks and students must know them to meet content standards.
  2. General Academic Vocabulary: Cross-Curricular Terms; Process and Function.  Words, terms, and phrases used across all academic subjects, including functional language, language processes, and classroom tasks; examples include: describe, define, list, summarize, compare and contrast; support your answer with evidence; debate; argue a position; these are also often found in content standards and standardized tests, and are especially challenging for English learners and struggling readers.
  3. Word Parts: Roots and Affixes:  Enable students to learn new vocabulary, primarily based on English morphology (affixes, roots, base words). For example, note the meaning of –photo (light) in each of these words: photosynthesis, photocopy, photograph, photography, photoelectron, photo-finish, photogenic. An important adage about English (and other languages with roots and affixes) is: Words that are related by structure are almost always related by meaning (Bear, Invernizzi, Templeton, & Johnston, 2011).

In the past, teachers have regularly taught content vocabulary, but we now know that for English learners and struggling readers, this is not enough. The CCSS suggest if students are to meet the rigorous standards, all teachers must emphasize and ramp up their academic vocabulary instruction.  Two ways teachers can do this is by:

  1. Contextualizing vocabulary instruction in order to make the invisible visible. Teachers do this by providing students with visuals of key vocabulary, such as photographs or illustrations, to clarify a word’s meaning. An activity such as 4-Corners Vocabulary Chart (Vogt & Echevarria, 2008, p. 40), is a perfect way to contextualize an academy vocabulary word: a) divide a paper into fourths; b) in upper left corner, insert a picture that provides clues to a word (picture of a puffy cloud); c) in lower left corner, provide a definition in student-friendly terms (A white billowy cloud type with a dark, flat base); 3) in upper right corner, include a contextualized sentence (The fluffiest clouds that look like cotton, are called cumulus); 4) bottom right corner, write the vocabulary word (cumulus). Students can make their own 4-Corners charts and booklets for any subject area.
  2. Developing “word consciousness.”  In too many classrooms, word study is laborious and uninteresting. Perk up your students’ interest and their growing understandings of words by celebrating new words they have created using roots and affixes. Create a word wall or hang mobiles, each with a different word root and words that include the root, such as –photo and the words previously listed.  Ask students to bring in new words they’ve discovered with various word roots and attach to the corresponding mobiles. Have fun with tricky and funny words, as Stahl and Nagy (2006, p. 146-147) suggest in the following sentence with homophones:
  • A bike can’t stand alone because it’s two-tired.
  • Time flies like an arrow. Fruit flies like a banana.
  • A chicken crossing the road is poultry in motion.

And homographs:

  • He could lead if he would get the lead out.
  • The present is a good time to present the present.
  • I did not object to the object.

Academic vocabulary instruction need not be a chore for either you or your students. Because of its relationship to comprehension, the more you attend to academic vocabulary development, the more likely it is that your students will also be developing their comprehension.  I hope that your school year is productive, happy, and full of words and reading!

 

MaryEllen Vogt is a co-author of 15 books, including Making Content Comprehensible for English Language Learners: The SIOP Model (2013), Reading Specialists and Literacy Coaches in the Real World (2011), and The SIOP Model for Teaching English Language Arts to English Learners (2010).

MaryEllen will be presenting two workshops, sponsored by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, at this year’s Literacy for All Conference on Monday, November 4, 2013:

  • Academic Vocabulary: Engaging Activities For All Learners (Grades 2–5)
  • Academic Vocabulary: Engaging Activities For All Learners (Grades 6–8)

References

Bear, D.R., Helman, L., Invernizzi, M., Templeton, S., & Johnston, F. (2011). Words their way with English learners: Word study for spelling, phonics, and vocabulary instruction. (2nd Ed.). Boston: Pearson.

Echevarria, J., Vogt, M.E., & Short, D. J. (2013). Making content comprehensible for English learners: The SIOP Model (4th Ed.). Boston: Pearson.

Echevarria, J., Vogt, M.E., & Short, D. J. (2014a). Making content comprehensible for elementary English learners: The SIOP Model (2nd Ed.). Boston: Pearson.

Echevarria, J., Vogt, M.E., & Short, D. J. (2014b). Making content comprehensible for elementary English learners: The SIOP Model (2nd Ed.). Boston: Pearson.

Stahl, S., & Nagy, W. (2006). Teaching word meanings. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum

Illustration of Academic Vocabulary Stool (created by MaryEllen Vogt)

Introduction: An Inquiry Stance for Teaching and Learning

by Jill Eurich

In the next blog postings that I will be writing I am going to consider how an inquiry stance can be effective within any instructional framework. To begin to explore this powerful tool, let’s consider these ideas from Judith Wells Lindfors in her book, Children’s Inquiry: Using Language to Make Sense of the World.

 “Acts of inquiry stand as the ultimate act of going beyond: going beyond present understanding (intellectual); going beyond self to engage the help of another (social) but ever going beyond as self (personal).” (Lindfors, p. 14)

“Inquiry involves students in interactions that are abundant, diverse and authentic.”  (Lindfors, p. 67)

“If a teacher is modeling an “inquiry stance” for students, she is most likely asking real questions.  These types of questions are ones you actually wonder about yourself.  They are what Albritton called “honest questions” and Lindfors calls “acts of inquiry.”” (Lindfors, p. 113- 114)

Whether we are sharing an interactive read-aloud, teaching reading, writing, poetry, or word study, an inquiry stance allows us to delve deeply into a topic with students, to explore alongside of them as they investigate patterns in words, writer’s craft in texts they are reading or are being read to them, an author’s perspective, a character’s dilemma, a problem being tackled beyond the world they know, connections across books or poems. Most of all a stance of inquiry is a habit of mind in which, “curious creative meaning-makers are engaging one another in their attempts to further their probing into the workings of the world.” (Lindfors, p. 127)

Source

Lindfors, J.W. (1999). Children’s inquiry: Using language to make sense of the world. New York: Teachers College Press.

Academic Language for All Students

By Irene Fountas

Vocabulary is a critical building block for understanding texts.  Be sure to focus on words that are useful in academic or school learning as students will encounter them in reading or writing. Words like summarize, approach, analyze, circumstance, evaluate, character, and plot aren’t frequently used by our students in everyday talk but they will need to use them as readers and writers.

Be sure to weave these kinds of words into your talk about books and focus on them in texts so your students will build a powerful vocabulary for learning. Remember- they will need multiple encounters with words in order to assimilate them.

Here is a short conversation between a teacher and her students. Notice how the teacher integrates academic vocabulary in her beginning read-alouds.

Wilma Unlimited: How Wilma Rudolph Became the World’s Fastest Woman

Teacher– Did the title of the book already get you thinking about Wilma?

Mike– Yes, if she is unlimited it means she could do a lot.

Teacher- Yes that is interesting- “un” meaning not and limited with it. Not limited or unlimited.

Are you already thinking about the genre or type of book?

Sarah– I think it’s a biography.

Luke– It’s a story about what she did in her life.

Teacher– So you are thinking the writer will tell about this woman’s accomplishments. Be thinking about how she was able to accomplish so many things in her lifetime. What were the important decisions she made? How did the setting or the times impact her challenges?

In about two minutes, the students have heard several vocabulary words that the teacher will use multiple times as they talk through the book and in the discussion.

When you are aware of your choice of words, your teaching can be vocabulary-rich and your students will be internalizing new language.