My last blog post referred to the importance of vocabulary. That article was looking at the results of a study completed by the Renaissance Learning. Today I would like to look at academic vocabulary. This academic vocabulary is one of the most difficult skills for students to acquire. The complete academic language is not one that is experienced or used to the extent that students become comfortable with it. It is one of the reasons that science can be used as the first mainstream class for English Language Learners. The deficiency in vocabulary is equal to both native speakers and ELLs.
It is this language that allows the students to learn and think like scientists, historians and mathematicians. It is the lack of this academic vocabulary that has been identified as one of the main obstacles to student success. Teachers are now being evaluated by how they are using and addressing the needs of the language in lesson plans. Teachers need to identify the demands of the text and instruction that guides to the understanding of that text. They must then be able to offer help for all students in coping with these demands.
The academic language includes general academic words that are carried across the disciplines as well as the discipline specific terminology that is found in only one specific class. Neither of these can be separated. Both are essential and must be taught to the same degree. Having said this, it is a common understanding that vocabulary instruction does not achieve the quality and intensity needed for students to reach a level of ownership with these words that allows them to use the words and apply them in conversation. It is this level of competency that allows the students to process and understand the discipline and phenomena that are researched and learned.
Discipline specific teachers have a wonderful tool in notebooks to create opportunities to adopt the academic vocabulary in a daily use. This expands the experience a student has with the words. I have seen wonderful ideas in using PowerPoint to have student create flashcards. These flashcards can be used by students in other grades and added on to. The method is to have each student create an image that relates to the word. This way they are using a mnemonic keyword method to remember definitions. Students can also use their daily notebook as a way to express and practice use of the academic vocabulary that we are trying to have them own. Simple writing prompts can help trigger a creative writing flow. Use of pictures or questions that are related to concepts that are discipline specific can be use as writing prompts.
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