Thursday, June 20, 2013

Word Nerds Book Study: Chapter 2 (with a freebie!)

 Once again I am linking up with Sabra from Teaching with a Touch of Twang for our summer book study of Word Nerds: Teaching All Students to Learn and Love Vocabulary. Don't forget you can preview the entire book online at Stenhouse and there is this handy little study guide you can use as well. 

I will offer some summary and overview of each chapter and put my thoughts and reflections in blue italics so you will know what is coming directly from me. To find all of my posts for the book study, click here.

Chapter Two: Classrooms that Foster Word Confidence

This chapter pushes forth with the idea that students should feel confident and comfortable enough in their classrooms to take risks. Additionally, we want to encourage our students to be discoverers and have self-reliance. I'm super glad that I picked this chapter to host because it is a great one! So on we go!

When you teach impoverished children, they often don't have much routine and structure at home. This isn't to say that their parents are loosey-goosey parents, but rather they are often shipping their kids from place to place so they can work multiple jobs to make ends meet. So routines are very, very important at school (really they are for all kids but especially for kiddos who fit in this arena). We all know that students do better in a classroom that has structure, routine and established expectations. It's harder to mess up if you have been taught explicitly and directly what you need to do in every situation. The authors emphasize the need for establishing these routines even though they may take time.

Classroom Management and Self Reliance
The best quote of all in this section is "Students being raised by caregivers who are young, inexperienced or overwhelmed by the stresses of poverty may come to school with underdeveloped emotional responses." (Overturf, Montgomery and Smith, 2013, pg 20). The angels are singing down on me right now!!! This is one hundred percent TRUE. These children are often the "unruly" ones. It isn't because they are bad, it is because they have never been taught any different. The old adage of "monkey see, monkey do" applies vastly for many of these kids. It is why structure is so important if you work with inner city kids or kids who come from high poverty. (And also why, in my opinion, some folks just aren't cut out to work with kids like these.) The authors mention how they actually allow their students to practice getting excited, even going so far as to let them jump around, and then teaching them how to calm down and refocus. The students need to know how to be excited and then come back down from that excitement and get back to work. This is a "you had me at hello" moment for me. YES, YES, YES! This is something I often lament about--I can't let my classes have fun because they can't handle it. They don't know how to come back down. This gives me some hope that this is a skill I can also teach them, let them practice and then when there is something exciting happening, they will know how to handle it appropriately. This section also discusses the importance of making sure your classroom is student-convenient. When kids can only access materials once the teacher gets them out, that sends a certain message. Of course there are some things that you can't keep out all of the time but basic supplies should be accessible for kids to use if we want them to be self-reliant and able to work independently without needing us for everything. 

Literacy Design with Vocabulary Development
Vocabulary is important in all areas of the curriculum, not simply in language arts. There are tons of words in math, science and social studies that we need to use and emphasize as well. By using shared and guided reading, word study, self selected reading, interactive read-alouds, we have a plethora of opportunities to engage students with using new as well as familiar vocabulary.   The authors suggest breaking things up as so (very similar to a Four Blocks/Balanced Literacy model):

  • Whole Group Shared Reading (this should be grade level text and could be used with a basal reader or anthology) - this is when you want to introduce and/or reinforce a specific comprehension skill or strategy. Embed vocabulary instruction here.
  • Small Group Reading (leveled texts on the students' level) -- in addition to reinforcing
  • Writing Workshop
  • Trade Book Reading
I really liked this section because this past year my district began to emphasize using Shared Reading for our whole group instruction as we taught a literacy strategy. I think this is especially important for kids who come to us "language impaired" or lacking in robust vocabulary. They get so much more out of the reading if you do it together as a class. I also really liked how the authors emphasized reinforcing vocabulary instruction during the small groups. I believe this is vital, especially for the kids in our lower groups who often just don't read unless they are with us. By emphasizing vocabulary and reinforcing it in these small groups, the students learn that vocabulary isn't just something we do during "X" time of the day--we can and should use it throughout the day. During writing workshop, I love the emphasis on checking for the use of the learned vocabulary. When I taught 2nd grade, one of our big focus areas was to see if the kids had been using the word wall to spell their high frequency words correctly--if the words are used and are posted somewhere, it makes total sense to keep the kiddos accountable for using the words in their writing. Of course they also emphasize the read aloud with trade literature to ensure that kids are exposed to the amazing vocabulary often found in these sorts of texts.

Academic Discussion
In this section, the authors talk about how they embed the speaking and listening strands of the Common Core into their vocabulary instruction through academic discussion. This begins with instructional conversation (cited from this article by Tharp and Gallimore...worth the read!) which the authors promise to provide more information about in Chapter 3.  They do mention that they provide many opportunities for kids to have academic conversations with each other (for which I am definitely thinking about how I can incorporate my participation techniques!). They emphasize modeling different conversational styles so that students understand how to work together in multiple ways.

Choosing Your Words
They again refer back to Bringing Words to Life to help you determine which words to choose. They have a commercial reading program but have the flexibility to change vocabulary words as needed. (Yay their principal!) Ultimately they choose 6 words to teach over a two week period, a mixture of both Tier Two and Tier Three words. They chose content specific words as well as general words they knew their students may not have heard before.  The authors point out that many students aren't doing well on standardized (or classroom!) assessments because they shut down over the vocabulary. Using domain specific vocabulary is very helpful to boost the kids' achievement because they aren't getting bogged down trying to figure out what the vocabulary means. How do you choose Tier Two words? Three key considerations:
1. Importance and utility -- they appear frequently across multiple domains
2. Instructional potential -- students can use them to apply to multiple situations
3. Conceptual understanding -- these are words that they may have some understanding of but apply specifics to a concept

I think it is vastly important to select words that are going to give you the most bang for your buck. In this day of accountability, you have to maximize every second that you have in your classroom, not wasting a single second of instructional time. By selecting words that fit into the 3 key considerations, you are much more likely to maximize the word building for your kids. I especially like thinking about how well the word can work across the curriculum. We definitely want to build vocabulary that students can use in all aspects of their education.

The Vocabulary Routine
 The vocabulary routine is established with the start of a vocabulary cycle. This cycle never ends. The words generated and studied are continually used throughout the year. The words selected for the cycle are emphasized in a specific lesson with a sentence, two synonyms (or examples) and two antonyms (or non-examples) for each word and a picture or visual representation. A reading coach in the authors' district helped them put all of these ideas into a Vocabulary Planner.

I am entirely in LOVE with the Vocabulary Planner featured in the book. So I made one for you to download and use!

The 5-Step Vocabulary Routine
1. Use kid-friendly definitions on sentence strips, a pocket chart and the words on a card for students to predict and try out. Begin using a vocabulary journal.
2. Add synonyms or antonyms. Finish the vocabulary journal
3. Use the words in whole and small group activities. Practice the use of synonyms and antonyms.
4. Engage in whole group activity to celebrate the word learning
5. Assess
I'm digging the idea of using a vocabulary journal with my class and trying to think of what this would look like in my room. I'm super excited for the next chapter!
The Caffeinated Teacher


  1. Love the vocab planner! I like to let my students choose some of their own "word demons" when they come across them in reading. I may use the top portion for our class vocab and let them use the bottom for their personal ones. Thanks!

  2. Wow, I never thought about teaching students how to calm down after an exciting activity. I will definitely think about this technique next year. Thanks for summarizing the chapter!

    Third Grade in the First State