Thursday, April 11, 2013

Get Your Reading Academic Vocabulary On!

Missing pieces of the puzzle

Hello there! It has been awhile since I last posted and I apologize for that! Between 3 young babies, standardized testing, and whatnot... it has been a challenge!

Have you noticed that vocabulary has seemed to go downhill in the past few years? Seems when kids come to me their reading levels are a few grades under and their vocabulary follows suit. What is causing this phenomenon??

My guess is that there are a few factors involved...
* There are less parents reading to kids. I do understand! Working a job (or maybe two), with a household of kids to get fed, bathed, and homework done before bed, maybe even a single income household or single parent household. Times are hard and that means on the parents too... unfortunately, this is not helping our children in the department of loving or learning how to read and grow their vocabulary.

* Technology is also become a major culprit. Children are spending far more time playing on Wii, Xbox,  Nintendo DS, IPad, and cellphones. (My 5th graders had a smartphone before me! What??) They are spending less time reading, do imaginative play, or even talking and having conversations with individuals.

So, what do we do as teachers to help the situation?

1. Read, read, read to our kids. Even my 5th graders love a good book and the novelty of curling up on pillows and listening in. We are currently reading Where the Red Fern Grows and I let them know that we will not get through this book without a tons of tears (from myself). I think it is good for students to hear the teacher read and experience his/her own reactions to the book as they read. I discussed with my kids that this was a book from my childhood and not a time as gone by that I have read this book and didn't cry. I'm not sure if my kids last year could hear the ending clearly through my sobs (lol) but they cried right along with me! Choose books that are meaningful, will make a personal impact, and that is rich in experience and vocabulary. If you are reading to them, you can go a level higher than what they can (or more!) and this will allow them to experience stories they would have otherwise missed out on. Also, it can be a good motivator to improve their reading when they see the quality of stories that are out there once they get to those higher levels. (Another series I just LOVE to share with my students is the Fablehaven series... this is in an earlier post)

2. Surround your kids with vocabulary! Students need to not only hear it but they also need to see it and use it! Cover your walls with vocabulary that you can constantly refer to throughout the year! This is great for lower level kiddos. If you can add a picture to help associate... then even better! You could have a spot for academic vocabulary, current novel vocabulary, daily use vocabulary, or different themes as they come into your classroom. You could even have a living vocabulary wall that students can modify as they discover difficult and interesting words. Over the computers, you could have technology words, and over your centers you could have words associated to the current lesson. Cover their desks with daily use words like: pencil, paper, paragraph, etc... Students could carry a popular word reference sheet or handmade dictionary to refer to when doing their daily writing.
If you need help getting started: Check out my 30 Reading Academic Vocabulary Poster Activity and Reference Posters for Grades 3-6.

3. Have your students write daily! Always have students write in complete sentences. Who else has heard the question, "Can I use text language?" Uh... no. Texting has ruined our kiddos! Give them a plethora of opportunities to respond, think, create, and motivate! I have seen over the years where sentences seem to longer start with a capital nor do they have to end in any sort of punctuation. My kids just left 4th grade where I KNOW they were taught how to write due to the writing test they are required to take in 4th grade. How does it all dissolve over the summer? It is a shame that we have little control over what our students read and write over the summer. It feels like we play catch up the first half of the year and then are allowed to begin moving them toward their new goals for their current grade. It is frustrating for the teacher as well as the students. But, you can only focus on what you have control over... so no texting language! (Unless you are doing some super cool texting activity... then I'll let it slide ;-)