Flawed Instructional Practices (page 2)
Further complicating the situation is the fact that simply devoting more time to vocabulary instruction will not necessarily increase vocabulary knowledge. To achieve the impact we desire, teachers must recognize the serious limitations inherent in some common instructional practices. These flawed practices most often occur when teachers do not distinguish between memorizing a definition and understanding a concept. This situation is typically manifested in classrooms where students are routinely engaged in the following:
- being given a list of decontextualized words on Monday;
- looking up in a dictionary, recording in a notebook, and committing to memory the definitions of those words;
- being tested on the words and definitions on Friday.
Although students may do well on these tests, they usually start forgetting the definitions before leaving class on the day of the test. This occurs because the students never understand the words and definitions at a conceptual level. The students simply commit the definitions to their short-term memory. This is not surprising given the types of activities students are sometimes asked to complete. For example, imagine exasperated is a target word. Students look up the word in a dictionary and find vexed listed as the definition. Having been asked to use the word in a sentence, a student writes: “The boy was exasperated.” At this point the teacher knows the student could:
- Find the word in a dictionary.
- Copy the shortest (and most likely the first) definition.
- Recognize that a word ending in –ed could fill that grammatical slot in the sentence.
The teacher does not know if the student understands anything about the concept represented by the words exasperated and vexed because the teacher has not engaged the student in any activities that would link the words to a concept.
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