What Instructional Approaches Facilitate and Support Vocabulary Development (page 2)
Once you have determined what words to teach, you need to decide how to teach them. In other words, you need to identify and implement instructional approaches that are most likely to result in students’ taking ownership of the target words and their underlying concepts. We believe the most effective way to accomplish this goal is to utilize approaches that are consistent with the following guidelines:
- Relate the new to the known
- Promote active, in-depth processing
- Create a language- and word-rich environment
- Support independent word learning
Relate New to Known
Vocabulary instruction is most effective when teachers relate new words and concepts to information students already possess about those words and concepts. In effect, teachers must bridge the gap between students’ current understanding of a concept and the level of understanding needed to successfully comprehend what they are reading. Too often teachers start by asking themselves, “What don’t my students understand about this concept?” The question should be: “What do students understand and how can I make the connection between that knowledge and the new information?”
If students know nothing about a particular concept, then the teacher must help students develop background knowledge related to it. If students have some information but it is inadequate to successfully complete the work at hand, then additional background needs to be developed. If students have adequate background knowledge but are not utilizing it, then the teacher must engage students in activities that activate the relevant information.
Promote Active, In-Depth Processing
Vocabulary instruction is most effective when teachers promote active, in-depth processing of words and concepts. While active student engagement is an important component of all learning endeavors, it is essential to vocabulary development. Word learning is enhanced when students are actively involved in the generation of word meanings rather than being passive recipients of information (Bransford, Brown, & Corking, 1999).
We also know that word learning is enhanced when teachers provide students with extensive opportunities to process word meanings at deeper and more complex levels (Kame’enui, 2004). Memorizing a definition or understanding a concept at a superficial level is not enough. Students must have both definitional and contextual information about words, as well as repeated exposures and opportunities to learn and review them. Engaging students in activities in which they work collaboratively to create or understand appropriate definitions and word relationships is one way to accomplish this goal.
Create a Language- and Word-Rich Environment
Vocabulary instruction is most effective when teachers create an environment that promotes vocabulary development. A language- and word-rich environment is one in which students have frequent opportunities to read, hear, use, and discuss new words and concepts. This type of environment fosters word consciousness (Scott, 2005), an awareness of words and their meanings, an awareness of the ways in which word meanings develop, and an interest in and motivation to develop new word knowledge, all of which support incidental and intentional word learning. The fact that this finding has been replicated in a variety of settings increases its significance.
Research studies in diverse contexts, and with learners of varying ages, all confirm that environments where language and word use are celebrated and noted encourage the development of word consciousness and attendant vocabulary learning....Strong research evidence a e that students benefit from word-rich classrooms in which time is taken to stop and discuss new words and in which words, dictionaries...and a wide assortment of books form the environment for enthusiastic word learning. (Blachowicz et al., 2006, p. 528)
Support Independent Word Learning
Vocabulary instruction is most effective when teachers help students develop the ability to learn new words independently. Teachers cannot possibly teach every word or explain every concept—nor should they try. Students need to be able to identify and learn new words they hear or read. To accomplish this goal, we must teach students to be strategic by teaching them independent word learning strategies.
Unfortunately, the instructional emphasis during vocabulary time is too often skewed toward teaching individual words and definitions instead of word learning strategies. While the former is important, the latter is equally critical. When encountering an unknown word, students must understand how to utilize context clues, how to conduct a structural or morphological analysis, and when to consult outside resources. Teaching these and other generative word learning strategies helps students develop a metacognitive perspective on their own vocabulary growth and the ability to be more independent learners.
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