‘Knowledge has a beginning and no end’
Earlier this week I shared some research informed practice at a CPD session at our Academy. The overarching themes were challenge and vocabulary at KS3 and continuing to move forward with retrieval at KS4. Both the latter are intrinsically linked to knowledge, and both present their own challenges in the classroom. In the first part of this blog, I reflect on the challenge of vocabulary and how the student challenge presents itself in the form of learning, applying and retrieving vocabulary knowledge.
Grabe (2009) concluded that a student who ‘didn’t know 15 words on a 300 word page will need some instructional support.’ No instructional support would lead to a lack of new information which many of the new words would reveal. This is where I think the crux is of the issue. Teachers have to be confident in how to deliver such instructional support and the different forms this can take. I presented the acronym below:
Take the word illustrate. It is a much better word than ‘shows’. It can easily be used as part of a student ‘travelling toolkit’ to unlock and apply knowledge. It is a word that is used in English when critically analysing and responding to set texts. A science teacher could place it in their questioning toolkit ‘who can illustrate this principle for me?’ Humanities – comparing sources ‘Source A illustrates . . . source B illustrates.’ Mathematicians? ‘How does this illustrate the abstract idea?’ Already, the toolkit has been carried around four subjects and exposure to the same word with its variant definition has been created. This of course is only one example and there are so many words to shine lights on to retrieve and grow knowledge. If supporting students with vocabulary is to have a cumulative impact, then there needs to be an organised structure to it. Take the new EEF guidance for improving secondary science. Highlighted, is student literacy being a large predictor of pupils’ attainment in science, and the need to improve student use of scientific vocabulary (tier 3 subject specific vocabulary). Whilst this is absolutely key to growing an understanding of the subject, it is also noted that students should be explicitly taught words which have a different meaning in science ‘valid, random or spontaneous’. Teacher strategies that are used to strengthen the fluent use of such vocabulary can be repeated across subjects, therefore exposing students to the same challenges and strategies, but in different contexts:
Driving words home, with their repeated exposure in different contexts and examples, and through retrieval activities, will undoubtedly be of great student support in making the required vocabulary and attached knowledge stick.
Looking at vocabulary knowledge and engaging students with the source of the new knowledge has to be effective. Clear, organised communication helps to afford this and builds a firm foundation for new learning to be acquired through two-way communication. Moving vocabulary learning forward (whilst continually reflecting back and strengthening prior vocabulary knowledge) begins to build the tapestry of word consciousness that teachers strive for in their students. Vocabulary is only one part of this tapestry, but looking at each WORD affords opportunities for vocabulary retrieval practice which can be immersed in subject knowledge. It strengthens and improves student learning compared to re-reading (Roedriger et al., 2011) and can be as simple as word retrieving through quizzes and connecting words to an image at the start of a lesson. Teaching vocabulary is a powerful tool. It can help with both fact-based learning and meaningful learning and transfer (Smith et al., 2016). In the words of PD James ‘Increase your word power. Words are the raw material of our craft.’ As teachers, words are a part of our craft too.