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Dedicated to Teachers

Heinemann Author Q & A Series: Charlene Cobb & Camille Blachowicz, Part 2

In part 1, Charlene and Camille explained why a traditional approach to vocabulary instruction is not the most effective way to learn new words. In today’s post, they share ways you can bring research-based vocabulary instruction into your classroom.

A recurring point you make in your book is that student engagement is missing from traditional vocabulary instruction. You also say that teachers should share their passion for word study with their students. How do you recommend teachers become passionate about vocabulary?

Passion is born out of interest and curiosity and the desire to share that interest with others. An entry point is as simple as becoming a member of a “word of the day” website. Sites such as WordThink (http://www.wordthink.com/) choose sophisticated (Tier 2) words like ostentatious and enigmatic. Sharing these words with students each day and asking them to find unusual or intriguing words to share gets them interested in words.

In your book’s second section, you present a framework for understanding what an effective school and classroom approach to vocabulary looks like. How long did it take you to develop this framework? How did you go about it?   

The framework consolidates work done by many educational researchers over a long period. It summarizes best practices that teachers and teacher educators have fine-tuned in classrooms all across the country.  Most recently it was validated by the federally funded Multifaceted Comprehensive Vocabulary Instruction Project, conducted in 2009–2012. We worked intimately with elementary teachers in three states as they used the framework in their classrooms. We met with them weekly and had grade-level sharing sessions every two or three weeks.

Once teachers are aware they are not teaching vocabulary effectively, what one aspect of their practice would you recommend they change?

You don’t have to have everything in place to get started. Complete the Analyze Your Vocabulary Environment survey included in our book. Then select one or two word-learning strategies you can incorporate into your instruction easily—knowledge ratings or word sorts, for example (which can also be used as diagnostic, formative, and summative assessment tools). Find a colleague willing to do this along with you and talk about it! Once you begin, professional books and journal articles related to vocabulary can help you build your knowledge and your confidence. Last but not least, involve your students in your journey!

Schools are using a lot of technology and many are moving toward one-on-one learning environments. How does this impact vocabulary instruction?

Technology provides access to engaging sites and programs, but these tools should always serve instruction. Technology in the absence of highly effective teaching will not increase achievement. Some vocabulary software programs are nothing more than electronic worksheets. However, being able to highlight a word on a tablet or computer screen and immediately get the definition gives a tremendous boost to student learning. Technology also connects students to “just in time” visual and audio explanations of concepts discussed in a text. Other online tools let students create word maps and other visual representations that help them see the relationships between and among words. The benefits of integrating technology and strategic, purposeful vocabulary instruction are huge.


Topics: Not This But That, Teaching-General, Writing, Camille Blachowicz, Charlene Cobb, Elementary, Methods, Middle School

Date Published: 05/06/14

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