Saturday, November 3, 2012

Vocabulary and ELL's

When it comes to learning a new language, the importance of vocabulary cannot be undervalued. Words are points of synthesis, like little power packs or building blocks to new knowledge, better understanding, and greater ease of movement in a new language and culture. Words are food. They help a brain to grow.

The process of teaching words to students who are learning a new language is, well, a process. They need these aforementioned power packs, not just in my ELD (English Language Development) class, but also in their other core academic classes, in gym, in music, in life. But when you look at my particular students in my particular setting, it's pretty clear to see that the teaching of new vocabulary requires a special touch.

I realize I haven't posted in Tales From The Clink in quite some time. I guess it's because I spend most of my time trying to perfect that "special touch," which is really just what all caring teachers do as part of their jobs: the constant pursuit of better methods to optimize student learning. I have a constant time crunch, and that means I'm on the go as soon as my foot passes the threshold of door 3 at M School every morning. "Spare time" in my world is an oxymoron. Let me paint a picture. 

My classroom consists of sectioned off quarter of a regular classroom, and I share it with two other teachers who are also equally compromised for space, time and resources. My students are ten in number, are seventh and eighth graders, and are growing both physically and as numbers on a roster week by week. We are big people in a small space. We are transient. We are victims of significant trauma. We are homeless. We are refugees. We are on government assistance. We are hungry.

My teaching, and my planning for my teaching, has to take all this into account. I know I have to expect obstacles to learning, and so I plan my lessons in 20 minute chunks of time (studies show that both ELL's and kids who have been exposed to trauma need tasks broken down into roughly 20 minute periods of time). One of these chunks is devoted to word study. I have come to rely on a fantastic website called Vocabulary and Spelling City I discovered VSC a few years ago when I started teaching reading in the juvenile justice system. Someone had mentioned this site at a conference I had attended, and I found the site and started experimenting with it with my students at the time. The group of students I had been teaching then were pretty diverse in their reading levels, and using this website allowed me to customize word lists to each student’s ability. It was an instant hit. I could create assignments that connected to what each student was reading but also wove in customized writing and listening tasks. I could give them feedback right on the site, which they loved. 

My year started with a pull-out group of 5 students, and now, in early November, this group has doubled, and it promises to continue this trend. The coming and going of students on a regular basis requires a high degree of differentiation in my instruction.  Having the use of Vocab & Spelling allows me to create custom word lists for my brand new beginners, my emerging students, and those who are approaching fluency. Even those students who have access to the internet outside of school can log on and work on word study assignments outside of the classroom. My students have all improved their scores on a variety of literacy assessments, and I feel that our word study routine using VSC has a lot to do with this success.

I don’t know what I would do without VSC., and I want others to know about its great features and benefits. I feel as though I have a partnership with the people who have created this web resource. I hope other teachers and learners will discover it too. If you do, let me know what you think! 

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