We’re about three weeks away from that last, sad weekend of summer vacation…and my summer partner-in-crime starts back next week already. I went for a walk last night at 6:45 and it was a bit dark-ish….the end of summer is coming.
And that means it’s time to start thinking about the start of the new year. This is the start of a new evaluation cycle/goal for me, which has had my head spinning for a few months. So many goals! So little time! I’m leaning heavily towards a vocabulary goal at this point.
My school-year partner-in-crime, Irene, and I have been looking at vocabulary a little bit over the past few years. For example, we added the Frayer model as a standard option on our homework sheets under the “Show Your Understanding” category:
We’ve also always had key vocabulary on the “By the End of” sheets:
And, when a given topic or unit calls for it, we provide students with vocabulary with teacher-generated definitions:
We also include vocabulary on our Module Assessments. On most Module Assessments, the vocabulary is usually given with visuals only:
On our Statistics Module Assessment, where the vocabulary does not lend itself to visuals, our past practice has been to explicitly provide key definitions on the Module Assessment itself.
In all of these attempts to work with vocabulary, we have had the expectation that, given the information, students would use the vocabulary and would be responsible for using it well, since they were not using any mental energy to memorize things they found meaningless. But we’ve never really incorporated the vocabulary work deeply into our daily practice with the students.
What might a new vocabulary goal look like? I’ve been thinking a lot about vocabulary this summer because part of my work for a grant was to provide feedback to the college students who were sometimes writing explanations for problems that were then published in an online math support program. I found myself struggling with the tendency of the students to be imprecise with language–“top and bottom” (not numerator and denominator), “flip” (rather than multiply by the reciprocal), and so on. I hadn’t realized how much I have drunk the pedagogical Kool-Aid that values the precision of language in building accurate mathematical understanding until I realized how much it bothered me to see something that my students might access that did NOT use precise language!!
So that experience has underscored for me an interest in finding ways to bring vocabulary work into our math practice to build stronger student understanding. Our class times are getting shorter this year–we are losing the equivalent of a full day of instruction each week–so we can’t add anything to our days. So this needs to be something students can do at home, something that both pushes them and also allows them to come in at varying entry points, while still supporting the final goal of strengthening content understanding. We’ve talked about maybe having some standard homework options we use the night we transition into a new area of content, maybe a new Module or maybe a new part of a current Module. Do we have students do Frayer Models if they don’t know the words yet? What is best practice in vocabulary work for specific, tier two vocabulary tied to specific math content? Like I wrote in the title, we’re just at “initial thoughts” at this point…stay tuned!