As I think about the Super Bowl game between the Patriots and the Seahawks, my thoughts turn to the many obstacles teachers tackle on a daily basis. We have students who come into our lives with learning difficulties and in some cases family issues at home. More requirements have been added to our school day as curriculum demands increase. Although there has been an increase in educational research over the years, many of these curriculum decisions have been made by politicians and policy makers with very little input from the members of the team: the teachers in the trenches.
The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) were created to “set clear college- and career-ready standards for kindergarten through 12th grade in English language arts/literacy and mathematics.” (Common Core Standards Initiative) I believe having national standards are a good start. As a National Board Certified Teacher (NBCT), I feel that all students in the United States should meet specific learning outcomes that will be recognized countrywide.
The Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) assessment was developed to make sure our students were receiving instruction based on the CCSS. Publishers, websites, my fellow teachers on Ed-Commerce sites, and I have tried to develop resources to help teachers address the topics outlined in the CCSS. In the midst of the discussions about the best ways to address instruction for the Common Core, I was not surprised to see that vocabulary instruction has become one of the important topics.
There was a time not too long ago where teachers taught vocabulary as part of reading instruction. We would introduce new vocabulary before reading a story or novel. I can remember teaching vocabulary to my students as part of reading. Even after 22 years, I still believe that vocabulary instruction is vital to reading success. In fact, if you use published novel units in your classroom, you know vocabulary exercises are still included within the units. Wordly Wise was probably one of the most important resources in every teachers’ classroom, especially in grades 3 and beyond. I can say that I used more recent editions with my Gifted students in grades 2 and 3. Now with the the introduction of the CCSS, vocabulary instruction is more vital for our students’ success with the Common Core and the PARCC assessment.
According to Marilee Sprenger, “…[Eighty-five percent] of achievement test scores are based on the vocabulary of the standards.” (Sprenger, The Critical Words) This means that part of our Common Core instruction and PARCC preparation should include instruction of key vocabulary terms. If you visit Sprenger’s website, you will read the research behind Common Core vocabulary instruction. The vocabulary listed on the website includes the most important words based on the percentage of time they appear in the CCSS. What does that mean for our current methods of instruction?
It means we need to go back to “Old School Teaching.” It means we need to revisit our instructional tool kit from the past and teach vocabulary to our students. We need to bring our Bloom’s Taxonomy sheet back into the front of our lesson plan book. Now it will not get lost in the newest educational theory-turned-curriculum tool. Seasoned teachers have seen the high frequency words in the CCSS; they are the terms that appear in Bloom’s Taxonomy.
I suspect many of my seasoned colleagues were able to include vocabulary instruction in their balanced literacy block. Now, you can do so out loud and proudly. In fact, your experience with teaching vocabulary in the past will become a coveted skill. Your colleagues who are new to the team will seek you out to get advice and resources. They are entering a territory that has not been discussed in teacher education programs in recent years.
During a staff meeting, my principal gave us a list of important verbs from the CCSS. Further research brought me to Sprenger’s website. After looking through her website and another website by Bruce Taylor I realized that I needed to offer my third grade Basic Skills students more instruction in vocabulary. Unfortunately our time is very limited. So, I developed a resource that would integrate CCSS Critical Verb instruction with literature response. My goal was to introduce the vocabulary terms and then have my students apply those terms when responding to literature. I wanted my students to understand that they may encounter questions that include these terms. It is my hope that instead of teaching to a test, I can give my students the critical thinking skills they need to succeed in the future. So, to my teammates, this is a game where we can succeed using the “Old School Teaching” that helped us to become teachers and helped many of our students become successful. Vocabulary instruction is back and a necessary for our students’ success in our classrooms.
First Published February 1, 2015