Saturday, October 3, 2015

Word Study - inspiration from Word Savvy by Max Brand

One teaching goal I have this year is to improve my word study, in particular my vocabulary instruction.  I will admit that I have been working on this goal for awhile!

Last year I moved to a new school and new grade, a change I embraced and was looking forward to. Over the last ten plus years I had done individualized spelling with my young students in first and second grade. Vocabulary was embedded in my read alouds, but I knew I needed to go deeper. I wanted to see my students use new vocabulary in their language and writing, but the truth was that it rarely happened.  I've been reading a lot about best practice in word study, trying to get a handle on what exactly I needed to do to improve my lessons. I thought a lot about how to fit in these crucial lessons. I always had the best intention and planned for word study, but often when schedules get tight these lessons seem to be the first to be "rescheduled".  Each day as a third grade teacher last year I knew I was missing opportunities and I knew one lesson and a worksheet wasn't the answer. But how could I create a word study program in my classroom of diverse learners including many English language learners that would be meaningful and improve my student's spelling, vocabulary, word solving and comprehension? And I knew whatever I created had to be easy for me to incorporate and teach my students. Just like my reading and writing workshop, which has a predictable routine that my students could rely on, I wanted to do the same for word study. I also knew that time, or lack of time, was a problem. I needed routines that both myself and my students looked forward to and could automatically incorporate into my day.

Last spring I read Word Savvy by Max Brand. It was so inspiring for me and came to me at a crucial point. As I began thinking about my back to school lessons this fall I started taking notes and planning how I would create a stronger word study program in my classroom. How could I take what Max was doing in his fifth grade classroom and make it work for me and my third graders?

Read Like a Writer
This idea wasn't new to me - I use this idea in writing workshop.  I often reread mentor texts with the eyes and ears of a writer.  Asking students to notice writers' craft so that they might use the same ideas in their own writing.  But Max says that if we want students to go beyond the surface level of words we need to start by "modeling our own curiosity with words."  He suggests embedding this in read alouds right away, at the beginning of the year.  Max has his fifth graders collect these interesting words in their Reader's Notebooks during read alouds.  Max also teaches his students how to note and identify important words, particularly in content areas and non-fiction.

How's it going for me?
During my class read alouds I have definitely made sure I'm modeling my "curiousity for words" regularly. This wasn't too hard, since I read aloud regularly and have an authentic love for literature that I share often with my students.  I just needed to make that mental plan for making sure I hit that point each day.  Word Study and Read Aloud time merged.  A great way to save time! Within the first week I had my students using their Reader's Notebooks to jot down interesting words and phrases while they listened.  I encouraged them to share what they were writing.  A handful of students were jotting, most were not.  We kept sharing and talking and a few more students started jotting.  Some were writing down the words that they heard others share.  That was okay.  A couple of students shared some amazing and deep thoughts about words and phrases, especially after I modeled for a few days.  What did I learn and notice?  First, they can't spell the words and often can't read what they wrote. This isn't really surprising because the words they choose are hard words! 2. They mostly want to know what the word means - that is why they thought it was interesting. (Future teaching) 3. Most students can't listen and take notes. (Not surprised.) 4. Many students are poor listeners and struggle to focus on the story.  The good news is that I can tell my students love read aloud time and they will improve with time! The next steps are getting a lot of these words up on display in class so we can refer to them and use them in our language and writing.

Our school has a motto this year.  Since we are a grade 3-5 school, this is my students' first experience with the motto.  Each day it is recited on the announcements.  So, I decided to use it as a non-fiction text and focus on some vocabulary that we thought was important.  We did this over several days.  And these wonderful words are referred to all the time, so I know students will use them in their oral language.

Discovery Note Taking

I've taught and used various KWL and R.A.N strategies for note taking or deconstructing non-fiction texts.  And of course their are plenty of graphic organizers out there.  But I like the Discovery Note Taking tool that Max uses with his students because I think it is versatile and can be used for all types of non-fiction.  I also think it directly reflects the types of thinking we do as we read non-fiction.  So far I have used it to model my thinking as we read an article on Wonderopolis.  I should mention that this was our third reading of the article.  On the second reading I asked students to highlight important words in the article as they read independently.

Future Plans

Word Savvy also includes a section on Spelling as well.  This year I have decided not to do traditional weekly spelling lists and tests.  Of course I will continue with my spelling and word study instruction, but I will assess differently.  I'm really trying hard to look at student writing to determine spelling instruction.  As a third grade teacher I think that decoding and word solving are also an important part of the Word Study umbrella and need to be linked together.  I want my students to make connections between writing and reading tricky words.  Max's book also has a section on word walls, another topic that I would like to improve upon.  I hope to write about my experiences throughout the year.  Word Savvy by Max Brand is a great book.  It's a quick read full of great ideas.

Please share your thoughts about Word Study!

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