Vocabulary Instruction in Today’s Classroom Part 1

            Throughout my studies in undergraduate and graduate school, I have focused on literacy and using texts to create meaning.  While working on my bachelor of arts in English, I used reader-response to evaluate Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and different genres of children’s literature that dealt with death in two different independent studies (the longest papers of my life, over 40 and 100 pages respectively).  While in undergrad I also completed the Education program to get my Early Childhood teaching license and a minor in Education.  In those classes, I was not only interested in how readers draw meaning from a text, but also how young minds begin to make meaning from sounds and morphemes. I continued to explore various ideas involving the process of learning to read while completing my masters of education in literacy.  I took a semester to do an inquiry on the links between phonemic awareness skills and phonics and the implications for teachings in lower socio-economic districts.

            I continue to read and look for resources to improve upon my knowledge and teaching abilities regarding these concepts and skills.  However, I continue to challenge myself to broaden my knowledge of literacy in other aspects as well.  If you could not tell from my introduction of this essay, I am a logophile.  I am currently in my sixth year of teaching.  I complete field experiences in a rural area, my student teaching in England, my first years of teaching in a very diverse district that had students of from low socioeconomic statuses (and in a classroom where most of my students were on IEPs).  I currently teach in a middle class community, at a school with very little diversity.  In all of these settings, I have been increasingly concerned by the lack of vocabulary knowledge of students.  While they may be able to decode words, many students do not understand grade-level texts.  Oftentimes, I find it is not because they lack higher-order thinking skills.   They lack vocabulary knowledge, and the tools to help them understand a new word.  This affects their comprehension, as well as their writing.

            I am writing this essay mostly so that I can organize my own thoughts, and in order to ensure that what I have read is internalized and can influence my teaching.  I am posting it here so that perhaps other teachers may benefit from my “professional reading time.”  I believe it is not only important to follow education news and blogs, but also to stay current on educational research, published journal articles, and books on the topic of reading.  In the following parts of this exploration, I will discuss the importance of vocabulary instruction today, what vocabulary instruction should look like, and resources and other literature on vocabulary for various grade levels.