What I've Learned!
Vocabulary in the Classroom -- Matthew Kowalski
#1: Tiers dictate the "no fly zones" for language in the classroom!
Tier 1: Common, Known Words
Examples: big, small, house, table, family
These words can be found in everyday language, and often are encountered in normal conversation. These can be learned outside of an educational setting through use in speech and listening.
Tier 2: High-Frequency Words (aka Cross-Curricular Vocabulary)
Examples: justify, explain, expand, predict, summarize, maintain
These words are "general academic words" that are encountered across various disciplines. These are the "toolkit" words used to interact with specific information.
Tier 3: Low-Frequency, Domain-Specific words
Examples: isotope, tectonic plates, carcinogens, mitosis, lithosphere
These words are content-specific, meaning they are encountered as part of specific information in specific contexts (for a social studies example: vassal - the subject in a feudal relationship).
The example I previously mentioned: "vassal", is a good way to walk through this thought process. Teaching students about the system of feudalism is necessary to understand social structures and governmental ideas in any world history or US history class. The relationship can be simplified, moving from Tier 3 to Tier 1, as follows:
- 3: The Dominion of New England was the vassal of the King of England.
- 2: The Dominion of New England was the King of England's direct subject.
- 1: The Dominion of New England was under England's control.
Tier 3, the most accurate (and technically complex) version of the sentence is also the one that would have students lost if they did not already know what "vassal" meant or implied. Conversely, at Tier 1, despite being easiest for the most students to understand, there are so many variations of being "under control" (stabilized, for example) that the nuance of the situation could be lost and comprehension weakened. Tier 2 (as mentioned in Frey & Frey (2012 p. 42) offers a content-flexible word (subject) that will be more useful in a student's vocabulary toolkit as they interact with text inside and outside of the classroom.
#2: Semantic Feature Analysis is a great way to bridge Tiers 2 and 3!
(Image retrieved from: http://camill3.weebly.com/uploads/1/3/5/4/13548719/4031478_orig.jpg)
Semantic Feature Analysis is an instructional strategy aimed at learning vocabulary in a visual framework. According to Fisher & Frey (2012, p. 47), a chart arranging vocabulary and features is introduced alongside a relevant text. Students will mark each cell in the table with a "+" or a "-" to denote each word's relationship with the listed features.
In the example, Tier 2 words such as "focus", "known", and "marked" are used, bringing each into disciplinary context. Tier 3 words are used as the vocabulary itself, seemingly avoiding too much "cognitive load" (Fisher & Frey 2008) by separating the "assignment words" (Tier 3) from the words that are merely being used to get the job done (Tier 2). This also fulfills our goal of teaching disciplinary literacy, by modeling for the students how to think about the Tier 3 words in a discipline-specific framework.
#3: Vocabulary in Context is Key!
In my classroom, my lecture style has attempted to situate each Tier 3 vocabulary word (usually specific events, people, and actions) in context so as to establish A-->B-->C style relationships between them. This saves time that can otherwise be spent on
How will I incorporate these lessons?
- Fisher, D., & Frey, N. (2012). Improving Adolescent Literacy: Content Area Strategies at Work. (Chapter 3). (3rd ed.) Boston: Pearson.
- Fisher, D., & Frey, N. (2008). Word wise and content rich: Five essential steps to teaching academic vocabulary. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
- Harmon, J., & Wood, D. (2008). Content-Area Vocabulary: A Critical Key to Conceptual Learning.
- Vacca, R. T., & Vacca, J. A. (2007). Content area reading: Literacy and learning across the curriculum (9th ed.). Boston: Allyn & Bacon.