"I bet that made you feel morose," Kevin commented on my Facebook page a few weeks ago when I had made some sort of innocuous Facebook status update. Kevin was from the class of 2007, I think, and he remembered a vocabulary word he learned way back when was a Freshman.
This comment is ringing in my ear now, as I ponder vocabulary instruction in my class. This year, our team decided to teach the 9th graders 4-6 new words a week, all having to do with the literature we were learning. To learn 160-200 new words a year is a pretty amazing feat, I think. To actually teach them and have the students learn them: that's an important facet of English instruction.
However, the directive from the principal was, "Four words a week is not enough". Apparently, when my department head brought it up at the instructional leadership team meeting, several other department heads poo-pooed the idea, saying things like, "_______ Middle School does 10 a week".
However, is "doing" ten words a week what we want? How do we know that "doing" them means they're learning them? With four words a week, we were practicing flashcards and actually learning the words. This wouldn't happen with ten. So what is the goal here? The kids learning the words or the kids doing the words?
It's a strange place to be in, to be directed to do more of something that you just barely felt you were doing well. What's best for the kids? English teachers have writing skills (timed writing and planned writing), grammar, vocabulary, oral expression skills, and reading skills to cover. How is it that we're not doing enough vocabulary when I already felt we were a little too much spread out? It's something we'll deal with all year, and, in the meantime, we will increase the vocabulary and see what happens. But I always believed that teaching wasn't about throwing a bunch of things at the kids and hoping some of it sticks. If I teach something, I want to teach it well. This doesn't feel like it.
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