Developing Vocabulary Knowledge and Concepts - CONCEPTS WORDS ... DEVELOPING VOCABULARY KNOWLEDGE AND CONCEPTS 267 ... learn concepts through various levels of contrived

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  • There is a strong connection betweenvocabulary knowledge and reading com-prehension. If students are not familiarwith most words they meet in print,they will undoubtedly have trouble un-derstanding what they read. Longwords bothered Pooh, probably as

    much as technical vocabularywords uniqueto a content areabother students who arenot familiar with the content they are study-ing in an academic discipline. The more expe-rience students have with unfamiliar words

    c h a p t e r8Developing Vocabulary

    Knowledge and Concepts

    Teaching words well means giving

    students multiple opportunities to

    learn how words are conceptually

    related to one another in the

    texts they are studying.

    I am a Bear of Very Little Brain and long words Bother me.

    A. A. MILNE, FROM WINNIE-THE-POOH

    Or

    ga

    niz

    ing

    Pr

    inci

    ple

    e.ResourcesFor a research review on the relationship be-tween vocabulary and comprehension, go toWeb Destinations on the Companion Website;click on Professional Resources, and look forNRP Report, then select Part IV, Vocabulary.

    2005 by Pearson Education, Inc.Content Area Reading: Literacy and Learning Across the Curriculum, Eighth Edition, by Richard T. Vacca and Jo Anne L. Vacca. Published by Allyn and Bacon. Copyright

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  • and the more exposure they haveto them, the more meaningful (andless bothersome) the words willbecome.

    Vocabulary is as unique to a content areaas fingerprints are to a human being. A con-tent area is distinguishable by its language,particularly the technical terms that label theconcepts undergirding the subject matter.Teachers know they must do something withthe language of their content areas, but theyoften reduce instruction to routines that di-rect students to look up, define, memorize,and use content-specific words in sentences.Such practices divorce the study of vocabu-

    lary from an exploration of the subjectmatter. Learning vocabulary becomes anactivity in itselfa separate oneratherthan an integral part of learning acade-mic content. Content area vocabularymust be taught well enough to removepotential barriers to students under-standing of texts in content areas. Theorganizing principle underscores themain premise of the chapter: Teach-ing words well means giving stu-dents multiple opportunities tolearn how words are conceptuallyrelated to one another in the textsthey are studying.

    Ch

    ap

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    Ove

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    ewDEVELOPING VOCABULARY KNOWLEDGE AND CONCEPTS

    ACTIVATING WHAT STUDENTS KNOW ABOUT WORDS

    WordExploration

    BrainstormingKnowledgeRatings

    SemanticWord Maps

    ListGroupLabel

    WordSorts

    REINFORCING AND EXTENDING VOCABULARY KNOWLEDGE AND CONCEPTS

    ConceptCircles

    SemanticFeature Analysis

    CategorizationActivities

    Context- and Definition-Related

    Activities

    MagicSquares

    USING GRAPHIC ORGANIZERS TO MAKE CONNECTIONS AMONG KEY CONCEPTS

    GRAPHIC ORGANIZERS

    EXPERIENCES CONCEPTS WORDS

    2005 by Pearson Education, Inc.Content Area Reading: Literacy and Learning Across the Curriculum, Eighth Edition, by Richard T. Vacca and Jo Anne L. Vacca. Published by Allyn and Bacon. Copyright

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  • 266

    Fridays always seemed to be set aside forquizzes when we were students. And one of the quizzesmost frequently given was the vocabulary test: Lookup these words for the week. Write out their defini-tions and memorize them. Then use each word in a com-plete sentence. Youll be tested on these terms onFriday.

    Our vocabulary study seemed consistently to re-volve around the dull routines of looking up, defining,and memorizing words and using them in sentences.

    Such an instructional pattern resulted in meaning-less, purposeless activityan end in itself, rather thana means to an end. Althoughthere was nothing inher-ently wrong with lookingup, defining, and memoriz-ing words and using them insentences, the approach it-self was too narrow for usto learn words in depth. In-stead, we memorized definitions to pass the Fridayquizand forgot them on Saturday.

    Having students learn lists of words is based on theill-founded notion that the acquisition of vocabulary isseparate from the development of ideas and conceptsin a content area. Teaching vocabulary often means as-signing a list of words rather than exploring wordmeanings and relationships that contribute to stu-dents conceptual awareness and understanding of asubject. Once teachers clarify the relationship be-tween words and concepts, they are receptive to in-structional alternatives.

    Teaching words well removes potential barriersto reading comprehension and supports studentslong-term acquisition of language in a content area.Teaching words well entails helping students makeconnections between their prior knowledge and thevocabulary to be encountered in the text, and provid-ing them with multiple opportunities to clarify andextend their knowledge of words and concepts duringthe course of study.

    To begin, lets explore the connections that link di-rect experience to concepts and words. Understandingthese connections lays the groundwork for teachingwords, with the emphasis on learning concepts. As An-

    Frame of Mind

    1. Why should the language of anacademic discipline be taughtwithin the context of conceptdevelopment?

    2. What are the relationshipsamong experiences, concepts,and words?

    3. How can a teacher activatewhat students know aboutwords and help them makeconnections among relatedwords?

    4. How do activities for vocabularyextension help students refinetheir conceptual knowledge ofspecial and technical vocabulary?

    5. How do magic squares forvocabulary reinforcement helpstudents associate words anddefinitions?

    What were some of yourexperiences with vo-cabulary instruction

    in content areas?

    Response Journal

    2005 by Pearson Education, Inc.Content Area Reading: Literacy and Learning Across the Curriculum, Eighth Edition, by Richard T. Vacca and Jo Anne L. Vacca. Published by Allyn and Bacon. Copyright

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  • CHAPTER 8: DEVELOPING VOCABULARY KNOWLEDGE AND CONCEPTS 267

    derson and Freebody (1981) suggest, Every serious student of reading recognizesthat the significant aspect of vocabulary development is in the learning of concepts,not just words (p. 87).

    Experiences, Concepts, and Words

    Words are labels for concepts. A single concept, however, representsmuch more than the meaning of a single word. It may take thousands ofwords to explain a concept. However, answers to the question, Whatdoes it mean to know a word? depend on how well we understand therelationships among direct experiences, concepts, and words.

    Concepts are learned by acting on and interacting with the envi-ronment. Students learn concepts best through direct, purposeful experiences.Learning is much more intense and meaningful when it is firsthand. However, inplace of using direct experience (which is not always possible), we develop andlearn concepts through various levels of contrived or vicarious experience. Ac-cording to Dale (1969), learning a concept through oral or written language is es-pecially difficult because this kind of learning is so far removed from directexperience.

    What Are Concepts?Concepts create mental images, which may represent anything that can begrouped together by common features or similar criteria: objects, symbols, ideas,processes, or events. In this respect, concepts are similar to schemata. A concepthardly ever stands alone; instead, it is bound by a hierarchy of relationships. Asa result, most concepts do not represent a unique object or event but rather a gen-eral class linked by a common element or relationship (Johnson & Pearson 1984,p. 33).

    Bruner, Goodnow, and Austin (1977) suggest that we would be overwhelmedby the complexity of our environment if we were to respond to each object orevent that we encountered as unique. Therefore, we invent categories (or formconcepts) to reduce the complexity of our environment and the necessity for con-stant learning. For example, every feline need not have a different name; each isknown as a cat. Although cats vary greatly, their common characteristics causethem to be referred to by the same general term. Thus, to facilitate communica-tion, we invent words to name concepts.

    Concept Relationships: An ExampleConsider your concept for the word ostrich. What picture comes to mind? Yourimage of an ostrich might differ from ours, depending on your prior knowledge

    What are some words re-lated to your contentarea that didnt exist ten years ago? One

    year ago? Why do youthink these words

    are now in use?

    Response Journal

    2005 by Pearson Education, Inc.Content Area Reading: Literacy and Learning Across the Curriculum, Eighth Edition, by Richard T. Vacca and Jo Anne L. Vacca. Published by Allyn and Bacon. Copyright

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  • of the ostrich or the larger class to which it belongs, generally referred to as landbirds. Moreover, your direct or vicarious experiences with birds may differ sig-nificantly from someone elses. Nevertheless, for any concept, we organize all ourexperiences and knowledge into conceptual hierarchies according to class, ex-ample, and attribute relations.

    268 PART THREE: INSTRUCTIONAL PRACTICES AND STRATEGIES www.ablongman.com/vacca8e

    The development of vocabulary knowledgeand concepts is essential for students tocomprehend and think critically about textsacross the curriculum. Although most stateand national content standards in the vari-ous academic disciplines do not explicitlystate a standard for vocabulary learning, itis more broadly implied in content stan-dards that relate to comprehension, inter-pretation, inquiry, and critical thinking. Asa result, some state proficiency assessmentsmay not have direct measures of wordmeaning related to a specific disciplineother than on reading and language artsassessments.

    Informal, authentic assessments are animportant aspect of content area instructionand should be used, as we explained inChapter 2, in conjunction with high stakemeasures of proficiency. Blachowicz andFisher (1996), for example, recommendKnowledge Rating as a self-assessment/instructional strategy before students read a chapter or engage in a unit of study. Thesteps in Knowledge Rating include thefollowing:

    1. Develop a Knowledge Rating sheet to survey students prior knowledge of vo-cabulary they will encounter in a text assignment or unit of study (see the fol-lowing examples from a middle gradelanguage arts class and a high schoolmathematics class).

    2. Invite students to evaluate their level ofunderstanding of the keywords on theKnowledge Rating sheet.

    3. Engage in follow-up discussion, askingthe class to consider questions such as, Which are the hardest words? Which do you think most of the classdoesnt know? Which words do most of us know? Encourage the students to share what they know about the words and to make predictions abouttheir meanings.

    4. Use the self-assessment to establish purposes for reading. Ask, About whatdo you think this chapter/unit is going to be?

    5. As students engage in chapter/unit study, refer to the words on the Knowledge Rating sheet as they are used in text. Have students compare their initial word meaning predictions with what they are learning as they read.

    What about . . .Content Standards and Assessment?

    BO

    X 8.1

    2005 by Pearson Education, Inc.Content Area Reading: Literacy and Learning Across the Curriculum, Eighth Edition, by Richard T. Vacca and Jo Anne L. Vacca. Published by Allyn and Bacon. Copyright

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  • The concept ostrich is part of a more inclusive class or category called landbirds, which is in turn subsumed under an even larger class of animals known aswarm-blooded vertebrates. These class relations are depicted in Figure 8.1.

    In any conceptual network, class relationships are organized in a hierarchy con-sisting of superordinate and subordinate concepts. In Figure 8.1, the superordinate

    CHAPTER 8: DEVELOPING VOCABULARY KNOWLEDGE AND CONCEPTS 269

    EXAMPLES

    From a newspaper unit in a middle school language arts class:

    How much do you know about these words?

    A Lot! Some Not Much

    Wire service X

    AP X

    Copy X

    Dateline X

    Byline X

    Caption X

    Masthead X

    Jumpline X

    Column X

    From a unit on quadratic functions and systems of equations in a high school math class:

    How much do you know about these words?

    Can Define Have Seen/Heard ?

    Exponent X

    Intersection X

    Domain X

    Intercept X

    Slope X

    Parabola X

    Origin X

    Vertex X

    Irrationals X

    Union X

    Coefficient X

    2005 by Pearson Education, Inc.Content Area Reading: Literacy and Learning Across the Curriculum, Eighth Edition, by Richard T. Vacca and Jo Anne L. Vacca. Published by Allyn and Bacon. Copyright

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  • concept is animal kingdom. Vertebrates and invertebrates are two classes withinthe animal kingdom; they are in a subordinate position in this hierarchy. Verte-brates, howeverdivided into two classes, warm-blooded and cold-bloodedaresuperordinate to mammals, birds, fish, and amphibians, which are types or sub-classes of vertebrates. The concept land birds, subordinate to birds but superordi-nate to ostrich, completes the hierarchy.

    For every concept, there are examples. An example is a member of any con-cept being considered. Classexample relations are complementary: Vertebratesand invertebrates are examples within the animal kingdom; mammals, birds,fish, and amphibians are examples of vertebrates; land birds are one example ofbirds; and so on.

    Lets make land birds our target concept. What are some other examples ofland birds in addition to the ostrich? Penguin, emu, and rhea are a few, as shownin Figure 8.2. We could have listed more examples of land birds. Instead, we nowask, What do the ostrich, penguin, emu, and rhea have in common? This ques-tion allows us to focus on their relevant attributes, the features, traits, properties,or characteristics common to every example of a particular group. In this case, therelevant attributes of land birds are the characteristics that determine whether theostrich, penguin, emu, and rhea belong to the class of birds called land birds. Anattribute is said to be critical if it is a characteristic that is necessary to class mem-bership. An attribute is said to be variable if it is shared by some but not all ex-amples of the class.

    270 PART THREE: INSTRUCTIONAL PRACTICES AND STRATEGIES www.ablongman.com/vacca8e

    Animal Kingdom

    Vertebrates

    Warm-blooded Cold-blooded

    Amphibians

    WaterbirdsLand birds

    Mammals FishBirds

    Ostrich

    Invertebrates

    Concept Map Based on Class RelationsF I G U R E 8.1

    2005 by Pearson Education, Inc.Content Area Reading: Literacy and Learning Across the Curriculum, Eighth Edition, by Richard T. Vacca and Jo Anne L. Vacca. Published by Allyn and Bacon. Copyright

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  • Thus, we recognize that certain physical and social characteristics are sharedby all land birds but that not every land bird has each feature. Virtually all landbirds have feathers, wings, and beaks. They hatch from eggs and have two legs.They differ in color, size, habitat, and size of feet. Some land birds fly, and oth-ers, with small wings that cannot suppo...

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