By TIFFANY INGLE
—Summer for part-timers generally comes with a lot of pressure and not a lot of paychecks. This summer, to create community and some professional learning in the midst of that pressure, I hosted a PTE-IG book club surrounding Keith Folse’s Vocabulary Myths from University of Michigan Press.
Our seven-member book club tackled the book a couple of chapters at a time, and we immediately realized that despite the 2004 publication date, the book is full of myths and research that are very revelant to our current teaching situations in Community College, Adult, and K-12.
One of the most challenging myths is that “guessing words from context is an excellent strategy for learning second language vocabulary.” This myth and the research presented with it forced us to really look at our practice of asking students to use context clues, and to realize that there is a difference between teaching reading strategies and teaching vocabulary. Folse asks us to take a good look at our use of context clues with our students and asks us whether students are receiving immediate feedback—which would be the only way that the use of context clues creates a good environment for acquiring vocabulary. Otherwise, context clues provide a wonderful reading-fluency activity, but they do not necessarily strengthen correct understanding of vocabulary. However, together with vocabulary exercises, context clues create strong readers who are also developing vocabulary knowledge.
Another challenging myth came at the program level: Folse challenges us to create more clarity in course curricula about how much vocabulary instructors teach—not only in vocabulary courses but also in writing courses. Our group was left with the question: How can we ensure that we help support a good vocabulary experience for students at the program level?
Vocabulary Myths also does a wonderful job of guiding us into creating more meaningful points of contact with vocabulary. For example, using translation dictionaries and apps to help in the vocabulary-learning process is a valuable point of contact for students. Although students often take this too far and only translate, instructors equally swing the pendulum the opposite way by demanding that students use only English-English dictionaries. All of this happens even when we know that more points of contact create better stickiness for vocabulary. Folse recommends a system in which students interact with vocabulary for learning with at least 4-5 points of contact. He describes the system clearly, and instructors leave the reading equipped to create a clear vocabulary-learning system in their own classrooms.
This book really jettisoned our book club into the fall semester full of ideas for how to better support vocabulary learning in our classrooms. We can now identify that before, we were forcing a lot of vocabulary assessment without supporting the learning strategies needed for students to successfully acquire new vocabulary.
Tiffany Ingle is coordinator of the Part-Time Educator’s Interest Group.
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