Academic journal article Middle School Journal

Promoting Vocabulary Learning with the Interactive Word Wall

Academic journal article Middle School Journal

Promoting Vocabulary Learning with the Interactive Word Wall

Article excerpt

Curricular standards at the middle level and at all grade levels include vocabulary development as part of a comprehensive literacy program. Some of the expectations in these standards include determining meanings of derivatives, studying words systematically across different disciplines, learning polysemous words, and understanding the etymology of words. To address these objectives, teachers need to consider a printrich classroom environment that supports vocabulary acquisition. One particular artifact associated with printrich literacy environments is the word wall, a collection of words visually displayed in the classroom that serves as a referential point for discussion. While word walls have typically been considered the domain of primary level classrooms, we have had promising success at the middle level with what we call the "Interactive Word Wall" (Harmon, Hedrick, Wood, Vintinner, & Willeford, in press; Harmon, Hedrick, 8c Wood, 2007). The Interactive Word Wall strategy is grounded in research and theory supporting the use of social interaction, active student engagement, and the power of choice in working with older students (Gambrell & Marinak, 1997; Kohn, 1993).

In this column, we begin with a brief review of the importance of vocabulary to subject area learning and how key features of research-based vocabulary learning led us to develop the Interactive Word Wall strategy. Then we describe an instructional framework for using the Interactive Word Wall. And last, we provide some actual classroom examples from a middle school social studies teacher.

Research-based vocabulary instruction

The importance of vocabulary in learning is widely acknowledged by educators and is grounded in a wealth of research studies dating back many decades (Blachowicz, Fisher, Ogle, & Watts-Taffe, 2006; Baumann, Kame'enui, & Ash, 2003; National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), 2000). The findings of vocabulary research provide us with understandings about vocabulary knowledge as a predictor of verbal ability as well as reading comprehension (Sternberg, 1987), the high correlation between vocabulary and reading comprehension (Anderson & Freebody, 1981; Stanovich, Cunningham, & Freeman, 1984) and how this link is both complex and difficult to separate (Baumann, 2005; NICHD, 2000), and the tremendous differences in word knowledge that can exist in any school classroom and at any grade level for economically disadvantaged students (Chali, Jacobs, & Baldwin, 1990; Hart & Risley, 1995; White, Graves, & Slater, 1990) and for English language learners (Folse, 2004).

The Interactive Word Wall strategy serves three purposes: (a) associating word features and meanings with familiar ideas, concepts, and experiences; (b) actively engaging students in multiple, varied, and meaningful experiences with words; and (c) highlighting student choice.

Associative learning

The role of association tasks in learning and instruction has a long history, having been researched since the early years of the last century from Thorndyke to Pavlov (Wittrock, 1979). Research and theory since these early years has shown how knowledge exists as a vast set of associations of varying degrees represented by images in our minds and related to and triggered by our current and prior experiences (Sadoski & Paivio, 2004; Paivio, 1986). The research on the keyword method, a mnemonic device that involves associative learning, supports the use of this technique for helping students recall word meanings (NICHD, 2000) . Essentially, students create a visual image between the word meaning and some familiar part of the word. Baumann, Kame'enui, and Ash (2003) use the example of the word carlin meaning "old woman." The student pictures an old woman driving a car and this image helps later recall of the word meaning. The broad research base for the keyword method favors its use for helping students remember definitions (Pressley, Levin, & Delaney, 1982; Pressley, Levin, & McDaniel, 1987), although some studies noted a problem with long-term retention of word meanings (Thomas & Wang, 1996; Zhang & Schumm, 2000). …

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