The lack of vocabulary accounted for 70% of reading comprehension problems in a group of 4th graders, according to the National Research Council.
Is your elementary school satisfied with your students’ reading comprehension? Most elementary schools are not. I’m writing to enlist your help in getting your school to focus on vocabulary building as central to your students’ and schools’ progress.
VocabularySpellingCity’s focus is on improving students’ comprehension for stronger academic and career success. The challenge that we see across the spectrum of elementary schools and students is consistent: it’s vocabulary. In some Title I schools and schools with ESL populations, it can be Tier I words. In general education and for everyone, it’s Tier 2 words with content and academic vocabulary. No matter where the school is located or type of students, vocabulary is a problem.
The teachers teach ideas and concepts on a weekly cycle. The next week, they need to move onto a new topic and too often, the previous vocabulary lessons and words fade away.
The solution: build a system for revisiting the concepts and vocabulary over three to five weeks that will translate instruction into retention. The key elements for improving vocabulary:
- Spaced practice, in which the students encounter these words over multiple weeks in different contexts, greatly increases the probability of retention.
- Use a multimedia game-like system so that the students are truly engaged. It’s important that they can hear the words and see them used in context. Play with them. Figure out what they mean. Write with them. There are over 35 different learning activities and games on VocabularySpellingCity, and if the students are going to work on the system every day for a year, this variety is important.
- Use a system with reports for teachers, for parents, and for administrators. Use these powerful features:
- Assign activities and lists, rather than simply letting students play.
- Look at the recorded data and hold students accountable for both their level of effort and results.
- Leverage students’ reading by asking them to harvest 10 interesting words and create a list on VocabularySpellingCity. Then you can share the list with other students, and the students can teach the words to each other. (If you don’t know about student-created lists, you’re missing a key feature.)
- Don’t just deploy the software, but train the teachers, perhaps using our online professional development or our private webinars and consultations for school and district customers (those with over 300 student licenses), so that they understand how to extend their teaching into vocabulary retention using VocabularySpellingCity. The training should extend to the students so they too understand that the point of the vocabulary study is long-term retention, not just getting through each week’s cycle.
- Measure your progress. As you implement a program for increased vocabulary retention, establish a metric for measuring it either directly or through improved comprehension. One of the trends that needs to be refined in schools is to use testing to encourage and guide success. The point should be formative assessment that’s useful, not high-stakes testing that is so brutal and apparently ineffective.
If you’re interested in the research, there’s a downloadable white paper created by VocabularySpellingCity and McREL International. Better yet, if you’re interested, give us a call at (800) 357-2157 or contact us online. We can set up your district, school, or classroom rapidly, including plans for ongoing professional development. Let’s work together to make vocabulary your students’ superpower!
Our Journey to Vocabulary
Here at VocabularySpellingCity, we recently went through a transition, moving from being a general language arts program to one focused on vocabulary-building. Here’s the story of our transition.
I had a few goals in 2010 when I was starting SpellingCity, as the company was then called. First, I thought students should be empowered to study on their own, yet practicing vocabulary and spelling words were an example of where students needed to ask others to help. I wanted to build a tool that allowed them to study independently. Then, I looked at how teachers do their job and I realized that nobody had really focused on building productivity tools for teachers. They were still spending their time on non-value-added activities such as handing out lists, reading off words for tests, grading tests by hand, and then recording them in their grade book. So my second mission was to provide meaningful productivity tools to help teachers. The third part of the initial mission was to make it all easy to use and fun. Prior to creating an educational tech company, I had made video games for PlayStation. I come to the concept of gamification with some serious experience.
So this is SpellingCity’s legacy: gamification, student empowerment, and teacher productivity. It is on this foundation that we are building a focus and system for vocabulary building which is fully aligned with today’s highest priority in education: improved comprehension.
The critical element in building comprehension (verbal and reading) is vocabulary and while the core teaching is in place, the missing link is an emphasis and a system for ensuring that vocabulary studied becomes vocabulary retained.