Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Hacking the Common Core Book Study

Hack 4: Morecabulary 

It only makes sense that the chapter I chose would start out with a quote from one of my favorite authors and the person who kick-started my journey towards becoming an avid reader oh-so-many years ago. 


The book that includes this quote, "Hacking the Common Core" by Michael Fisher, is a book that explains ways in which we can incorporate the Common Core standards easily and effectively into our classrooms, without driving ourselves crazy in the process. Be sure to check out the blogs by the other #D100bloggerPD members about the Introduction and Hack 1 by Kristin Richey, Hack 2 by Jenny Lehotsky, and Hack 3 by Kayla Kaczmarek for more information about this awesome book!


Vocabulary Instruction in the Classroom 

As an 8th grade science teacher, good vocabulary knowledge is essential to my students' understanding on the variety of topics we learn about this year. To give you an idea about the level of vocabulary understanding needed to learn about our first unit, genetics, here is a sample of the terms:  
  • Heterzygous, homozygous, dominant and recessive genes, genotype, phenotype, and allele

Scary, huh?

The book explains that often vocabulary is taught in isolation, with weekly time spent on looking up new words in huge dictionaries, copying down definitions that students don't understand, and memorizing those definitions for tests on Fridays. The students then forget all relevant information by Monday and never actually use those words in their own speaking and writing. Not surprisingly, Michael Fisher suggests that we need to stop this outdated and useless practice. 



A Blueprint for Full Implementation

The author outlines 7 things that you can do in the long term to increase vocabulary retention and use in your classroom:

Step 1Engage with words in multiple ways. Make vocabulary instruction about exploration and challenge students to use their new vocabulary in their writing and speaking. 

Step 2: Tell stories about words. We (humans) make better connections when we hear about words in a context. As proof, I still remember each amendment in the Bill of Rights because my crazy and extremely engaging U.S. Government teacher told us ridiculous stories about each one. 

Step 3: Construct meaning socially. Challenge students to come up with their own definitions to new words based on word families that they've already learned. In my opinion, this is the best skill you can teach students if you want them to construct meaning on their own when reading

Step 4: Allow students to identify the words that they want to learn. Authentic experiences are always more meaningful than constructed ones. Allow time for both. 

Step 5: Play games with words. Just like number fluency in math, students also need to learn fluency with words.

Step 6: Engage in constant formative assessment.  The best one I've come up with is to listen to my students as they speak. It's so cool to hear my students talk about how the alleles 'BB' are homozygous dominant!

Step 7: Read. Read. Read. The best way to encounter new words is to, well, encounter new words. 


Concluding Thoughts

My vocabulary instruction needs to get better, and my students can't afford for me to sit and wait to figure it out. This chapter lists some great ideas that I can do right now to help my students and I become better at learning and using vocabulary. 

Be sure to check out #D100BloggerPD 's next post by the fabulous Leah O'Donnell. Also, be sure to join in on our Twitter chat with the author, @Fisher1000 on next Tuesday, October 18th! 





  1. This is great, Lauren! Thank you so much for your contribution. I think that this is likely the most important hack in the book! I wanted to share an additional resource that I created with a colleague, Marilee Springer. We did a session last year on Digital Tools with Vocabulary acquisition, which we called "Digital Vocab Rehab." The link to all of our materials is here: http://www.livebinders.com/play/play?id=1736447 -Mike Fisher

    1. Mike,

      Thank you for reading the post and sharing the digital resources! It looks like there a ton of things for me to try out!

      - Lauren

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  3. Yes! Love this. I encourage teachers to do this in math as well-- learning about the vocab in context is so much more meaningful than writing definitions in notes before students have any experience with it.

    My other idea has been for kids to feel a *need* for a word to explain something. For example, I was in a classroom where kids kept talking about a "fraction that flips around" and another kid couldn't figure out what they were talking about. I said, "gee, it would be easier to communicate with each other if we had a word for this!" "Yes," they agreed. So I said, "well, the word reciprocal does refer to what you are trying to talk about. Do you think using that word would help get your point across?" They were so happy to have a word to use. It's like they were begging for the vocabulary. haha

    1. I love that! I'll have to think about how to incorporate that into science... It makes them so much more meaningful to the students when they come up with the word!