THESE ARE MY NOTES FROM ROBERT MARZANO’S PRESENTATION “BUILDING ACADEMIC VOCABULARY” AT THE OKLAHOMA STATE DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION’S ANNUAL LEADERSHIP CONFERENCE ON JULY 10, 2007 IN OKLAHOMA CITY. I AM RECORDING THIS SESSION AND WILL POST LATER (WITH DR. MARZANO’S PERMISSION, OF COURSE) THE RECORDING AS A PODCAST HERE. I WILL NOTE THAT I AM, AT THIS POINT, UNSURE IF I AGREE WITH THE PEDAGOGIC ASSUMPTIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS BEING OFFERED HERE. DR. MARZANO IS AN INTERNATIONALLY RECOGNIZED WRITER AND PRESENTER, HOWEVER, AND I SEE INHERENT VALUE IN BEING EXPOSED TO AND BEING ABLE TO SHARE HIS IDEAS WITH OTHERS. HERE ARE MY NOTES:

This is about the third intervention
– this is the most concrete, you can really pull this off in a year’s time
– it begins with identifying a list of terms
– say “in this school, any student who goes through this school or this district we will guarantee
– we go for 30 words per grade level per content area

teachers usually try to teach around 400 words per year
– we are suggesting teachers just focus on 120 words

ASCD and the State Dept of Education have made all these lists available to all schools as part of school

I have built a logical case from the research on this
– if we are going to put our
– we need a robust study, experimental and control groups, to see if this works
– we’ll provide 1.5 days of training for your teachers, then you
– we have been looking for an intervention that doesn’t take a lot of training, teachers are so busy, we need something that is so ‘gettable’ maybe teachers don’t even need training
– across the board in all categories, experimental groups outperformed control
– we had almost 4000 students, we didn’t have random assignment, however
– best results for ELL students in free/reduced lunch, those are the kids we’re looking to help the most because they didn’t have the opportunity to have conversations at night around your dinner table and go on fancy vacations

the critical thing: it has to be system wide
– every teacher has to do it
– if you don’t do that, you miss the lion’s share of the impact
– we are trying to guarantee that if a student is in your system from grade 1-8, there are 240 math concepts they’ll know, 240 science teachers they’ll know, etc.

ONE OF MY PRINCIPAL QUESTIONS ABOUT THIS IS WHETHER A SYSTEM THAT IS TO BE APPLIED FOR EVERYONE, FOR EVERYBODY, THAT DOESN’T SEEM TO INVITE DIFFERENTIATION OR ANY AUTONOMY

If you want to do a pilot study, I’ll help you and foot the bill for the research

We suggest teachers teach the terms in a common way
– doesn’t mean some modification can’t be happen
– we don’t want the kids having to figure out how the teachers teach vocabulary
– research shows a big part of doing well in school is figuring out what the teacher wants, kids often get mixed messages
– so a standard process for doing this in the entire school is very important

This is on page 14 of the orange book everyone has

1- provide a description, explanation, or example of the new term
2- ask students to restate the description, explanation, or example in their own words
3- ask students to construct a picture, symbol, or graphic representing the term or phrase
4- engage students periodically in activities that help them add to their knowledge of the terms in their notebooks
5- periodically ask students to discuss the terms with one another
6- involve students periodically in games that allow them to play with terms

SO NOW MY THOUGHT IS, ARE WE JUST OVERSIMPLIFYING THE EXISTING CURRICULUM (AND TRIMMING IT DOWN A BIT) BY MAKING LONG LISTS OF TERMS TO TEACH. I AM ALSO QUESTIONING THIS IDEA OF DECONTEXTUALIZED TERM TEACHING.

What is missing from these steps: The dictionary
– look at 1999 Steven Stahl’s book: say definitions make sense NOT when you are first learning a word, but AFTER you have a good grounding of what the word means
– this is particularly true of English language definitions
– we got the format for English dictionaries based on Aristotle’s work, based on conserving space and providing concise, parsimonious definitions
– often the definitions don’t tell us what they mean
– you really need an explanation or a story to explain what a word means

It is
– literature on vocabulary knowledge: in your area of content expertise and your areas of outside hobbies/passions, you know words in your areas of expertise in great deal
– get you out of those areas of expertise, you probably use terms a lot in incorrect / inaccurate ways
– example: Do we have a democracy or a republic in the United States?
– so maybe we can lighten up if an 8th grader doesn’t know the definition of “polynomial” right off the bat

term “fast mapping” – you get a fast hit on the meaning of a term, if you use it then you’ll refine that understanding
we WILL get to the rigor that secondary people want
– rigor is great, we’ll get to that

story of an English-speaking student writing down science definitions in Spanish (showing that it really was “all Greek to her”)

having students represent things non-linguistically can have a great deal of value for understanding

I DO AGREE AND RESONATE WITH THE ABOVE, INCLUDING THE CONTEXT OF DIGITAL STORYTELLING.

the dictionary definition is not the place to start
– instead we should start with a story
– story of picking up National Geographic and picture of a little bird in an alligator’s teeth

THIS IS A GREAT STORY, AND A GOOD EXAMPLE, BUT MARZANO SHOULD HAVE BEEN SHOWING US THIS PICTURE ON HIS POWERPOINT (TO ADDRESS VISUAL LITERACY AND THE FACT THE HUMAN BRAIN PROCESSES IMAGES 60,000 TIMES FASTER THAN TEXT) – INSTEAD HE IS SHOWING US ALL TEXT POWERPOINT SLIDES: WHITE TEXT ON A BLUE BACKGROUND, WITH SOME GREEN LINES FOR TABLES HE IS USING.

Some schools are having kids add to a binder they make of their understandings of terms

WHAT ABOUT DOING THAT DIGITALLY, IF YOU ARE GOING TO DO IT? BUT THE BETTER AND MORE IMPORTANT QUESTION IS, FROM A PEDAGOGICAL PERSPECTIVE, IS IT VALUABLE TO HAVE STUDENTS DO THIS AT ALL, OR INSTEAD HAVE THEM ENGAGED IN PROJECT-BASED LEARNING IN WHICH THEY MAKE AUTHENTIC CONNECTIONS AND EXPERIENCE REAL INSTEAD OF FAKE LEARNING THAT IS QUICKLY FORGOTTEN? WHERE IS THE TRANSFER? WE ARE NOT HEARING ABOUT TRANSFER AND LONG TERM RETENTION AT ALL. MARZANO IS HAVING US PAUSE PERIODICALLY AND TALK TO SOMEONE BESIDE US, AND THAT IS GOOD, BUT WE NEED MORE TIME TO DO THAT AND

He is sharing some examples of student work, where they have written the word, written the word category, written what it means, written other words they think of, and then drawn a picture of this

I’M WONDERING IF INSTEAD OF DOING ALL THIS “SCHOOL WORK” WHICH IS ARTIFICIAL AND NOT REAL WORLD (HOW MANY PEOPLE SIT AROUND AND FILL OUT A WORKSHEET ABOUT A VOCABULARY WORD) INSTEAD SHOULDN’T WE ENGAGE STUDENTS IN PROJECTS WHERE THEY CREATE AUTHENTIC KNOWLEDGE PRODUCTS? SHOULDN’T WE HAVE STUDENTS ENGAGE IN CONVERSATIONS WITH EACH OTHER AND WITH ADULTS? SHOULDN’T THE WORK WE DO IN SCHOOL LOOK AS CLOSE TO WORK DONE OUTSIDE OF SCHOOL AS POSSIBLE? THIS DOES NOT SEEM TO BE THE MESSAGE OF MARZANO HERE AT ALL. HE IS ENCOURAGING DIRECT TEACHING OF VOCABULARY WORDS, DOES LEAVE SOME ROOM FOR TEACHING THIS IN DIFFERENT WAYS / THROUGH DIFFERENT MODALITIES, BUT OVERALL SEEMS TO PROMOTE A WORKSHEET-BASED MODE OF EDUCATION BASED ON DECONTEXTUALIZED EDUCATION. WHERE IS THE THEMATIC FOCUS? WHERE ARE THE PROJECTS? WHERE ARE THE REASONS FOR A LEARNER OF ANY AGE TO REALLY CARE AND GIVE A HOOT ABOUT THESE TASKS? I DON’T SEE THOSE REASONS PRESENTED HERE.

Do you let non-native English speakers write the description in their own language?
– Yes
– the purpose here is not to just reinforce English
– the purpose is to help teach CONTENT

Example: If you are teaching me statistics, but are going to make me learn in German (a language I don’t understand)

Pair students up in situations where you have ESL students

Lots of games for step 6
– Jeopardy
– Family Feud
– Draw Me
– etc
– idea is that these games are academic in nature

look at page 64

WE PLAYED A GAME WHERE 1 PERSON GAVE CLUES ABOUT HIDDEN WORDS, AND THE OTHER PERSON TRIES TO GUESS THE WORD
– WE PLAYED THIS 3 TIMES WITH SCIENTIFIC TERMS ABOUT THE SOLAR SYSTEM, UNITS OF MATH MEASUREMENT, AND CIVIL WAR TERMS

we have found that with stupid little games, kids get engaged, have fun, and learn

I THINK THIS IS GOOD TO THE EXTENT MARZNO IS NOT ADVOCATING TEACHING TERMS BY HAVING KIDS WRITE OUT THE DEFINITIONS. THE GAMES PORTION WE JUST DISCUSSED WAS GREAT. KEY WAS STUDENT INVOLVEMENT, ACTIVITY, AND INTERACTIVITY.

Real power is doing this systemically.

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  • My school is pretty hyped up on Marzano… I, however, have had some of the same reservations that you commented upon. One of the problems that I have noticed is ‘bandwagon’ hysteria. If vocab cards are good, more vocab cards must be great and vocab cards everyday in every class must be even better. Sometimes I think educational ‘movements’ are like fad diets. Fad diets start strong and fade, aften because they are boring or unsustainable. Just like eating only grapefruit is not a good diet, neither is only teaching vocabulary. Although I know that Marzano does not advocate only teaching vocabulary, my experience with the implemetation of his ideas in the classroom was less than impressive. Just as with eating habits, balance is key… there are many factors that aid in healthy eating AND a successful classroom. I sometimes feel as though Marzano misses the mark with what he advocates. We need vocab, but we need a whole HOST of skills and applications to become a ’21st century learner’.

  • Our district is the same. Marzano is entertaining and informative. But I can’t help but think everytime I go to another inservice like this, ‘this is a different spin on the same old thing.’

    But then again, he was entertaining.

  • Wesley —

    I look forward to the podcast of this session. I think the key in what he presents with this is the idea of consistency across the school — whatever you do, do it in all classrooms so that students become familiar with it. I think that is true for much more than just building vocabulary.

    Example:
    If you are going to teach kids how to take notes, them use the same system in all classrooms instead of allowing each teacher to teach a separate note taking system. In other words, if you are going to teach kids how to use “Cornell Notes”, then make sure that all teachers teach the system and use it consistently in all classrooms.

    There are some things in this presentation that I do have questions about — like you, I am concerned about the issue of differentiation and would like to see some application of technology and real-world activities to increase relevancy.

    On a separate topic — I LOVE the new look of your blog! Very nice. I am considering upgrading WordPress also, but am dreading the time it will take!

    Stephanie

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