The art and science of teaching: Six steps to better vocabulary instruction

Tags: research, student learning, student achievement, instructional strategy, classroom strategies, Marzano Research Lab, Rob ert J. Marzano, instructional strategies
Content: 2/14/2014
September 2009 | Volume 67 | Number 1 Teaching for the 21st Century Pages 83-84
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The Art and Science of Teaching / Six Steps to Better Vocabulary Instruction
Rob ert J. Marzano Educational Leadership is pleased to announce a new column this year--The Art and Science of Teaching--and a new columnist--noted researcher Rob ert J. Marzano. Internationally known for his practical translations of current research into effective classroom strategies, Marzano is cofounder of Marzano Research Lab oratory, which synthesizes teacher research into components that schools can use for gains in student learning. A well-known speaker and trainer as well as a prolific b ook author, he draws from 40 years of experience in education. Each month, Marzano will focus on one teacher-tested instructional strategy in education. After exam ining for decades the res earch on ins tructional strategies and reflecting on m y involvem ent in hundreds of s tudies , I can s ay one thing confidently: If you exam ine all the studies conducted on a given instructional s trategy, you will find that som e studies indicate the strategy im proves student achievem ent whereas other studies indicate it does n't. Take, for exam ple, the strategy of providing feedback. Researchers Avraham Kluger and Angelo DeNisi (1996) s ynthes ized the findings from 607 s tudies on that s trategy. They found that the average effect of providing feedback to students is a 16-percentile-point gain. However, more than one-third of the studies indicated that feedback has a negative effect on student achievem ent. Sim ply us ing a s trategy does not guarantee pos itive results . Rather, it's how som eone uses the s trategy that determ ines whether it produces great results , m ediocre res ults, or no results at all. So what's a teacher, school, or district to do? Certainly, the answer is not to ignore the research. In fact, the research is the firs t place to start. You should s cour s tudies to identify those strategies for which research s hows pos itive effects on student achievement. Next, teachers, schools, and districts should conduct their own informal (and formal) studies on how well an ins tructional s trategy works in their particular context--with their s tudents, their grade level, or their s ubject m atter. No s trategy is foolproof. No s trategy is proven. You have to see how it works in your particular s etting. They Won't Forget the Crocodile Teeth In their research, classroom teachers have taught us something about how to best use specific instructional strategies. Let's begin with a strategy for teaching vocabulary referred to as the six-step process (Marzano, 2004). It involves the following steps: 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, pictograph, or symbolic representation of the term. 4. Engage students periodically in activities that help them add to their knowledge of the term s in their vocabulary notebooks . 5. Periodically as k s tudents to discuss the term s with one another. 6. Involve students periodically in gam es that enable them to play with term s. 1/3
2/14/2014 Teachers use the first three steps when introducing a term to students. For example, assume a teacher is introducing the term mutualism. Instead of offering a textbook definition, the teacher describes the term or tells an anecdote that illustrates its meaning (Step 1). The teacher might explain that the crocodile and a bird called the Egyptian plover have a relationship that exemplifies mutualism. The crocodile opens its mouth and invites the plover to stand inside. The plover picks things out of the crocodile's teeth. Both parties benefit: The plover gets fed; the croc gets its teeth cleaned. While explaining this relationship, the teacher might show students images found on the Internet. In Steps 2 and 3, s tudents try their hand at explaining the m eaning of m utualism . They devis e an explanation or an exam ple from their own lives (Step 2). Next, they draw an im age depicting what they think m utualism m eans (Step 3). A few days later, the teacher reviews the new term us ing Steps 4, 5, and 6, which needn't be executed in s equence. The teacher m ight have s tudents com pare the m eaning of m utualism with another previous ly s tudied term , s uch as symb iosis (Step 4). Students might pair up and compare their entries on the term in their vocabulary notebooks (Step 5), or the teacher m ight craft a gam e that students play using these term s (Step 6). What Teacher Research Found Over the last five years, I have been involved in more than 50 studies that involve this strategy. In all these studies, teachers us ed the s trategy with one clas s but did not use it with another. Then they com pared the results . These studies have taught us several things about this six-step strategy. First, the strategy works at every grade level, from kindergarten to high s chool. Second, it works better if you us e all the s teps without leaving any out. In one m iddle school study, teachers found that the whole process enhanced students' achievement much more than the parts of the process in is olation did. Third, although the m ajority of studies indicate that the proces s enhances s tudent achievement, some studies indicate that it doesn't. For exam ple, in one dis trict in which 24 elem entary teachers used the six-step process with one group of students but not with another, the average effect for us ing the strategy across all 24 elem entary teachers was a 24-percentile-point gain. Six studies s howed gains greater than 40 percentile points , but nine studies showed negative effects. Happily, the res earch is als o beginning to tell us what does or does n't m ake the s trategy work. Here's what we've learned so far: When students copy the teacher's explanation or description of a term instead of generating their own explanation, the results are not as strong. Ideally, student explanations should come from their own lives. The third step in the process is crucial--having students represent their understanding of a new term by drawing a picture, pictograph, or symbolic representation. When students do this step well, achievement soars. Games seem to engage students at a high level and have a powerful effect on students' recall of the terms. Gam es not only add a bit of fun to the teaching and learning proces s, but als o provide an opportunity to review the term s in a nonthreatening way. After the clas s has played a vocabulary gam e, the teacher should invite s tudents to identify difficult term s and go over the crucial aspects of thos e term s in a whole-clas s dis cuss ion. Of course, we still have more to learn about this strategy. But for now, it's safe to conclude that it can be a powerful tool that teachers can use in classroom s at any grade level and in any subject area. References Kluger, A. N., & DeNis i, A. (1996). The effects of feedback interventions on perform ance: A his torical review, a m etaanalysis, and a prelim inary feedback intervention theory. Psychological Bulletin, 119(2), 254­284. Marzano, R. J. (2004). Building b ackground knowledge for academic achievement: Research on what works in schools. Alexandria, VA: ASCD. Robert J. Marzano is Cofounder and CEO of Marzano Research Laboratory in Denver, Colorado. He is the author of The Art and Science of Teaching (ASCD, 2007) and coauthor, w ith Mark W. Haystead, of Making Standards Useful in the Classroom (ASCD, 2008). To contact Marzano or participate in a study regarding a specific instructional strategy, visit w w w KEYWORDS Click on keywords to see similar products: vocabulary, teaching methods, instruction, educational research Copyright © 2009 by Association f or Supervision and curriculum development Requesting Permission For photocopy, electronic and online access, and republication requests, go to the Copyright Clearance Center. Enter the periodical title within the "Get Permission" search field. To translate this article, contact [email protected] 2/3
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