A key ingredient to learning a new word is the connection a student makes with that word to background knowledge. Many of you have stated that your students are so lacking in background knowledge that it is difficult to help them find those connections. Finding emotional connections is the key.
If you have looked at a VOCABUTRIX you’ll note it is unique in the type of questions it asks. It doesn’t ask, what is it? or what is an example?….It asks students to project their SENSE of a quality (a connotation) to the words, and although their answer depends completely on their background experience, this allows for a broad spectrum of possibilities.
For instance, let’s say two partner readers have selected the word “matrix” to learn and then select the following definition: “a rectangular array of numbers, symbols, or expressions, arranged in rows and columns.” Each, independently, imagines what the definition is trying to tell them and then records their relationship to what it is describing by filling out the VOCABUTRIX columns 1 and 2 (Is it a good feeling? Is it a bad feeling?). Student A may say the feeling is bad, not good, because A hates math and that is what comes to mind when A sees the definition. Student B may say the feeling can sometimes be good and sometimes bad because B might like charts but B finds symbols confusing.
In another column in the VOCABUTRIX …Can you buy a matrix? Again, any connection is acceptable. Maybe student A bought the movie Matrix and therefore answers yes because that is what comes to mind. Student B says no because he’s never had to buy a piece of paper with a matrix on it. They would then have to explain to each other why they chose the answers they chose and how their view can connect to the definition. The student who connected to the movie, might have a hard time explaining the connection but by the very nature of trying to explain, this student is processing a new understanding. What makes this valuable is the discussion that takes place when students share their reactions/connections with their partner.
Even though connections for certain students can be very obtuse, by making that connection and then justifying/explaining it, they are taking ownership of the word and its meaning and are also hearing someone else’s ideas and connections.
These peer interactions and metacognitive thinking are powerful tools but even more potent is making connections to one’s emotions. Emotions play a commanding role in learning.
Questions, comments? Please share below!