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A Silver Bullet for Helping Readers? Maybe…

Colleagues, you’ve got something that’s very close. I know, it’s dangerous to believe something can be that promising, especially in education! But there have been more correlations in educational research supporting the value of this “silver bullet” than in any other educational research.

We have been reluctant to take on the concept of a “silver bullet.” We have been taught that children all learn differently. Which they do! How could there be one thing that makes a difference to every child.

I remember attending a workshop by Dr. Kate Kinsella who stated clearly that there was a “silver bullet.” As I turned to look at my colleagues, I could see that more than half the teachers were doing a mental eye roll. You could just see their minds already preparing a defense to such a threatening idea.

We work hard to make progress with our readers, using so many highly recommended strategies, assessing and reassessing. It just can’t be that simple.

Well I agree, education is never simple, but we have continued to give inadequate time and attention to this “silver bullet.” We’ve continued to get caught up in the latest teaching concepts, and have simply let this tremendous need and opportunity stay on the back burner. Is it because it is too simple?

Here’s what Dr. Kate Kinsella said at that workshop: “Vocabulary is the silver bullet.” vimeo.com

Here’s what E. D. Hirsch reminds us in a speech to the Virginia House of Delegates: “The persistent achievement gap between haves and have-nots in our society is chiefly a verbal gap. There is no greater practical attainment in the modern world than acquiring a bellyful of words. A large vocabulary is the single most reliable predictor of practical, real-world competence…” – E.D. Hirsch, 2011 

And, “…correlations between vocabulary size and life chances are as firm as any correlations in educational research.” A Wealth of Words

Marzano’s never stops reminding us, “Direct teaching of vocabulary might be one of the most underused activities in K-12 education. The lack of vocabulary instruction might be a result of misconceptions about what it means to teach vocabulary and its potential effect on student learning.” – Marzano et al., 2002 Classroom Instruction That Works

And here are wise words from some teachers who get it, “We think with words, therefore to improve thinking, teach vocabulary.” — Edutopia – A. Draper and G. Moeller

Have I convinced you yet?

So what does a teacher do?

Make time…I know, the most controversial word in teaching…time!

There are lots of ways to teach vocabulary successfully (be sure to check out VOCABUTRIX and other free tools available upon joining our blog, and check out my digital version Word Lab Web). What counts most is that we give it a higher priority.

My personal action research tells me that 90 minutes a week can do it! I made a difference of 1.2 years in reading scores in just 4 months by prioritizing 90 minutes a week for differentiated word learning.

Let me finish with this last poignant statistic:

“According to the National Center for Children in Poverty, 22 percent of children in the United States are living in poverty.

According to the Heart of America foundation, 61 percent of families living in poverty do not have children’s books in their homes. Consequently, children living in poverty already have a 50 percent weaker vocabulary than their wealthier peers at the start of school.” Poverty and Illiteracy in Schools

Are you ready to take on the challenge of making more room for vocabulary instruction? Please share with us your fears, your challenges, your objections, as well as your successes in making room.

We are building a community of educators who can help each other create classrooms with an effective and efficient vocabulary focus. For this reason, we ask you to opt in (below) to our blog updates in order to download our free tools.