Welcome to my first blog post of 2019. I hope you all had a happy and restful Christmas and New Year. Alongside time with family and friends I was also able to sit and enjoy reading a few books over the Christmas break. One that struck me was ‘Closing the Vocabulary Gap’ by Alex Quigley. This had been recommended by colleagues and is a book that emphasises the power of words to narrow gaps between the advantaged and disadvantaged and address social mobility. Working on the premise that a vocabulary of around 50,000 words is required for a student to succeed in secondary school, Quigley offers a convincing argument about the importance of explicitly teaching vocabulary to our students.
I was particularly struck by the chapter on teaching the origin of words in our language – over 90% of the vocabulary used in academic texts in school has Latin and Greek origins and if students are explicitly taught the etymology of these words then it will support them in cracking the academic code of school. In addition, the study of morphology (word parts) is a proven method of enhancing reading comprehension. By recognising common word parts, starting with roots then moving to prefixes, students can better understand academic vocabulary. Morphology and etymology should not be the preserve of a select few students, but should be a part of how we teach the academic language of school to equip students with the tools that enable them to grow their vocabulary. Whatever subject we teach, we can all play an important role in enriching our students vocabulary and empowering them to access the academic curriculum and the world of employment, further and higher education.
Following this book I hope we can move towards the seven steps outlined by Quigley to improve the teaching of vocabulary:
- Training teachers to become more knowledgeable and confident in explicit vocabulary teaching
- Teaching academic vocabulary explicitly and clearly with coherent planning throughout the curriculum
- Fostering structured reading opportunities in a model that supports students with vocabulary deficits
- Promoting and scaffolding high quality academic talk in the classroom
- Promoting and scaffolding high quality academic writing in the classroom
- Fostering word consciousness in our students through the sharing of etymology and morphology of words
- Teaching students independent word learning strategies