Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Tiers of Vocabulary Revisited

Last week I taught my grade 6 intervention block about the Tiers of Vocabulary. They spent most of last week reading, analyzing, and discussing words. On Friday, I did a quick writing-to-show-understanding to assess where the students are in their understanding of the Tiers. I gave them two options:
1. Write a letter to a parent or one of your other teachers to tell them what you have learned about the Tiers of Vocabulary.
2. Pretend you are a Tier 2 word and write a letter to your Tier 3 friend explaining why you are a harder word.

My reflection on these assignments showed me several things. 1) The two options were not created equally. The second option really was harder to do and the students who tried it were not really able to show understanding of the tiers. 2) Once again, I failed to give the students clear criteria about what I was looking for. (See my fluency post for more about matching criteria to assessment.) 3) If this were my classroom of 10 years ago, I'd have given grades and moved on, though most of the students are not showing me that they understand the tiers on a higher order thinking level. Teaching is so much more rewarding when learning is the motivating factor, not grades.

So I once again went back to the drawing board. I realized I was looking for the students to be able to do three things: to explain the tiers and how to know which words fit which tier, to give example words for each tier, and to explain why it is useful to know the tiers of vocabulary. I read over their assignments and grouped them into three categories:
1. The students who still had some confusion or misconceptions about the tiers themselves.
2. The students who could explain the tiers but who were only picking examples we'd already discussed in class.
3. The students who had good explanations and gave examples, but didn't include why it is useful to catagorize words this way.

Today we created 3 stations to address the three groups. The students in group one started at station one and once they cleared up their explanations, could move on to station two: giving examples, and then to station three: the "why" station. At the end of the class, most of the kids were ready for station 3. I have three students to confer with tomorrow. I am going to give these three the opportunity to explain the tiers orally because the writing part of the assignment was getting overwhelming for them.

And while I had a couple who could give me some reasons why the tiers might be useful, none of them are all the way there yet. And that is due in part to the fact that so far, we've just been categorizing. Next week, we will go back to the Mysteries of Ancient Poop article and start to look at how we use context clues to determine the meanings of words.
The pink highlights are Tier 2 words, the blue are Tier 3. What I want the students to discover is that they will encounter more Tier 2 words in a text and Tier 2 words are much less often defined in context, while Tier 3 words are quite often defined in context. These are the reasons why it is also important for teachers to know the tiers. Content teachers often focus on their Tier 3 words, when it is usually the Tier 2 words that give readers the most trouble in terms of comprehension.
Here are a couple of students sharing their assignments. You can hear that they have a good basic understanding of the tiers. I am hoping over the next week, we can deepen that understanding for the whole class.

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