Career educator and senior curriculum specialist at the Northwest Evaluation Association John Wood has spent the last four months posting about the new Common Core on NWEA's website. This week, in "Vocabulary, Digital Content, Snowballs, and the State of the Union," he writes in response to a newly-finalized Michigan State study showing deficiencies in kindergarten vocabulary instruction.

(We wrote about the kindergarten study in "Vocab Lessons for the Sandbox Set"; Wood is responding to a piece in EdWeek digesting the study's results.)

The EdWeek piece focuses on the vocabulary deficit which children of poverty have as they enter kindergarten.  It goes on to describe how schools are doing a poor job of closing the vocabulary gap for a variety of reasons–but primarily because vocabulary instruction is too willy-nilly.  Though the researchers cited in the article don’t say it, it seems they believe at school age the locus of vocabulary acquisition shifts from the wider environment to the school.  What is never said is that children like my granddaughter will continue to acquire new words at home and in the community as well as in school.  Not only will her environment away from school continue to be more verbally rich, but she will continue to be complimented for her vocabulary development.  Having taught in schools with high rates of poverty, I have seen a diametrically opposite dynamic occur at times.  Think of two snowballs at the top of a snow covered hill—one smaller and one larger.  How much more will the larger ball grow as it rolls down the hill for twelve years?  Now, imagine the same two balls on two different hills, the larger ball on a hill with much deeper snow on its slope.

Closing the vocabulary gap then does not end with great instruction in the primary grades, but schools must continue to address vocabulary development across the grades through high school. I don’t have space to discuss the nuances of how vocabulary is acquired, but I will say that in school it is best done through an intentional program that has vocabulary development as one of the instructional goals.  The Common Core State Standards demands this with its focus on academic vocabulary as one of its key instructional shifts.  Parenthetically, this is one area where content area teachers who have been uncomfortable with the thought of becoming reading teachers can really support the CCSS initiative.  Content area teachers can make vocabulary acquisition—not just content specific words, but general academic vocabulary—a focused part of their instructional practice.

Last week, we spoke to Marc Ginsberg of Cedar Shoals High School in Athens, GA  and Deborah Ryles of Correia Middle School in San Diego, CA — two teachers who are using Vocabulary.com as a systematic, and time-saving vocabulary curriculum as Wood suggests.

Read about their early results, or post a comment below: What would you like to see from "an intentional program [with] vocabulary instruction as one of the instructional goals"?