Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Guest Post: Tiered Vocabulary Instruction in Middle School {by Jess of Figuratively Speeching}

Today's guest post is brought to you by Jess from Figuratively Speeching. Jess has been a Speech-Language Pathologist for 18 years, graduating with her Masters Degree in 1995. She has worked in private practice, a private special education school, as a contractor, and in a public school district. She loves her career and spends a lot of time creating her own materials. 


I don’t know about you, but with the implementation of common core, high stakes testing, and teachers complaining about you pulling their students out of class, justifying my services to teachers and administrators has become an almost daily part of my job. The principal stopped me one day to say, ”Teachers are complaining that you are pulling students out of their classes and they want to know what you are teaching their students. How are they supposed to make up the work they miss? You need to do their classwork with them and make sure they don’t miss important concepts.” I am not a classroom teacer, nor am I an aide. My groups consist of three to five students from at least two different classes, and at times, three different grades, so you can guess the thoughts running through my head, “How will I do their classwork and work on the prerequisite strategies my students need to be able to learn their vocabulary, comprehend multiple step directions, retain information, improve grammatical skills, work on fluency and articulation…. ?” My mind was spinning out of control!


When I first began working in the Middle School, I realized that pull out sessions, while wonderful and intensive and giving me the ability to hone in on their specific skills, did not allow me much opportunity to collaborate with teachers. I began pushing in to the three grade level self-contained classrooms so I could see the topics and vocabulary introduced and then work on those skills in therapy. But, at annual reviews, vocabulary testing did not show as much progress. Why not? I did not address much in the way of Tier 2 words, those words that are not academic core vocabulary words that teachers need worked on for their high stakes testing and to show improvement over the course of the year for themselves. Our testing does not typically include those tier 3 words. If you don’t know about tiered vocabulary, here is a link to an article that will explain it.



What now? While I still pushed into the classroom, my sessions incorporated the concepts taught, but not necessarily the vocabulary. For instance, I love the 6th grade social studies curriculum, learning about the ancient civilizations. There are so many ways we can address our goals while helping students retain information from their classes. While my student learned about Mesopotamia, I taught them Tier 2 words my students would need to know to be able to respond to questions on tests, such as analyze, classify, compare, contrast, discuss, evaluate, explain, illustrate, justify…. You can find a packet with those words and more on my freebie tab here. We worked on comparing and contrasting information, how society today compared to Mesopotamian society, responded to questions from nonfiction articles, made flip books with vocabulary, etc. Here is a template of a flipbook I created:


As the children moved onto each new culture, we reviewed new material and compared it to previous cultures. It was a lot of fun. The students remembered information from all of the different societies, I addressed my goals, the teachers were happy that I could show them that we worked on material related to their classwork, and my principal came in to observe and was thrilled with my lesson. Annual review time came about, and lo and behold, there was progress in all areas. Tier 2 vocabulary had been addressed, I was able to incorporate academic work, and I could show progress in all areas, not just vocabulary.

Now, just because I incorporate curriculum content does not mean that I do not want my speech sessions to be fun. Here are three activities that I incorporated into my sessions:


1. Scattergories: Have students work alone or in pairs for this activity. For fun, I use the original game rules, where you pick a letter (I wrote out letters on index cards, folded them, put them in a container, and then picked a letter from there) and each student or pair has to write down items from as many categories as they can with the letter chosen. This can be tough, depending on the categories chosen, but I like it for word retrieval, vocabulary, as well as creative thinking. Another way I have used this game is to have the ten categories include topics from their classwork. In the middle school, I like to use their science and social studies curriculum.

2. Create-your-own Books: I love being crafty, but my Middle and High schoolers roll their eyes at me if I suggest making something even remotely crafty with them. They do like making different types of books that incorporate their curriculum. Flip books are one example of books I use with them. They are wonderful for vocabulary, but you can also use them for sequencing information about a topic or the steps required for an activity, grammar, and so many more ways. See the above picture for an example of how I make a flip book.

3. Jeopardy-like games: This has always been one of my favorite games to do with students. It is a quick way to assess their knowledge of vocabulary and other topics, and my students always love to compete against each other. You can make it as high-tech (power-point) or low tech (index cards on a magnetic board or library pockets mounted on poster board with questions in the pockets) as you would like. Keeping track of data is easy with game formats like these, and the questions can be presented throughout the unit to demonstrate progress.

~ Jess

Thank you Jess! You can follow Jess on her blog, Figuratively Speeching, on Facebook, and on TPT.

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