After receiving our 2014 accountability results, the LHS administration met and discussed ways to improve the performance of students on all STAAR EOC exams. Student performance in the area of reading and math are improving, but…There is still an achievement gap that we need to close.
Two LHS administrators were given the challenge to organize and present a professional development session for our teachers providing research based strategies we could employ in every classroom to help close the achievement gap. One strategy was found that met the needs of ALL learners – Word Walls!
According to Robert J. Marzano (2004) in Building Background Knowledge for Academic Achievement: Research on What Works in Schools, a word wall is an ongoing, organized display of key words that provides visual reference for students throughout a unit of study or a term. Building word walls has been a campus focus for the past few months. Some of our teachers make their own word posters for students to view. Other teachers involve students by assigning each student a word to create a poster for the word wall.
The word walls have provided a reference for students to use during instruction time, as well as a support during tests and quizzes. Teachers make reference to the meanings of key academic vocabulary terms during lessons to improve our students’ understanding of concepts. It is amazing to watch!
In the book, 7 Steps to a Language-Rich Interactive Classroom, John Seidlitz and Bill Perryman provide several strategies teachers can use in classrooms to ensure that every student is learning. Here are some of the key points from the book that involve the use of words, use of academic vocabulary:
- Empower students to ask questions when they do not know what to do or what to say – instead of saying “I don’t know”
- Use sentence stems to encourage students to speak in complete sentences
- Allow students to talk and share their thoughts about the learning with peers
- Incorporate multiple modes (in MISD, we call them PERCEPTUAL MODES) for students to interact with the content (e.g. total response signals, use of visuals like maps and pictures, small group discussions, written responses).
- Have students participate in structured conversations, incorporate cooperative learning structures like Kagan strategies.
- Jenkins, Stein, Wysocki (1984) found that students need at least six exposures to a word before they can remember its meaning (p.45).
- Cornell Notes (an AVID strategy) was suggested as a way involve students in structured writing activities. (p. 51)
Finally, I found a Prezi (see below) online outlining the 7 Steps from the book. My hope is that our students are exposed to and understand more academic vocabulary during the 2014-15 school year than ever before. I believe that this single strategy may help to boost our student performance and help close some of the gaps we have seen in our accountability report. No matter what, we have done something truly wonderful for the students at LHS. We have given them the power to learn by arming them with the greatest tool individuals need in order to be a success – the ability to think for themselves!