Thursday, April 23, 2009

NCTM: Importance of Words: Powerful Strategies for Building Math Vocabulary

Importance of Words: Powerful Strategies for Building Math Vocabulary
Presenters: Brenda Spencer and Andrea Guillaume of California State University

This session began with a sample problem “A stop sign has 8 sides of equal length. Ryan knows that the length of each side is 10 inches. What is the perimeter of the sign?” We were given about 10 seconds to solve this problem.
Why could we solve it so quickly?
Because we have background knowledge of the different cultural (example stop sign) and mathematical vocabulary (example equal length, perimeter) used, allowing us to focus our attention and energy on finding the perimeter, rather than determining what the vocabulary is.

Why should we bother with vocabulary development?
-Math has a high concept and linguistic load.
-Math vocabulary presents special problems. First, most vocabulary is caught, not taught. We “catch” the vocabulary in our everyday life, we do not usually explicitly learn the vocabulary. Second, math vocabulary appears in outside context infrequently, so students bring less background knowledge with them to the classroom. Finally, math vocabulary represents abstract concepts.
-Students need support. Early exposure to math words and home experiences vary from student to student. Students need to learn the math vocabulary in order to catch up.

The research-based framework used to support this session came from Spencer & Guillaume’s book 35 Vocabulary Strategies for Content Area Vocabulary. According to the research, there are four stages of vocabulary development and practice.
1. Prepare: get kids interested in words we want them to learn, pre-assess and self-assess, connect to prior knowledge, learn concepts first, set goals, increase motivation to learn.
2. Build: use strategies rich in context, multiple exposures, depth of word meaning, connecting words to concepts. Use a variety of meaning-based strategies (see below). Make sure to still have students check the actual definitions. (this does need to still be part of the process, however only a small part.)
3. Apply: language rich, use words in new context, engage in writing and speaking opportunities with the new words.
4. Independent Word Learning: Students need to master strategies to learn new vocabulary.

Ideas for preparing vocabulary include:
1. Using vocabulary cards (small cards with a different vocabulary word on each such as equation, odd, even, sum, difference, quadrilateral, etc.) Have students sort the cards into two stacks: familiar and unfamiliar or much background knowledge and little background knowledge, etc. This is valuable because it becomes a quick pre-assessment of student knowledge before you check for true understanding of the words.
2. Vocabulary knowledge rating is another way to prepare as pre-assess student knowledge. For this activity, students should think of the vocabulary words as being on a continuum. How much knowledge do you have of the word? No clue, I know a little, I’ve got it down. A great product to use with this strategy is the Computer Response System pads. (We use them daily in my classroom in both math and reading. Stop by my room for a demo. I think KK has a set available for check out.)

Ideas for building vocabulary include:
1. Focus on multiple meaning words. (odd, even, product, formula) and discuss the different meanings of each. For example, most students will think of formula as something to feed a baby rather than a math word if not already exposed to it.
2. Focus on words with teachable word parts. For example, in the words quadrilateral and quadrant, teach that quad means four. Also, look at cognates. In French, four is quatre and in Spanish, quarto.
3. Use word histories to help build meaning. Teach students were the word came from and teach them how to look up the etymology of the word.
4. Use content links. Have a different word preprinted on pieces of paper. Have several students go to the front of the room holding their cards. Students seated try to find ways to link the vocabulary words together to a partner. They have to justify their reasons because words have the possibility of being linked to more than just one word. (see word chains below) For example, quadrilateral-polygon.
5. Use word chains to stretch student thinking. This strategy is similar to content link, however students are linking a chain of words, not just pairing them together. For example, the words decomposing-strategy-equation-equal-balance.

Ideas for applying word knowledge:
1. Use word posters to demonstrate knowledge. Have students create word posters with pictures, etymologies, synonyms, etc. Use a flip video to record and share the student’s work. (Check with Melanie to check out a Flip if you do not have one of your own!)
2. Allow students to make books. Have students many any number of book types (petal books, ABC books, strategy books) and publish them on the web using the Web 2.0 tools we have been learning about through our book study.
3. Play a math version of Apples to Apples. Before play, make two sets of cards. Set A with terms like mud, plastic, Dr. Seuss, taco, etc. Set B with the math vocabulary you have been using. Students should play in small groups. The object of the game is to gain the most number of points during the entire game. One player is the judge. All of the other players draw 3 cards from set A and keep them a secret. The judge puts one vocabulary card face up and the rest of the players put down the card they think matches the vocabulary word the best. The card that is chosen by the judge as the closest math gets the point. For example, the vocabulary word is fraction. One student might say taco because a taco shell is usually broken into pieces or fractions of the whole. Another student might say ocean because there are different layers in the ocean. The judge would then decide who wins that round.


Melanie Holtsman said...

What a post! I love the practical applications and activities that could be done right away! I also love the literacy connection. I think there is definitely more we could be doing across the curriculum. I hope our readers from afar aren't trying to find a Melanie to check out a flip. LOL!

Angela Phillips said...

I love the word poster idea. This would be very helpful for the comparing and contrasting the four basic operations: addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. I will have to try this with my students.

Suzanne said...

Vocabulary is such a huge part of math, and I am so glad that we've had the conversation of authentically embedding the mathematically correct terms from Kindergarten up. But, it is a reality that even with embedded vocabulary not all students can master the word and put it into their working vocabulary. It is nice to know that there are additionally strategies we can try. Thanks, Melissa!

Anonymous said...

These are all great ideas. I think they would work well in science also.


dayle timmons said...

This is certainly a topic where math and literacy cross. Wouldn't it be great to have teachers write specific grade level activites for the Math vocabulary? Maybe it would look like Text Talk but instead of books to read, maybe we would have games to play using the words. I'll bet we could even use the same framework that kindergarten teachers used to write the Star Vocabulary - anyone interested?