My ambition to help my students be college-ready drives me. Parents and students alike come to me with sad faces as the ACT Reading section seems to crush their souls. Where did we go wrong (as parents, students, teachers, and schools)?The focus of my research is to find solutions for Secondary Students– 6ththrough 12thgrades.My target audience is a 16-year-old who was too interested in other things to read but now needs to make up for lost time in order to be college ready. How can we fast forward a process that naturally takes years to develop? To be candid, I was that “too busy to read teen” myself.
As an ACT tutor and English teacher for many years, my instincts tell me that vocabulary acquisition and reading comprehension are the two skills I want to target in my research. With that aim in mind,here we go with myfirstbookreview!
Marzano, Marzano, Marzano. Year after year, I have listened to some very smart people refer to Robert Marzano as an expert in educationresearch. Becauseof this, his book was one of the first ones I read onmy quest to learn more aboutvocabulary acquisition.
Book Review: Teaching Basic, Advanced, and Academic Vocabulary
by Robert J. Marzano
Teaching Basic, Advanced, and Academic Vocabularyby Robert J. Marzano was written forKindergartenthrough 5th grade teachers and administrators. Asacurrenthighschool CTE teacher, I foundvaluableinformation, but I am not the intendedaudience.Thecore of this framework is for teachers to engage in a school-wide initiative in direct vocabulary instruction. Robert Marzano explains the process of how and why he developed 3 tiers of vocabulary terms grouped into semantic clusters. To make a long story short, students use a notebook to rate theirowncomprehension of the words on a scale of 1 to 4. Asstudentsmasterclusters, there is a badge system proposed that would reward their efforts forgainingmastery. There are research-based methods employed as students take on a word from never hearing it to the point of being able to use them in conversation.
My challenges with the framework:
Here are some points that I would find difficult to implement.Some of my studentsdon’talways tell the truth. (Shocking! I know.) If we created a badge system that rewarded students based on theirself-reporting ofmastery, it challenges me to understand how that would play out in the real world. Also, some of my students will not do work unless a grade is attached to the effort, and sometimes when there is a grade, the work stilldoesn’thappen.Maybe theseK-5th grade teachers do give grades in connection with the tasks, but he does not mention that in the book.Self-reflectionis undeniably beneficial, but Ican’tpicture a classroom of students taking on a yearlong project of vocabulary growth based on givinga rating of their knowledge of a wordwithout an incentive like a grade. Now, Idon’t teach the intended K-5thgrade audience. This could be the biggest cause of my disconnect from this framework.They may experience student engagement at a different level.
Despite my cynicism on those points, I am so glad I read this book. I found lots ofvaluableinformation that could quickly be applied to my classroom. Hereis a recap of some wisdom I want to glean.Here is a note on wide reading that I want to remember for the future:
“Vocabulary instruction experts William E.Nagy and Patricia A. Herman (1987)explained that if students spend twenty-five minutes per day reading at a rate of twohundredwords per minute for two hundred days, they willencounterabout a millionwords”(Marzano, p.2).
Also, The National Institute of Child Health and Human Developmentidentifiedin 1997 keyareasfor reading instruction: phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, comprehension, andvocabulary.They acknowledged in the report that the expansion of vocabulary is alifetime process. As I study more, I want to keep these core areas in mind. I'm finding that phonemic awareness, phonics, and fluency are skills developed more intentionally in those K-3rd grade years.
Marzano and his team revieweda number ofmeta-analytic studies on the effects ofdirect vocabulary instruction and found an overall effect size of 0.88, which leads to an increase of 31 percentile points in language development (Marulis&Neuman, 2010).In other words, a student at the 50thpercentile would be bumped up to the 81stpercentile after direct vocabulary instructionaccording to their findings.
Not all words are equal. Beck and McKeown (1985) developed three tiers of vocabulary terms based on frequency and on their functions in use (p. 4).Tier1 andtier 2 words are more commonly addressedin K-5thgrades,whereastier 3 words are more subject-matter related and are best targeted in the subject where they naturally occur.For example, a science teacher could take on more explicit vocabulary instruction as he or she puts the words in their context.In Marzano’s words, “Educators should teach allteir3 terms in the context of specific subject-matter topics. Stated differently, educators should not teach tier 3 terms in isolation” (p. 38).
When the bookTeaching Basic, Advanced, and Academic Vocabulary explains the process of making it a school-wide initiative, I think it’s best to hear it straight from the author.
“A schoolwide plan’s design should ensure all students have a working knowledge of tier one terms by at least grade 5, and a working knowledge of the tier two terms in the student notebook by grade 5. This can be done by having teachers at different grade levels identify those clusters their grade level will be responsible for. For example, first-grade teachers might be responsible for clusters 1– 100, second-grade teachers would be responsible for clusters 101– 200, and so on. ... Third-grade teachers might collectively decide they will be responsible for teaching a unit on oceans.”
Marzanoand his team’sefforts toidentifytier1 and tier2termsspanned over three decades.He has them organizedtheminto 444 semantic clusters giving students context for thatinitialprocess of understanding new words.For example, tier 1 would include a cluster such as lake, ocean, and river, andteir2 would include a cluster with brook, cove, and marsh.
He recognizes four types of vocabulary that involve our oral and written abilities and receptive andproductivecapacities.
Words understood when heard.
Words used in speech
Words understood when read
Words used in writing
In Marzano’s process, students will have a notebook (paper or digital) to record their understanding of a word on a scale of 1 to 4 with clear descriptions attached to eachnumber.(p. 25)
I understand even more about the term than I was taught.
I understand the term, andI’mnot confused about any part of what it means.
I’ma little uncertain about what the term means, but I have a general idea.
I’ma little uncertain about what the term means, but I have a general idea.
As a CTE teacher, I could see these statements working well as an exit ticketwith wordslisted in a googleform and these three statements as a multiple choice option.Marzano recommends using the Collins COBUILD dictionary online to help deliver a definition that is more conversational. I could see me using this in the future.
Marzano recommends using four levels of badges ranging from bronze to platinum for themasteryofthe clustersas recorded in self-evaluation; the rewards startat 100 clusters up to all 420 clusters mastered.This system is harder for me to see play out, but this could be that Ihaven’treached that level of teachingmastery.The book makes note of an assessment that students can take on the front end of this process to give them a starting point in the clusters, but itdoesn’tmention a post-test.Students are instructed toquicklylook at wordsprior to their diagnosed starting point in a process Marzano calls “backfilling.” This helps to prevent gaps, andthe processof looking at the words, again and again,helps toreinforceunderstanding.
There is a particular section that was eye-opening for me, and I'm bringing in a direct quote to keep all the facts straight.
“ResearchersWilliam E. Nagy and Patricia A. Herman (1984) found that students from families of differentsocioeconomic status (SES) had consistent differences in the sizes of their vocabulary. ... Specifically, they estimated a 4,700-word difference invocabulary size betweenhighandlow-SES students (Nagy & Herman, 1984)....Hart and Risley (1995) estimated the differences in vocabulary development due to family SES forchildren between the ages of ten and thirty-six months and included three socioeconomic groups: (1)welfarefamilies ,(2) working-classfamilies ,and (3) professionalfamilies . ... Hart and Risley (1995) estimated thirty-six-month-oldchildren from welfare families had about 70percent of the vocabulary of children from working-classfamilies and only about 45 percent of the vocabulary of children from professional families.... Hart and Risley (2003) concluded students from families on welfare enter school having heardapproximately thirty million fewer words than students from professional families” (Hart & Risley, 2003, p. 4).
Anotherteam of researchers noted that direct vocabulary instruction closed the gap between ELs and native speakers by 50 percent when assessing vocabulary knowledge and reading comprehension(p. 30).
Marzanoshareshis framework for direct vocabulary instruction that he has developed and taught over the years, and this book gives examples of how that system can play out with the three tiers of vocabulary terms.Hereare Marzano's six steps:
Providea description, an explanation, or an example of the new term.
Ask students to restate the description, explanation, or example in their own words.
Ask students to construct a picture, symbol, or graphicrepresentingthe term or phrase.
Periodically engage students in activities that help them add to their knowledge of the terms to which they have previously been exposed.
Periodically ask students to discuss the terms with one another.
Periodically involve students in games that allow them to play with terms. (Marzano et al., 2015)
I found this sectionvery instructive and would recommend reading it in detailmultiple timesas it gives scenarios every teacher encounters.It even breaks down howdifferent partsof speech should be taught differently – brilliant!I especially found it insightful as I considered makingtier3 words morerelevant to my EL students.
All-in-allI’mglad I read this book because I was able to apply it the very next day into my classroom instruction. It builds my teacher and tutor confidence to know thatI’mhelping my students in a way that is backed by research. This is one that Icould justify keeping on the shelf and revisiting it once a year to refine my craft in vocabulary instruction.
Marzano, R. J. (2020). Teaching basic, advanced, and academicvocabulary:a comprehensiveframework for elementary instruction. Marzano Resources.