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    • Teaching Tips

    Building Vocabulary Knowledge: What Does It Mean to Know a Word?

    by Kathy Ganske
     | Jul 07, 2015

    shutterstock_77120368_x300There’s been much discussion about which words should be taught and how many. Although answers differ, there is general agreement that words taught and learned should be useful. But what does it mean “to know a word”?

    The continuum on which we can know a word has long been considered. In 1965, Edgar Dale, author of The Living Word Vocabulary and other books on vocabulary development, described four stages of word knowledge development:

    • No knowledge of the word; we don’t even know it exists
    • Awareness that such a word exists, but we don’t know what it means
    • Vague notion of what the word means, in a particular context
    • Rich understanding; we know the word well and can use it

    With this framework in mind, consider the word ineffable. This may be your first encounter with the word, or you may have seen it or heard it before but really know nothing about it. Or you may apply morphological knowledge of the prefix un- and the context of the sentence What an ineffable sight the Grand Canyon is! to deduce that the word has something to do with “not” and a magnificent scene. If you know the word, you understand that the author is communicating that the beauty and grandeur of the Grand Canyon are beyond words.

    Dale’s framework can be useful for getting a sense of what learners know about vocabulary words. By creating a matrix with the four categories as headers and listing the vocabulary words down the side, learners can check off their level of understanding for each of the words, before and after a particular unit of study.

    Vocabulary Knowledge Rating: American Revolution


    Can Define It/Use It

    Can Tell You Something About It

    Think I’ve Heard of It

    No Idea!













    Psychologist L. J. Cronbach outlined a continuum of five dimensions, each demonstrating greater depth of understanding:

    • Generalization (can define the word)
    • Application (can use the word correctly)
    • Breadth (know multiple meanings of a word)
    • Precision (know when and when not to use a word)
    • Availability (can apply the word in discussion and writing; namely, can use it productively)

    For instance, dock is a word you likely understand as a place where ships unload and load or are repaired and could use the word appropriately in that narrow sense. But how deep is your understanding of the word? Do you know which of the following meanings also apply to dock?

    • to link two more spacecraft together in space
    • the fleshy part of an animal’s tail
    • to reduce a person’s wages
    • the area in which a defendant stands or sits during a trial
    • a type of plant

    If you identified all of the entries and could use them appropriately, your understanding of dock is very deep.
    We can create a matrix similar to the one that follows, based on Cronbach’s work, to document a student’s growth in learning particular words. The matrix also could be adapted to reflect an entire class’s understanding of a particular target word, by recording students’ names where the words are listed.

    Assessing Vocabulary Knowledge (B = Before; A = After)

    Child’s Name: JC


    (can define the word)

    (can use the word correctly)

       Breadth  (knows multiple meanings of a word)

    (knows when and when not to use a word)

    (can use the word productively)

    • bear






    • charge






    • mind






    • pupil






    • range






    • stable






    Just as the people we know best are those with whom we have had the most experiences, so too with words: Once we’ve been introduced, our knowledge of them relies on lots of exposures in meaningful contexts. Although paraphrasing may enable readers/listeners to get the gist of a word in order to maintain meaning of a text, it is not likely to lead to learners “owning” the word, being able to access and use it whenever they wish. Estimates vary and words vary, but it can take 40 or more meaningful encounters with a word before owning begins to happen. Therefore, it’s important to remember to bring vocabulary that’s been taught into the daily classroom talk.

    As a reminder of that, post a few of the words in a conspicuous place on a Teacher’s Word Wall. As learners begin to use the words, remove the known words and post new ones. Make the learning process active and engaging through raps and songs, games, dramatization, and drawing. And celebrate the enriched talk that can result.

    Kathy Ganske is professor of the Practice at Peabody College, Vanderbilt University, with more than 20 years of experience in the classroom. She is current chair of the AERA Vocabulary SIG and author or coauthor/editor of Word Journeys: Assessment-Guided Phonics, Spelling, and Vocabulary Instruction (2nd edition); Write Now! Empowering Writers in Today’s K–6 Classroom; and other works on word study/vocabulary development, supporting struggling readers and writers, and perspectives and practices on comprehension.

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    • Conferences & Events

    Watch July’s Google Hangout on Air and Get Psyched for Conference

    by Olivia Duke
     | Jul 07, 2015

    July_Hangout15-blogJoin us at 7:00 p.m. CT July 16 for our next Google Hangout on Air, streaming live from the International Literacy Association 2015 Conference in St. Louis!

    Allison Hogan and Meenoo Rami will discuss what brings them to ILA 2015 and both will touch upon why being an advocate for literacy—and networking with fellow advocates—is important to them. Hogan, a teacher and ILA member, will highlight what she gets out of the annual conference and Rami, a Featured Speaker, will provide a preview of her talk. During the Hangout, we will also offer a glimpse of St. Louis as we explore the sights and sounds of the city and count down the hours to ILA 2015.

    Allison Hogan teaches kindergarten and first grade at the Episcopal School of Dallas in Texas. She looks for ways for her students to learn outside of the classroom, using platforms such as Twitter and Skype as vehicles for her students to connect with the world outside of their classroom. Hogan has been recognized as an Association of Supervision and Curriculum Development Emerging Leader and a National Association of Independent Schools Teacher of the Future.

    Meenoo Rami, a National Board Certified teacher, teaches English at the Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. As she challenges her students to think critically about the word and the world, Rami, too, is constantly networking and advocating for literacy beyond her classroom. She has shared her classroom practice at conferences such as NCTE, ISTE, ASCD, Urban Sites Network Conference for National Writing Project, #140edu, and EduCon, which she cochairs annually. Rami also facilitates connectivity among English teachers with her weekly Twitter chat #engchat. She is the author of Thrive: 5 Ways to (Re) Invigorate Your Teaching (Heinemann, 2014), in which she shares strategies for becoming a confident and, of course, connected teacher.

    Winners of tickets to Conference author luncheons featuring Meg Cabot, Nick Bruel, and William Joyce will be announced, in addition to a book giveaway for Google Hangout on Air viewers.

    The Hangout on Air discussion will be tweeted live using the hashtag #ILAHangout, in addition to the running Conference hashtag #ILA15. The Hangout will stream live on the ILA YouTube channel at 7:00 p.m. CT and will be archived for later access.

    The ILA 2015 Conference will be held July 18–20 in St. Louis, MO, with more than 6,000 educators ready to transform their practice. Key topics affecting literacy featured at the conference include content literacy, children’s literature, classroom engagement, and professional development. In addition to conference favorites, including a revamped Teaching Edge series and the Putting Books to Work panels, more than 120 exhibitors will be on hand with new tools and technologies for all manners of literacy education.

    Learn more about the conference programs at Register today for the ILA 2015 Conference to take advantage of special Early Bird pricing, ending today!

    Olivia Duke is a communications intern for the International Literacy Association.

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    • Conferences & Events

    #ILAchat: Conference Preview

    by Olivia Duke
     | Jul 06, 2015

    July_ILAchatInternational Literacy Association 2015 Conference is less than two weeks away, and we are gearing up for a fresh conference with the brightest minds in the literacy field. This month’s #ILAchat on Twitter will focus on maximizing professional development opportunities at ILA 2015, including tips on how to pick and prioritize sessions.

    A conference veteran, author and teacher Kate Messner will be on hand to share her best ideas on how to take advantage of the opportunities around every corner in St. Louis, MO.

    The chat will focus on suggestions for first-time attendees, how to network with conference authors to your greatest benefit, and how to work the exhibit hall and tap the wealth of publishers’ booths.

    Messner, National Board Certified teacher and award-winning children’s book author, is the author of more than 20 books, from stand-alone novels for kids to chapter book series to Lake Champlain historical novels to picture books. She has been both a featured author and speaker at past conferences.

    Messner will also copresent a Teaching Edge session Saturday, July 18, with Ruth Culham and Lester Laminack. The session will focus on how to help students use both fiction and nonfiction texts as models for their own writing, encouraging students to “steal” from authors as a part of the writing process.

    The ILA 2015 Conference will be held July 18–20 in St. Louis, MO, with more than 6,000 educators ready to transform their practice. Key topics affecting literacy featured at the conference include content literacy, children’s literature, classroom engagement, and professional development. In addition to conference favorites, including a revamped Teaching Edge series and the Putting Books to Work panels, more than 120 exhibitors will be on hand with new tools and technologies for all manners of literacy education.

    Learn more about the conference programs at Register today for the ILA 2015 Conference to take advantage of special Early Bird pricing, now extended to July 7.

    Join @ILAToday on July 9 at 8:00 p.m. ET. Make sure to hashtag #ILAchat to keep the conversation going!

    Olivia Duke is a communications intern for the International Literacy Association.

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    • Book Reviews

    ILA Author Spotlight Reviews

    by Mary Napoli
     | Jul 06, 2015

    One of the highlights of the International Literacy Association Conference is the opportunity to hear authors of children’s and young adult literature discuss their creative process. In this week’s book column, members of the Children’s Literature and Reading Special Interest Group highlight a few of the books written by authors/illustrators who will be at the ILA Conference.

    Ages 4–8

    Bad Kitty–10th Anniversary Edition. Nick Bruel. 2015. Neal Porter/Roaring Brook.

    bad kittyCan you believe that Bad Kitty is 56 years old (in cat years)? Nick Bruel’s humorous and mischievous cat celebrates its 10th year in publication. The repackaged edition includes a full-size poster of Kitty. Readers will enjoy all of Bad Kitty’s antics in the Bad Kitty series.

    Nick Bruel will be speaking at the Book and Author Luncheon Monday, July 20. Tickets are required for this event.

    Bulldozer’s Big Day. Candace Fleming. 2015. Ill. Eric Rohmann. Atheneum Books for Young Readers.

    bulldozer's big dayBulldozer is very excited to celebrate his birthday with his friends, but they seem preoccupied with their construction site duties of scooping and digging. To Bulldozer’s surprise, his friends, through a chorus of celebratory sounds, planned a special celebration just for him. This warmhearted story, with its playful onomatopoeia and charming illustrations, make it perfect for young readers.

    Candace Fleming will be at the sold-out Author Meetup Sunday, July 18 and present as part of the panel “Authors Whose Nonfiction Books and Biographies Transform Readers: Informing, Engaging and Inspiring” Monday, July 20.

    Stormy Night. Salina Yoon. 2015. Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

    stormy nightReaders who are familiar with Yoon’s Found will be pleased to find another story about Bear. The cover shows Bear’s scared disposition while grasping tightly to his favorite stuffed toy, Floppy, as they peer out the window. Readers soon learn that the storm is making it very difficult for Bear and Floppy to sleep. As the thunder booms, Mama and Papa Bear use different ways to keep Bear calm as the refrain, “Bear felt better” offers reassurance to young readers. Yoon’s descriptive text coupled with bright and bold digitized illustrations are a perfect match to share on those stormy nights.

    Salina Yoon will be presenting as part of the panel “Authors Whose Books Transform and Engage Readers: Connecting Readers With Characters and Book Series” Sunday, July 19.

    Ages 9–11

    Billy’s Booger: A Memoir. William Joyce. 2015. Atheneum Books for Young Readers.

    billy's boogerReaders will applaud William Joyce’s creative storytelling in his latest picture book (part memoir). Joyce recalls his fourth-grade elementary school experience, where his principal described him as “his most challenging student.” Flashback to Billy’s childhood, a time with black-and-white TV and limited stations, he recalls how doodes on his homework were not appreciated. Until, one day, the school librarian announced a schoolwide book contest. Billy could not contain his excitement, and he borrowed books on many subjects. The book-making contest fueled Billy’s creative juices, and he wrote “Billy’s Booger: The memoir of a little green nose buddy.” Even though he did not win the prize, he learned that his book was the most popular with the students at his school. The rest is history! William Joyce has shared his creative spirit, talent, and humor with countless readers over the years. His latest book includes stellar illustrations, with nods to his past works (Dinosaur Bob and The Mischievians). Readers will find a miniature reproduction of Billy’s ‘booger’ story, complete with inventiveness, comic elements, and humor.

    William Joyce will be speaking at the Primary Literature Luncheon: It All Starts With Books, Darn It Saturday, July 18. Tickets are required for this event.

    Octopuses! Laurence Pringle. 2015. Ill. Meryl Henderson. Boyds Mills.

    octopusesIn the latest installment of the Strange and Wonderful series, Pringle offers readers engaging information about the octopus. With direct and interesting writing, Pringle shares facts about these shape-changing masters of camouflage. Information about its habitat, survival techniques, and lifespan grace the pages. Readers will learn new vocabulary and terms, such as octopodes (not octopi) when referring to more than one octopus. Each page includes Henderson’s detailed watercolor illustrations. There is a glossary, index, suggestions for further reading, and online sources to stimulate further inquiry.

    Laurence Pringle will be speaking at the Putting Books to Work (Early Childhood/Primary) session and at an Author Panel Saturday, July 18.

    Women Who Broke The Rules: Judy Blume. Kathleen Krull. 2015. Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

    women who broke the rulesIn Kathleen Krull’s Women Who Broke the Rules series, she shares her art of blending story with facts about famous women, including Judy Blume, Sonia Sotomayor, and Dolley Madison. In the page-turning biography about Judy Blume, readers will learn a great deal about her early life, her foray into writing, and her commitment to portraying honest and realistic characters. Judy Blume remains an inspiration to many writers. Her commitment to intellectual freedom advocacy efforts is also highlighted in this well-written biography.

    Kathleen Krull will be at the sold-out Author Meetup Sunday, July 18 and presenting as part of the panel entitled “Authors Whose Nonfiction Books and Biographies Transform Readers: Informing, Engaging and Inspiring” Monday, July 20.

    Ages 12–14

    The Friendship Riddle. Megan Frazer Blakemore. 2015. Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

    the friendship riddleIn a small town in Maine, Ruth is trying to adjust to middle school. Her childhood best friend, Charlotte, is now part of the popular crowd. Ruth’s parents (Mom and Mum) and Charlotte’s dads were friends, so they spent a lot of time together as kids. But as they grow apart, Ruth finds it awkward to socialize with Charlotte. Ruth finds solace reading books in the library, noting, “Books can be such faithful friends.” Things start to change when she finds a mysterious riddle inside a library book and begins to search for additional clues. As Ruth collects clues, she realizes that she needs the help of others, including Charlotte. Blakemore masterfully creates distinct characters with interesting personalities. The novel presents middle school dynamics in an honest way while inserting clues to bring a cast of characters together. Readers who like friendship stories will certainly enjoy this middle-grade novel.

    Megan Frazer Blakemore will be participating as part of the Putting Books to Work (Middle Grades) session and “Revision Revealed: Transforming Student Writers Through Author Partnerships” Sunday, July 19.

    From the Notebooks of a Middle School Princess. Meg Cabot. 2015. Feiwel & Friends/Macmillan.

    from the notebooks of a middle school princessFor 12-year-old Oliva Grace Clarisse Mignonette Harrison, things are completely average until she discovers that she is the half-sister of Princess Mia Thermopolis of Genovia. Olivia had been living with her aunt and uncle since her mom died in a jet-skiing accident. Olivia, an aspiring wildlife artist, wasn’t allowed to have a cell phone, use the computer, or have pets. Olivia’s world changes after Princess Mia appears at her private school just in time to save her from an unwarranted confrontation with her nemesis, Annabelle. Olivia meets her father and her grandmother, who wastes no time sharing proper etiquette and fashion advice. Olivia’s road to royalty has an unfortunate snag but, in the end, she lands in Genovia with her furry dog. Olivia gets to live with her father and her best friend gets to spend the summer in Genovia. Plus, they both get to be bridesmaids in Princess Mia’s wedding. Text message exchanges between Olivia and her friend and black-and-white cartoons bring Olivia’s adventures to light.

    Meg Cabot will be speaking at the Young Adult Literature Luncheon–Find Your Inner Princess on Sunday, July 19. Tickets are required for this event.

    Stella by Starlight. Sharon Draper. 2015. Atheneum Books for Young Readers.

    stella by starlightbDraper’s poignant historical fiction novel tells the story of Stella Mills and her family during the Depression era (1930s) in segregated North Carolina. Stella and her younger brother Jojo witness the Ku Klux Klan burn a cross in the middle of the night, an act that signals trouble and concern for the community. They find strength as they face the injustices all around them. Stella’s teacher asks her class to record their thoughts in a journal. Stella initially struggles to write, but after some encouragement, she slowly finds courage and self-confidence to share her stories. Inspired from her grandmother’s journal, Draper’s middle-grade novel weaves cultural and historic details that will appeal to readers. It’s also available as an audiobook.

    Sharon Draper will be presenting at the Putting Books to Work (Middle Grades) session on Sunday, July 19 as part of the Special Interest Group Network on Adolescent Literature panel entitled “Game Changers: Using Sports and the Power of Adolescent Literature to Transform the World” Monday, July 20.

    Mary Napoli is an associate professor of reading at Penn State Harrisburg where she teaches literacy courses.

    Members of the Children's Literature Special Interest Group's Notable Books for a Global Society (NBGS) committee will welcome author Sonia Manzano and share the 2015 Notable Books for a Global Society selections for grades K–12 on Sunday, July 19.

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    • Teaching Tips

    Choice During Instructional Independent Reading: What's a Teacher to Do?

    by Jennifer Serravallo
     | Jul 03, 2015

    ThinkstockPhotos-178580032_x220A thoughtful teacher recently wrote to me on Facebook with the following controversial question:

    Jennifer Serravallo, could you weigh in on choice during reading workshop time? I know there are a lot of strong feelings and opinions by literacy leaders and teachers all around this topic and we all know teaching how to find good-fit books is important. What is your take on completely free choice or choosing from within level during the instructional independent reading time?

    Phew. Good one, right? It’s a bit of an elephant in the room at a lot of literacy conferences I attend, and it relates closely to what I’ll be talking about at the annual ILA conference this summer. My answer is one that is based in my experience as a classroom teacher, my work as a consultant, and my recent research on whole book comprehension. Without further ado (I promise I’m not stalling!), here’s a slightly revised version of how I responded.

    I want to create conditions where students are at their peak level of engagement during independent reading, and allowing children to choose what they read has been shown to boost engagement. I also regard independent reading time as an important instructional time where I’m conferring with students, helping them to select goals, and equipping them with strategies to support them with their goals, while students who aren’t meeting with me are independently practicing. Choice is important because it helps if the books they want to get better at reading are ones they chose themselves.

    That said, I think it's dangerous to allow kids to choose anything they want if what they gravitate toward are too-hard texts. (Hear me out, librarians!) In my two-year pilot study for my whole-book assessment and teaching system called Independent Reading Assessment,I sent books with comprehension questions preplanted to schools all over the United States. I asked kids to answer questions as they were reading and, at the end, to rate whether they felt the book was “easy,” “just right,” or “too hard.” Countless kids responded that the book was “easy” while answering all or most of the questions incorrectly. This tells me that kids aren't as good at monitoring their own comprehension as I’d hoped and that many consider just getting the gist to be good enough. I want kids to have experience with texts that are highly comprehensible so they are able to do deeper thinking work. I want them to feel the joy of truly understanding. It’s no fun to be confused.

    That said, there are a number of variables that determine text appropriateness, and a “just-right level” is rarely a fixed letter or number for most kids. Factors such as motivation, higher or lower levels of background knowledge, and more come into play when matching children with books. Being too rigid and allowing a child to choose only within a single level all the time doesn’t sit well with me, either. If once in a while a child chooses a book you think is a stretch, but you're willing to provide some extra support, or she's reading it with a book club who will support her, or the child has incredible background knowledge about the topic, then maybe it would be fine. On the other end of the spectrum, if a child wants to read easy books, I'm OK with that, as long as there is some just-right reading in his or her weekly “diet” of reading as well.

    So, for independent reading, I’d tend to guide students’ choosing toward books that are “just right” (96% or higher accuracy, with fluency and comprehension) or “easy” with a rare exception for a book that’s a bit more of a stretch, in which I’m willing to provide extra support. My opinion is largely shaped by Richard Allington's research that has convinced me a high volume of high-success reading is crucial for readers to grow.

    So what happens when a child chooses a book you know is too hard for independent reading? Well, I would never snatch a book from a child's hand. One thing I would do is to invite the child to take it home to read after their regularly assigned independent reading minutes in school and at home, or suggest it would make a good bedtime book with a parent or older sibling. Another thing I’d do is to find out what it is about the book that the child is really excited about, and then see if there is another book that fits the same topic/theme/character type/genre that is a better fit in regards to complexity. I often find that it’s the “hot new books” kids want to read, in part because it seems like everyone else is reading it, but also partly because the publisher’s marketing is so good! I think it’s a teacher’s responsibility to do book talks for the unsung heroes of the classroom library to make them seem as enticing as the latest YA novel that’s getting all the buzz, especially choosing to talk up the books that will be more within the reach of the readers in their class.

    Serravallo_Jenn_headshot1Jennifer Serravallo is the author of the new best-selling The Reading Strategies Book as well as the two-time award winning Independent Reading Assessment series. She was a a NYC elementary teacher and later a senior staff developer at Columbia University’s Teachers College Reading and Writing Project. She has also taught graduate and undergraduate courses at Vassar College and Teachers College.

    Serravallo will present two sessions Saturday, July 18, at the ILA 2015 Conference in St. Louis, MO, July 18–20. The first will be “Assessing and Teaching Whole Book Comprehension: Fiction & Nonfiction,” the second will be “Accountability, Agency and Increased Achievement in Independent Reading.” Visit the ILA 2015 Conference website for more information or to register.

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