The Vocabulary Game
Teachers have to ensure that students understand the words they hear and the words they use.
Why is that do you think? Why is it so important that students understand vocabulary?
I think you know the answer to this already. You know that if students don’t know the vocabulary they are hearing or using, they won’t understand what they’re hearing, and they won’t remember what they’re hearing. The child who doesn’t understand the terms legislative, executive and judicial is unlikely to develop much understanding about government let alone remember what she memorized. If you hear an unfamiliar word, you won’t have the neuronal cell assemblies being activated to allow you to make sense of the word. You will attempt to use context clues, but sometimes that slows your thinking down to such an extent that you will not be able to follow, and perceive, what is being said. If you don’t have sufficient background experience to have created neuronal webs that can be activated when you hear a word, you won’t physically experience what is being said.
You’ve experienced this and you’ve seen this — sometime we refer to this as the blank look we see on peoples’ faces. Insufficient neurons are firing for the person to make sense of what is being said.
Here’s an example. You will feel this. I’ll say a phrase and you monitor your reaction. Let’s see if any neurons fire. Here is the phrase: He bit into the big juicy Carl’s Jr. chili burger and warm, spicy, sloppy, chili dribbled down his chin and onto his new white shirt.
Well, your reaction will depend on whether or not you know what a Carl’s Jr. chili burger is, or whether or not you have had chili, and whether or not you have spilled food on a clean white shirt.
Here is another sentence. Approximately the same number of words. I have taken this from one of my philosophy books. Monitor your physical reaction: “The assertion as an assertion of “a of b of H,” is the seat of truth. In the structure of proposition, i.e. of a simple truth we distinguished subject, predicate, and copula — object assertion and connective.”
You probably didn’t feel as many neuronal webs being activated, even though I am quite sure you are familiar with, or have at least heard, each one of the words in the phrase. Like the second grader, you could memorize the phrase and then write it down on Wednesday’s test. However, doing so wouldn’t indicate you have much understanding.
And, of course we have different techniques to help students memorize — such as using acronyms, or jingles, or rhymes. Some people have even come to believe that they memorize items or statements better if they see them, hear them, or handle them in some way. And that might well be the case. But as you know, memorization of statements does not equate to understanding. And, if schools are in the business of educating, which we presume they are, they have to do what? . . . . . . They have to concern themselves with understanding.
What follows next, right after this video, is a little game of sorts to show you the importance of having an understanding of vocabulary. Without understanding, our ability to remember, and to learn, is significantly diminished. We often say, one learns to understand. However, I think you know now that we have to understand to learn.
The following little game will tell us a lot about the foundations of education and schooling. It will demonstrate to you why you might be succeeding in some subjects and struggling in another. It will also show you how some school environments are responsible for student success, and others might be hindering student success. It will demonstrate, in a very simple way, a clear difference between what good teachers might be doing, and what poor teachers might be doing. And, it will give you another clue as to how you can be educating yourself.
Word Game, Part 1
I have a little word game for you to play. I think you will find this to be quite a powerful example of just how important vocabulary is and what it is like when we don’t have neuronal cell assemblies firing.
There are two parts to this game. Before you start you will need a sheet of paper. On one side you can write down the numerals 1 through 20. You see, beside each numeral you will be answering a question. On the other side of the paper you can write down the numerals 1 through 15 in a column. In Part 2 I will ask you 15 questions.
When you have your paper and writing implement ready to go, listen to the first audio file. As you listen, do your best to form a visual image in your mind. You will remember the answers better that way. I will read the statements first. After that I will let you know when I will be asking you questions for you to answer. All right, let’s go!
Word Game, Part 2
You probably did quite well on the first one. Now we will try part two. Very similar, but with a twist. Let’s give it a go!
So you probably didn’t do quite as well on the Part 2. Why? The sentences were very similar to the first set. But you probably noticed I changed things up a bit. I put in one made up word in each sentence. A word that I made up out of thin air. Now, I think this is huge. Not that I can make up words out of thin air, but that we have such a difficult time creating mental images of statements when we don’t know one word in the statement. Usually have students who complete Part 1 get anywhere from 15 to 20 questions correct. I usually find that students get 5 or fewer questions correct in Part 2. Not knowing one word in a sentence disrupts a person’s ability to make sense of what they hear. Furthermore, people will rarely remember any of the Part 2 statements for long.
Interestingly, though, at the end of the day, if I ask you questions from Part 1, you will remember many of them. You knew every word and you were able to create visual images, and you remember those visual images for some time.
Think now of the implications. Think of any class you took where you didn’t understand all of the vocabulary. Can you see how difficult it is to make sense of what the teacher might be saying? Consider the challenges for any second language learner. Not knowing one word in a sentence can prevent the learner from learning or remembering. If, for example, you are taking an math class and you don’t really understand the meaning of ratio, or axiom, or congruence, or integral, or any other term making sense of what is being talked about is almost impossible. Not knowing the vocabulary pretty much guarantees that you won’t do well.
How often have you taken a class and you read the text book. And then when you get to the end of the page you can’t seem to remember what you read. So you read it again, perhaps highlighting some passages, thinking to yourself that you will come back to the passage and review it later. If you don’t know some of the words, it is quite likely that you will never make sense of what you are reading.
It is not that students who are not doing well in class are any less bright than a student who is doing well. They might simply be missing some vocabulary. And yet we have school narratives that suggest that when students are not doing well, it is their fault. They are not bright, or capable. We will hear that some students are unintelligent, or come from homes where they can’t learn, or that they don’t try hard enough. Sometimes we call that blaming the victim. The school environment might be such that the teacher isn’t providing students with necessary vocabulary support. It is not that teachers don’t want to provide the support and give students all the time they need. But, we will find out in short order that there are some school narratives that demand coverage, speed and efficiency. And those narratives don’t bode well for the student who requires extra time to learn. Sometimes the schedule is such that the student can’t learn and can’t keep up. The school schedule says, we have to press on. And for some students, it is impossible to recover.
Question Set Number Two
1. Please tell me the difference between your performance between the Part One of the word game and Part Two of the word game.
2. What would you say accounts for the difference in your performance?