This week, I have had the genuine pleasure of observing the department. I love watching other people teach. There is always a ‘takeaway’- something to learn from someone else, something to reflect on. It often prompts some of my most furious bouts of creating new things!
One of these moments came from my wonderful mentee. She was in the midst of introducing the opening of a text to Y7, when the term pathetic fallacy came up. She began explaining the meaning of the term, when a student said ‘Aaah, we’ve learnt that!’ This then rippled around the classroom as the students pieced together their memories and collaboratively worked out that they came across it in term 2, with A Christmas Carol. I realised that, as a second placement trainee, unless she had time and inclination to go through each scheme of work, or look at every unit skill tracker (with key words collected), she wouldn’t have known what students had done, especially as some students are on exercise book 3. It made me realise that even class teachers might be hard pressed to remember precisely what, when, & with how much frequency words had been encountered.
So, I set about collating everything we have introduced for Y7, 8 & 9 this academic year. The results can be seen on the slides that appear at the end of this post. Below, is a walk through of what I want the team to know we have or intend to cover. It is as close to a ‘knowledge organiser by year group’ I could come up with. Grammar is being mapped on by my KS3 lead, so that will be added later.
There are roughly 100 key words for each year. The majority are context dependent and there are words revisited throughout years, and across years. Schmitt (1997) confirms that the ‘frequency of occurrence of a words is…especially important when it comes to dealing with low frequency words’ and that ‘grouping is an important way to aid recall’ (197).
In addition, I want to know that students are learning both sophisticated words for analysis and tier 2 words that have been selected from Dave Grimmett’s vocabulary lists by year group, a brilliant resource ( @dave5478 ) and from Geoff Barton’s Planning for A* vocabulary lists, here. These words have been chosen to match the topics, texts and tasks, grouped together to enable students to use them more independently. They are ambitious and do set a high challenge, but I distinctly remember my frustration last year when I had my Y7 class confidently using vocabulary that our Y11 had never come across, and I knew, quite frankly, it was too late. By then, the students were at risk of genuine cognitive overload dealing with everything else we had to teach them.
We will test a small number of terms each week, and check again at the end of term. A next step will be to create short, non-fiction reading passages for each term using the words in context so that students can see them ‘live’. Schmitt also states that ‘writing vocabulary begins with reading it’ because of the complex interdependency of language (2013). This will enable teachers to unpick student knowledge of prefixes, suffixes, roots etc. Finally, as well as reading tasks and written responses, speaking and listening opportunities are embedded throughout the year as further opportunities to use and model.
As we’ve been using vocabulary lists all year (although we all agree our testing routines need tightening) this is nothing new. However, what it will give to staff, is a very clear overview of where we have been and where we are going. It sets out the language we can assume familiarity with, and quickly check for gaps, rather than starting from zero every time we begin a new unit.
Two arguments can be levied at any attempt to boost vocabulary with word lists: one is that a list of any kind limits students (at the HA end), the second is that it does not allow for differentiation (at the LA end). Since we have been using termly word lists, what I have noticed in student books, is an overall higher quality of language used generally. My personal vocabulary is different to that of my colleagues and that far from limiting students, I’ve observed teachers confidently using more ambitious vocabulary from their own personal stores, enriching the classroom further. As for differentiation, the lists are our ideal baseline, what we hope for every student. Some may need support getting there, the testing will flag this up. Hopefully, if I can pull off my great intervention plan this year (more about that here ) this will be a space to give that support.
Next on the list will be to map KS4 in the same way, and include sentence structures as part of the explicit knowledge to acquire. But for now, the sun is shining and the garden is literally screaming at me.