Learning Academic Vocabulary

It is the time of year to start reflecting on what went right and what you would like to improve on for next year. As teachers, it is important to say “I did a good job this year on helping Paramjot learn his timetables or Kayla adjust to a new school and make friends.” However, in more cases than not, we spend time looking at what we can improve on as that is what makes us good teachers.

If I had to choose one area that I would really like to improve in the next couple of years is helping my students acquire academic language in music. This has been an area of my program that has challenged me over the past five years as I feel that the vocabulary is not ‘sinking in’. I feel like we use it to describe the music we are listening to, but when we try to use it again a couple of weeks later, the students have forgotten it. I feel like I am constantly re-teaching the vocabulary.

I teach at a school where there are many English Language Learners, so vocabulary in general is a challenge for them. After doing some reading about vocabulary acquisition for ELLs (there is a great monograph from the Literacy and Numeracy Secretariat called “World of Words”) I learned that many of my students come to school about 1000 words behind their peers. This means, as teachers, that we are constantly in a catch up game for our students.

After thinking about why the vocabulary acquisition part of my program is not working, I think one problem is that I do not place enough emphasis on it. We play, compose and rock out all day in music class, but we don’t spend as much time talking about the music. I feel the other problem that could be plaguing that part of my program is that I try to introduce too many words at once, which overwhelms the students.

The other issues are that most of the approaches that are suggested for direct vocabulary instruction don’t really happen in music class. We rarely, if ever, do shared reading, and making inferences from context can be more challenging when the new words are used orally instead of in a reading passage. I also see how word analysis can be really challenging, as a lot of the academic vocabulary that we use is in Italian. Students are therefore unable to look for clues in prefixes and suffixes that they might know from other subject areas.  

The one suggestion that I have read about that I am going to try for next year is called 30 on the wall. The goal is to target 30 subject specific words that students become “intimately familiar” with by the end of each year in every subject. 30 words seems really manageable and by the end of their five years with me they would know 150 words very well-related to music. It would take some forethought and planning to target a specific set of words, but that is going to be my goal for the coming year. I will spend some time this June looking at a natural progression of vocabulary words, which ones will work best with the curriculum expectations for each grade, and which words are most useful and transferable in my students’ academic career.

But at the end of the day, as we work towards our goal, I will still take time to raise a glass and proclaim….

 

 

 

vocabulary

 

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The Author

Tammy Axt

I am a music teacher at Red Willow Public School in the Peel District School Board. I love supporting students through the creative process and grooving to music! My interests include running and trying to learn how to ride a motorcycle.

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