The Third Wheel

How Vocabulary is Destroying Your Test Scores...and What You Can Do About It

Vocabulary Development. Would you believe me if I told you I took a whole class with this title in high school? It was an English elective, and I had heard it was an easy way to get a credit. The rest of my schedule was full of AP this and that, and I desperately wanted a blow off credit. The teacher was as close to retirement as and human could possibly be, and while I would learn to love him, he could be a bit of a loose cannon if you weren't quite living up to expectations.

Why do I tell you all this? Well, Vocabulary Development turned out to be a class that has helped me in literally thousands of daily interactions. As a result, I make sure vocabulary is something I make a focused effort to teach in my classroom through authentic interactions and direct instruction. However, you don't have to take my word for it. There are literally hundreds of research studies that back up my experience.

1. Research has shown that 5th graders pick up between 1,000 and 5,000 new words in a year (Stahl, 1999).  Pretty amazing, right? That is a TON of vocabulary. However, think about it from a slightly different angle, and it becomes terrifying. The students gaining 5,000 words during the course of that year have a 5x larger gain than the student only gaining 1,000. If that continues across several school years, by the time two children at the far extremes leave middle school there can be an enormous difference between them.

Student A
Student B

Which of these students is most likely to be able to read grade level texts better? Write higher quality compositions? Have strong, content-related conversations? And the differences you see in the table don't account for any differences in vocabulary that the students come in with at the beginning of the year.

2. Vocabulary has a big impact on reading comprehension. Not that shocking, right? Knowing more words helps you understand what you read better. Whenever I am reading with students, I often have them stop to explain what they've read. More often than not it is just a word or two that has thrown off the meaning of the whole paragraph. You might be surprised to know that when researchers looked at struggling readers in 2nd grade and up, their language comprehension skills (aka their vocabulary) was so low that it actually prevented them from getting anything out of most grade-level independent reading. When we can build a child's vocabulary, we are really teaching comprehension in an indirect way.

3. Struggling readers won't just pick up vocabulary from books.  I was totally guilty of pushing context clues my first few years of teaching. I was just as bewildered when my students weren't picking up all the rich vocabulary I was exposing them to. I mean, how could that be? Over the years I naturally started tailoring my vocabulary instruction to be more direct with repeated opportunities to interact and use the vocabulary. As a result, my students began using the words we were learning.

The research supports my trial-and-error discovery. While most teachers do not explicitly teach vocabulary (the research says as little as 1.5 minutes of a reading lesson focused on vocabulary), it is truly the way to help the students add that word to their word bank.

4. Word learning happens best when done through multiple means. Students need opportunities to build words into their schema and to do that they need numerous exposures. They cannot just read the word in context and be done. Research supports introducing and exposing students to vocabulary through multiple modalities, as well has hooking it to their prior knowledge, is huge in helping kids make gains. This can include: reading, writing, non-verbal representation (drawing or acting), classifying words by part of speech, exploring semantic connections (synonyms, antonyms, word webs), and discussion (Marzano, 2004).

5. Dictionaries don't cut it. Students need clear, child-friendly definitions (Massachusetts Reading Association, 2011). They need opportunities to write their own definition after several exposures, and they need opportunities to experience the word in context if we want our vocabulary instruction to stick. While I may have learned quite a few words from my vocabulary development class, We studied 20-30 words per week for 9 weeks of instruction. We spent a lot of time looking words up in the dictionary, and well, we did a lot of activities that go against our current knowledge of how to make vocabulary stick. As a result, I still come across words regularly that I know we "learned" in my class. However, I lack the definitions for many of them because they were never connected to my experiences or other words I knew well. Vocabulary instruction needs to be accessible to kids or it is just a waste of time!

All that being said, vocabulary is a huge predictor of life, in school, and even on those dreaded standardized tests. Identifying those high power words and making sure your students know them is a great way to help your students get the edge they need for success in your classroom and for years to come. This year find time in your schedule to give some daily instruction to those critical academic vocabulary words. Build them into your bell ringer or dismissal routine, find a few minutes as you prepare for lunch, or (even better) during your language arts block. Your students will be the better for it.

Research-Based Daily Vocabulary by The Third Wheel
(Try all of the vocabulary morning word bundles free for a week by downloading the preview from TPT!)

20 Questions to Get Kids Talking

Ever had one of those weekends? You know the kind where you don't get a moment to breathe, let alone think about your lesson plans.  The baby is sick, your best friend got married, and you spent 4 hours trying to bathe the dog so she didn't smell like the skunk that wandered through your yard when you let her out one night. Okay, maybe your scenario isn't quite so dramatic, but it happens to the best of us. Despite your best intentions life gets in the way of wrapping up those final pieces of your weekly lesson plans. Suddenly you are preparing for your morning meeting, and you realize you haven't a clue what to talk about. Here's your answer: 

1. If you could meet _______ , what is one question you would ask?

o   The president
o   A character from a book the class is reading
o   A scientist the class might have researched
o   A person from the past
o   A favorite cartoon character
o   A celebrity
o   The principal
o   Another teacher

2. Think of your favorite __________ you would like to meet, and share why you chose the subject you did.
o   Character
o   Historical Figure
o   Hollywood Celebrity
o   Athlete
o   Singer or Band
o   Cartoon Character
o   Disney Character
o   Superhero
o   Villain
o   Person on TV

3. If you could go anywhere in the ________, where would you go, and why?
o   World
o   A specific continent or region the class has studied
o   A specific country
o   A specific state
o   Your nearest city
o   Your town

4. Would you rather? State your preference and give a reason you made that choice.
o   Camping or staying in a hotel
o   Mountains or ocean
o   Individual or team sports
o   Pets or no pets
o   Zoo or Aquarium
o   Thanksgiving or Halloween

5. What is your favorite ________ and why?
o   Season
o   Activity with your family
o   Activity with your friends
o   Game without technology
o   Game that uses technology (Wii, X-box, etc)
o   Website
o   Genre
o   Book
o   Movie
o   TV series
o   Meal – breakfast, lunch, dinner
o   Snack food
o   Ice Cream Flavor
o   Fruit
o   Vegetable
o   Subject in the classroom
o   Specials class

6. What career would you like to explore, and why?

7. What do you think you might be doing in 20 years?

8. If you could move any where in the world, where would you go?

9. What is your favorite hobby?

10. What is your favorite topic to research?

11. Why do you think it is important to have rules in school?

12. Why is it important to show respect to others?

13. How do you show kindness to people?

14. How do you like people to show kindness to you – hugs, notes, spend time together...

15. Share a favorite memory of time spent with your family.

16. Share a favorite memory from school.

17. Describe the most amazing thing you have ever seen.

18. Describe the most beautiful place you have ever been.

19. What is your most prized possession? Why?

20. If you could change anything about our school, what would it be? Why? 

What are your favorite questions to ask in morning meeting? Share them in the comments below!

Free Online Professional Development for Teachers...Yep, its all free!!

As we know, teachers do not “have three months off every year to spend by the pool.”  Hopefully, you will have SOME time to spend by the pool.  Maybe you can fit in some professional development while you are soaking up the sun. 

Many websites claim to have free on-line professional development, but when you look a little closer, they do not offer certificates of completion, and/or require you to pay a fee for continuing education credits.  If you are in need of college credit, many of these paid courses also translate into college credits - for a rather large fee. Not always the ideal scenario with all the other expenses that come along with teaching. Instead, I've collected a set of genuinely free classes that offer PD certificates so you can get credit for all that learning you do over the summer. 

1. ALISON: A New World of Free Certified Learning

certificates and diplomas available (Yep, you can even get a degree!)
free (with ads), can pay to avoid ads
courses are self paced

A Taste of What's there: 
Diploma in Educational Psychology
Diploma in Teaching Skills for Educators
Effective Communication Techniques for Teachers
Instructional Planning for Successful Teaching
Introduction to the Learning Process for Teachers and Trainers
Motivating Students to Learn
Understanding Student Development and Diversity
Working with Students with Special Educational Needs

2. OK2Ask: Free, live online “snack sessions” for teacher self-directed professional development and exploration

Live sessions, archived sessions available
Professional Development certificates available

A Taste of What's there: 
Integrating Technology into Lessons
Teacher Timesavers
Google 101
Book Club Opportunities
Common Core Ideas for Literacy, Writing, and Math
Special Ed & Gifted Learner Training 

3. Intel Teach Elements

Courses offered are online, face-to-face, or a hybrid
Self paced and Facilitated courses available
Includes projects

Credit hours available depending on how the course is taken
21st Century Learner Focused

A Taste of What's there: 
Blended Learning
Assessment in 21st Century Classroom
Inquiry Based Learning
Project Based Learning

4. Staff Development for Educators

Known for high quality PD
Video-based options
K-12 Topics

A Taste of What's there: 
Common Core Trainings
Centers in the K-3 Classroom
Grit Mindset
Singapore Math Strategies

5. Coursera

Provided by Universities including Ivy League
Varied Options
Cool topics

A Taste of What's there: 
Engaging Students with Art
Inspiring Leadership with Emotional Intelligence
Blended Learning
Get Organized: How to be a Together Teacher
Teaching Character 
Classroom Culture

With all these great choices, why not bust out the tablet and get learning while you relax by the pool! 

How to Enjoy Your Summer Vacation for Teachers

Summer is upon us! Hot days, barbecues, and all sorts of fun. For those of us who are lucky enough to be teachers, we have officially entered the off-season. While much of the world thinks this is the time of year we teachers frolic in the sunshine, the truth is not quite as glamorous. This is when we spend our time preparing for next year, growing professionally...and maybe spend a little time enjoying the sunshine, too.

1. Go to a restaurant and eat lunch sitting down without a copy machine in sight. 
Take your time to peruse the entire menu. Order an appetizer. Actually chew your food and taste it. All of these amazing things are possible now that it is summer. There is no better feeling than sitting down for lunch without having to count every second so you can pick up your students on time.

2. Sleep in...or wake up early and lay in bed enjoying the fact that you don't HAVE to get up. 
Of course if you are like me and have little ones at home, this is impossible. If not, I beg you!! Please take advantage of a chance to sleep in. Look at the clock when you wake up. Roll over and go back to sleep. That alone is worth its weight in gold.

3. Take a bathroom break without begging someone to watch your class for a minute... or waiting for your lunch break. 
I know I didn't have to tell you this one. I think this is one of the biggest perks of summer. If there was a bladder holding Olympics, a teacher would surely win. The good news is no more counting down the minutes before you get a bathroom break...or watching how much water you drink to make sure you don't need one. Go ahead! Untrain that Olympic-ready bladder! Its summer.

4. Stay up REALLY late without thinking about what that means for tomorrow. 
See a concert. Go to the late movie. Head out with friends for drinks. The options are limitless. Now that you don't have to be up at 5:00 AM to be out the door in time for the first bell, you can partake in all those great things your friends who start work at 9:00 each day can do all year long. Just don't get used to it!

5. Take a sick day. 
Okay, so no one really wants to be sick on summer break, but if it is going to happen, this is the time. No writing sub plans for hours or begging a teammate to make your copies because you are pretty sure you are going to fall over any minute. No notes from the sub about student behavior. Just you, a Nyquil, and sweet dreams.

6. Teach Summer School and Earn the Big Bucks...
Of course, if none of the other ideas sound like they are up your alley, there is always Summer school! Half days and extra pay are pretty enticing! If you decide to go that route, check out these resources designed especially for summer school.


Happy Summer!

10 Fun and Simple Ways to Appreciate your Volunteers

Is it really already that time again? The end of the school year is upon us and that means it is time to thank all those wonderful parents who have been so helpful this year. Today's post aims to give you some fast, simple ideas for inexpensive gifts you can create to say thanks.

  • Hand cream - "Thanks for lending a HAND!" 
  • Chocolate chip cookies  - "Thanks for always being willing to CHIP in!"
  • Flowers- "I couldn't have PICKED a better volunteer!"
  • Plant - "Thank you for helping us GROW!" 
  • Cake - " You take the CAKE as an awesome volunteer!"
  • Notecards/Stationary - "Thanks for being a NOTEWORTHY volunteer!" 
  • Mason jar of lifesavers - "You were a LIFESAVER! Thanks for all your help this year."
  • Soup mix and a ladle - "Thanks for being a SOUPER helper!" 
  • Peach themed items (jam, lotion, etc.) - "Thanks for being a PEACH and helping out this year."
  • Coffee - "Thanks a LATTE for all your help!"

This year, I decided to go with my take on the last idea. While my position change meant I didn't have volunteers, I did have teacher gifts that needed to get made for my daughters' AMAZING teachers.  I found some super simple white coffee mugs at our neighborhood Walmart for less than a dollar each. With some cute labels (which you can get free for a limited time here), letter stickers, and a few Sharpies, I transformed them into super sweet gift.

There are actually two different versions. The dots only version you see above was made by me for my littlest's teachers. The more creative version  seen below was colored by my 2 year old for her teacher, and I added the dots on top to ensure the initial stood out.

You could even let your class decorate and design the mugs to make them unique and personalized! Just be sure to bake them for 30 minutes at 350 degrees and have the receiver hand wash them.
Don't forget to pick up your free (for a limited time) labels by clicking the image below!

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