Academic Vocabulary: Call it what it is!

Recently I was sitting in a classroom, catching up on some emails and taking care of “desk work”. I do this often instead of being in the office, because I feel more connected if I can be surrounded by teaching and learning. Even if I am not fully engaged in what is happening in the classroom, I love the energy it gives me to be present with kids and teachers. This particular day I was on a mission to lower the number of emails in my inbox, but instead was captivated by the discourse happening between the teacher and her students. It pulled me in, and before I knew it, I had a Google Doc open and was scripting the conversation happening before me.

This is what I quickly captured, typing furiously to record the greatness… (at the beginning of the mathematics block–fluency and number talk)

T: Last semester we talked about the importance of our learning being rigorous. What does that mean..rigor?

S: Rigor is when the learning is really deep and more harder, I mean…more difficult.

T: That’s right! Is everything we do always going to be rigorous?

S: No, but it will eventually get rigor because we will understand it more and more and need to learn it in different ways.

T: So what is my job during this part of our day?

S: You take notes on us so you can know how to teach us and what we need to know.

T: That is correct. What is your job?

Ss: we are in our math spot, we persevere, we are always at a level zero or one, we listen to what others have to say, we need stamina for listening and sitting the right way (kids continue to share expectations)

(Later in the number talk, as teacher is asking for kids to share their thinking from number talk problems)

T: 2 synapses just fired in your brain. That is amazing! Who can use their coaching teacher’s brain and tell us what happened with the answer of 61? (it was incorrect). Students reflected out loud why the answer was reasonable but incorrect.

At the end of the first problem of number talk…

T: Wow you guys really nailed that one…maybe I didn’t make the problem rigorous enough.

S: No you really didn’t because we can handle more than that!

S: You need to up that rigor next time! 

S: We need to be challenged so we can persevere! 
This level of discourse communicates high expectations, not only of the teacher for her students, but of the students for their teacher. They expect their teacher to walk around and take notes on each of them. They expect her to know right where they are so she can give them just right experiences, but also challenge them to new heights. They expect their teacher to provide RIGOR, which means that they may not always find something easy to grasp.

Academic vocabulary is something we sometimes hide from younger children, giving them more ‘kid friendly’ terms. Doing this is perfect for bridging the known to the unknown, but we must let go of the easier descriptors and use academic vocabulary related to content and metacognition.

Why not teach what phonemes and graphemes are, instead of continuing to call them sounds and letters? 

Why not teach kids to think about their thinking, and call it what it is…metacognition?

What can you do NOW to intentionally increase the level of academic vocabulary in your classroom and school? Let the word games begin!