Wednesday, July 27, 2016

CURMUDGUCATION: Vocabulary and the Assessment Problem

CURMUDGUCATION: Vocabulary and the Assessment Problem:

Vocabulary and the Assessment Problem

The teaching of vocabulary is a good microcosm of some of the biggest problems of education.

We know how to teach vocabulary badly. It's a process that has been refined and perfected over decades, and even if you don't use it as a teacher, you probably knew it as a student. The basic outline looks something like this:

1) Get list of vocabulary words
2) Go through the motions of some sort of practice activity
3) Cram words* into your brain
4) Take test
5) Forget words completely

* If teacher is prone to matching or multiple choice tests based on the teacher's one and only acceptable version of the word definition, you need only cram enough to recognize the definition when you see it, which requires minimal brain space. Recognition is not full fluency, as witnessed by everyone who still retains enough high school French to understand what they hear, but can no longer speak it.

Nobody on God's green earth believes that this process produces students with larger, more effective vocabularies.

But teachers still do it (and for years I was one of them) because it's quick and efficient and simple and, best of all, it's a system that students can quickly learn to game, which means that we can point to all our test result data and declare, "Look at how successful I am!" Meanwhile, students get good papers to put up on the fridge. It's the oldest bad deal in the annals of education. You help me look like I'm teaching something, and I will help you look like you're learning something.

The heart of the problem lies with the definition of "success."

The definition of successfully teaching vocabulary is that students use the new words correctly in the 
CURMUDGUCATION: Vocabulary and the Assessment Problem:

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