Fluency Fix – An Approach to Vocabulary Teaching

Last year, we introduced a Word of the Week programme during tutor time. As you’d expect, systematically introducing only one word a week across the whole academy during tutor time had a very limited impact on the quality of students’ writing and reading. Having said this, it did raise the profile of this aspect of literacy with all staff and students and it enabled us to try out some of the strategies from Isabel Beck’s work in her books, Bringing Words to Life and Creating Robust Vocabulary. These have helped us to think through and begin to implement a new programme which we’re calling Fluency Fix. 

Beck’s principles are outlined in this post on the Word of the Week programme. These blogs from Josie Mingay, David Didau and Doug Lemov are great reads about methodologies for explicitly teaching vocabulary.

Particularly important in influencing our planning for the new programme was Josie’s reminder of Graham Nutall’s three conditions leading to effective processing;

  • Strength – multiple exposures to new information (at least 3 or 4 within a limited time) is essential in order to embed knowledge
  • Depth – ensuring students think ‘hard’ about new information so as not to allow it to just hover on the surface, instead challenging learners to wrestle with new ideas and concepts to ensure they are deeply rooted
  • Elaboration – providing opportunities for learners to make connections and associations with previously acquired knowledge, in order for this to ‘latch’ onto something

I don’t want to spend long on theory here though as the intention of this post is to introduce the Fabulous Five Programme, seek peer critique and invite other teachers or English departments to become involved in its development if they wish.

Fluency Fix introduces students to five, tier two words at the start of each week.

We’ve been piloting it in Year 11 at the moment and are initially focusing on abstract nouns, verbs or adjectives relating to emotions. We’ve begun with these as, in addition to believing in the importance of broadening the students’ vocabulary generally, pragmatically these words will help the students in responding as a character in Question 1 of the iGCSE English paper and communicating their emotional response to language in both Question 2 and the unseen poetry question in their Literature exam.

When we introduce the programme into other year groups, we will combine these kinds of words with tier two words identified in the texts the students are covering as part of the curriculum.

The process occurs in six steps at present. Each stage has a common framework so that students become familiar with the process and only need to focus on developing their knowledge of the new vocabulary rather than what to do. Below is a description of each stage, the framework and an example.

Stage one is an introduction of the week’s words, focusing on familiarity with the definitions, pronunciation, graphemes, morphemes and other methods of memorising the spellings.

Fabulous Five – Session 1 Framework

Session 1 Aggravation-Optimism

Stage two focuses on developing memories of the meaning of the word. It is a cloze exercise incorporating a short passage which uses all five of the words and a comprehension question about the impression given of a character or event as a result of the use of the words.

Fabulous Five – Session 2 Framework

Session 2 Aggravation-Optimism

Stage three requires students to apply their developing knowledge of the meanings of the words. They answer a range of questions, incorporating the words (in different forms) into full sentence answers.

Fabulous Five Session 3 Framework

Session 3 Aggravation-Optimism

Stage four involves students writing an extended, directed piece, using all five of the words.

Fabulous Five Session 4 Framework

Session 4 Aggravation-Optimism

A further exposure occurs through a weekly spelling test of the words.

Fabulous Five Homework Frame

Homework Aggravation-Optimism

As we’ve moved through the weeks, we’ve been weaving words from previous weeks in to these exposures so as to increase the likelihood of students retaining the words in their long term memories. We’ve also been looking into how we can best utilise online tools like Memrise and Quizlet, as Andy Tharby discusses here. Finally we’ve set the expection that  students use these words in their speech and writing to embed the vocabulary through more frequent usage.

I’d be really interested, first of all, in what you think of this approach to vocabulary teaching and the frameworks we’ve developed. Do you have amendments you’d suggest or tweaks you think we should make? Should we introduce further steps or do you have other frameworks you think would enhance our work. Lastly, if you like the way this is heading and would be introducing it or something very similar in your faculty, would you be interested in sharing the workload of setting it all up across five year groups on a Dropbox or Google shared drive? Let me know on Twitter (@NSMWells) or via e-mail (Nick.Wells@Swindon-Academy.Org)

English Subject Knowledge Reading

In ‘What Makes Great Teaching?’ Coe et al list six components of great teaching. The first of these, which they say there is “strong evidence of impact on student outcomes” for is what they call “pedagogical subject knowledge.” They argue that, “The most effective teachers have deep knowledge of the subjects they teach, and when teachers’ knowledge falls below a certain level it is a significant impediment to students’ learning. As well as a strong understanding of the material being taught, teachers must also understand the ways students think about the content, be able to evaluate the thinking behind students’ own methods, and identify students’ common misconceptions.”

Over the last couple of days, I’ve been collating the following list of texts which English teachers have recommended as being useful for developing different areas of subject knowledge. At some point in the future, I intend to write about the other part of claim above relating to unpicking misunderstandings and analysing students’ thinking in English but that’s a whole other job. If you have a further suggestion for the list below, please contact me on Twitter @nsmwells.

There are many people I’d like to thank for their help with the reading list and I’ve named them at the end of this post. The main person I’d like to thank though is our Sixth Form Study Supervisor who is intending to train as a teacher in 2017. If he hadn’t asked me for a list of books to read, then I wouldn’t have asked for everyone’s help to pull this together.

Rhetoric:

  • ‘The Elements of Eloquence: How to Turn the Perfect English Phrase’ by Mark Forsyth.
  • ‘You Talkin’ To Me? Rhetoric from Aristotle to Obama’ by Sam Leith.
  • ‘Trivium 21st C’ by Martin Robinson
  • ‘A Matter of Style’ by Matthew Clark

Grammar and Spelling

  • ‘Gwynne’s Grammar’ by N.M. Gwynne.
  • ‘Practical English Usage’ by Michael Swann
  • ‘It was the best of sentences, it was the worst of sentences’ by June Casagrande
  • ‘Teachers’ Guide to Grammar’ by Deborah Cameron
  • ‘Rediscover Grammar’ by David Crystal
  • ‘Cambridge Grammar of English’ by Ron Carter and Michael McCarthy
  • ‘The Teacher’s Guide to Grammar’ by Deborah Cameron
  • ‘Discover Grammar’ by David Crystal
  • ‘How Language Works’ by David Crystal
  • ‘Language, the Basics’ by Robert Lawrence Trask,
  • ‘English Grammar for Today:A New Introduction’ by Geoffrey Leech, M. Deuchar, and Robert Hoogenraad
  • ‘Spell it Out’ by David Crystal

Poetry:

  • ‘Poetics’ by Aristotle
  • How to be Well Versed in Poetry’ by E.O. Parrot
  • ‘Poetry Toolkit’ by Rhiannon Williams
  • ‘The Ode Less Travelled’ by Stephen Fry
  • ‘Poetry in the Making’ by Ted Hughes
  • ‘On Poetry’ by Glynn Maxwell
  • ‘A Linguistic Guide to English Poetry’ by Geoffrey Leech
  • ‘The Art of Poetry’ by Neil Bowen
  • ‘Does it have to Rhyme?’ by Sandy Brownjohn
  • ‘All the Fun’s in How You Say a Think: An Explanation of Meter and Versification’ by Timothy Steele
  • ‘Articulate Energy’ by Donald Davie
  • ‘The Secret Life of Poems’ by Tom Paulin

Drama:

  • ‘The Empty Space’ by Peter Brook
  • ‘Modern Drama in Theory and Practice’ by JL Styan
  • ‘An Introduction to Greek Theatre’ by P.D. Arnott
  • ‘Greek Theatre Performance’ by David Wiles
  • ‘The Time-traveller’s Guide to British Theatre’ by Aleks Sierz & Lia Ghilhardi
  • ‘How Plays Work’ by D Edgar

The Novel:

  • ‘The Art of Fiction’ by David Lodge
  • ‘How Fiction Works’ by James Wood
  • ‘How Novels Work’ by John Mullan
  • ‘How to Study a Novel’ John Peck
  • ‘Reading Like a Writer’ by Francine Prose
  • ‘Faulks on Fiction’ by Sebastian Faulks

Shakespeare

  • ‘Shakespeare’s Restless World: An Unexpected History in Twenty Objects’ by Neil MacGregor.
  • ‘Shakespeare’s Words: A Glossary and Language Companion’ by David and Ben Crystal
  • ‘1599’ and ‘1606’ by James Shapiro
  • ‘Will in the World’ by Stephen Greenblatt
  • ‘Shakespeare the Basics’ by Sean McEvoy
  • ‘Teaching Shakespeare’ by Rex Gibson
  • ‘Shakespeare on Toast’ by Ben Crystal
  • ‘Soul of the Age’ by Jonathan Bate
  • ‘The Genius of Shakespeare’ by Jonathan Bate
  • ‘Shakespeare’s Wife’ by Germaine Greer
  • ‘Shakespeare’s Restless World’ by Neil MacGreggor
  • ‘Shakespeare’s Language’ by Frank Kermode
  • ‘The Wheel of Fire’ by G Wilson Knight
  • ‘Shakespearean Tragedy’ by A.C. Bradley
  • ‘Shakespeare: A Biography’ by Peter Ackroyd
  • ‘The Lodger: Shakespeare on Silver Street’ by Charles Nicholl
  • ‘In Search of Shakespeare’ by Michael Wood
  • ‘William Shakespeare: His Life and Work’ by Anthony Holden

Linguistics and Language Debates:

  • ‘The Language Wars’ by Henry Hitchings
  • ‘For Who The Bell Tolls’ by David Marsh,
  • ‘English for the Natives’ by Harry Ritchie,
  • ‘Accidence Will Happen: The Non-Pedantic Guide to English Usage’ by Oliver Kamm,
  • ‘Doing English Language’ by Angela Goddard,
  • ‘Knowing About Language: Linguistics and the Secondary English Classroom’ by Marcello Giovanelli & Dan Clayton
  • ‘Ways with Words’ by Shirley Brice Heath

History of Language:

  • ‘Mother Tongue’ by Bill Bryson
  • ‘History of English in 100 Words’ by David Crystal
  • ‘Adventure of English’ by Melvyn Bragg

Literary History and Glossaries:

  • ‘A Little History of Literature’ by John Sutherland.
  • ‘The Seven Basic Plots’ by Christopher Booker
  • ‘The Western Canon: The Books and Schools of The Ages’ by Harold Bloom
  • ‘Literature, Criticism and Style’ by Stephen Croft
  • ‘Dictionary of Literary Terms and Literary Theory’ Penguin Reference
  • ‘Practical Criticism’ by John Peck
  • Routledge’s New Critical Idiom Series
  • ‘Beginning Theory’ by P Barry
  • ‘How To Read Literature’ by Terry Eagleton

Essay writing:

  • ‘The Art of Writing English Literature Essays’ by Neil Bowen

Creative Writing:

  • ‘Negotiating with the Dead’ by Margaret Atwood
  • ‘Gotham Writers Workshop Writing Fiction’ by The Gotham Writers Workshop
  • ‘Short Story: From First Draft to Final Product’ by Michael Milton
  • ‘Short Circuit: A Guide to the Art of the Short Story’ ed Vanessa Gebbie

Macbeth:

  • ‘Macbeth’ the Arden edition
  • ‘Sweet Violence: The Idea of the Tragic’ by Terry Eagleton
  • ‘1599 A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare’ by James Shapiro
  • ‘Shakespeare and Co’ by Stanley Wells
  • ‘The Tragedy of Macbeth’ by Nicholas Brooke
  • ‘William Shakespeare’s Macbeth’ by Harold Bloom
  • ‘Macbeth (New Casebooks)’ by Alan Sinfield
  • ‘Shakespeare: “Macbeth” (Casebook)’ by John Wain
  • ‘Macbeth: A Guide to the Play’ by H.R. Courson
  • ‘Macbeth: Shakespeare Handbooks’ by John Russell Brown
  • ‘Springboard Shakespeare: Macbeth’ by Ben Crystal
  • ‘Macbeth’ by Harold Bloom

A Christmas Carol:

  • ‘Dickens’ by Peter Ackroyd
  • ‘London Labour and the London Poor’ by Henry Mayhew
  • Charles Dickens’ by George Orwell
  • ‘A Christmas Carol’ by Harold Bloom
  • ‘Victoria’s Hayday’ by J.B Priestley
  • ‘Victorian City: Everyday Life in Dicken’s London’ by Judith Flanders
  • ‘The Blackest Streets’ by Sarah Wise

With thanks to:

  • James Theobald
  • David Didau
  • @teacherwithbike
  • Emma Tomaz
  • Jack Richardson
  • Martin Galway
  • Dawn Jones
  • Sarah Ashton
  • @shadylady222
  • Amy Forrester
  • Dan Clayton
  • Marcello Giovanelli
  • Jess Droflet
  • Henry Wiggins
  • Tom Boulter
  • Kerry Puleyn
  • Jenn Ludgate
  • @Gwenelope
  • Samra Arshad
  • Matt Pinkett
  • David Bunker
  • Joe Kirby
  • Chris Curtis
  • Jo Facer
  • Tilly Riches
  • Fran Nantongwe
  • @EnglishTeach10x
  • Mark Roberts
  • Jemma Mitchell
  • Martin Robinson
  • @DRArleneHH
  • Susan Elkin
  • Sean Delahoy
  • David Varley
  • @heymrshallahan
  • Louisa Enstone
  • Diane Leedham
  • Michael Muralee
  • Charles Parker
  • Eliza O’Driscoll
  • KES Library