Finding The Big Picture to Make A Mark on Their World.

Students coupling what they know with interests to make language a meaningful and reciprocal part of their lives.

We are here, in class, right now. We are speaking Spanish. We are writing in Spanish. We are listening to Spanish. We are reading Spanish. Now what? What is the bigger picture? It must be bigger than the Excel vocabulary spreadsheet hidden in binders. It must be bigger than memorizing grammatical structures in order to maintain a GPA. Well, at least I hope the picture is bigger than that. What step do we take next? We are here, now what?

Image Credit: Barrett Brooks

Imagine a bullseye, the center is the comfort zone for students. What I have seen in my classroom is students trying to hit the bullseye. Which, great- I am able to see students succeed at something they are comfortable doing. But learning begins to cease. And instead of development, I see students playing it safe. Students stay in their comfort zone. When asked, ¨What did you do this weekend?¨ Student response may be, “I slept.” Really, I slept. That is it? Certainly you did more than that. Use your words, I want to hear more! ¨Have you ever seen a wild animal?¨ — ¨Yes, one time a lizard.” Come on! Tell me more! What kind of lizard? Where were you? What were you doing? What happened? As a teacher of Spanish 4, I know that my students are capable of so much more.

The other area of the bullseye is the outer edges. The danger zone. When students start to wander too far from their comfort zone. When students start to lean on translators and websites, they distance themselves from learning. I see them getting closer and closer to not hitting the target at all and sailing by.

I need to find a place for students to move outside of their comfort zone and stay away from danger. So, here is my question? How do I build student confidence in using their own words and knowledge?

In reading Vocabulary Their Way, I found an intriguing quote. “Our students learn vocabulary their way when they are focused on a topic of keen interest, trying to figure out the what, why and how of it all.” One word jumped out at me — their. This quote has changed my view on gaining student interest. To move away from the numerous vocabulary lists that I have helped create and granting students some control. In using their words for unit design, students will have increased focus, invested interest, and desire to figure it out. Right?

Their Words

Why will I do this? Because my students are capable of so much more. They are capable of communication! So why not take a twist? Why not hand over some of the control to them? When we learn English, we certainly don’t have lists of words to memorize. Does it really matter which words magically make it to the list? OR is communication, meaningful communication, the bigger picture? Once they are able to have meaningful communication, they will be more apt to venture out into the real world and spread their wings.

In searching and searching and racking my brain about vocabulary lists, I have come across a few ideas to help construct what I imagine as a “perfect vocabulary list” Is it out there? Can this really exist? Sometimes I feel that the current list inside of the binder, the one that some students don’t even fill out, may only catch glimpses of sunlight. I am on a quest to find this list that is natural and connects to students. Good-bye meaningless lists of words. Hello natural. Hello thriving students wanting to learn and communicate in the real world.

Templeton, Shane, et al. Vocabulary Their Way. Pearson, 2010. Word Study with Middle and Secondary Students.