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Creative Ways Of Teaching The Importance Of Vocabulary In A Digital Age

There would be little disagreement on the importance of broadening and deepening the vocabulary of young people. In the preface to Teaching effective vocabulary , the 2008 Chief Adviser on School Standards in the UK, Sue Hackman, compares having a good vocabulary to ‘an artist’s palette of colours’.

Vocabulary is more than a list of words, and although the size of one’s vocabulary matters, it’s knowing how to use it which matters most. The best comparison is to an artist’s palette of colours which can be mixed and applied to create powerful effects.

Interactive websites such as AQA’s TeachIt  in the UK and Pearson’s numerous online programs and content are staggering in their overall number.  Teaching vocabulary has also traditionally been on offer through more embodied and interactive teaching and learning processes through drama. For instance, the list of publications on the National Drama (UK) website, such as its publication of  Developing drama in English, emphasises the very tight coupling which has traditionally existed between drama and literacy.

In July 2016, Drama Victoria and the Sydney Theatre Company have announced the implementation of School Drama™, a professional learning program for primary school teachers that demonstrates the power of using drama pedagogy with quality literature to improve English and literacy in young learners. Developed by STC over a four-year pilot program, in partnership with The University of Sydney and leading academic Professor Robyn Ewing, it is not unreasonable to assume the drama strategies it will offer in teacher workshops aimed at enabling them to integrate drama into English and literacy, would not have a substantive impact on growing vocabularies in the classroom.

Data from research by the American National Endowment for the Arts’  The Arts and Achievement in At-Risk Youth: Findings from Four Longitudinal Studies (March, 2012) shows that students who received an arts-rich education read more newspapers, books and visit more libraries than their arts-deprived counterparts.

… low-SES youth with arts-rich backgrounds were more likely than their less-arts-involved counterparts to read newspapers or participate in high school yearbook or newspaper production. But the NELS:88 database includes two other indicators of literary involvement: book reading and library visits.  According to this database, 26-year-olds from low-SES backgrounds who had engaged with the arts intensely from middle school through high school were more likely than the low-arts, low-SES group to have done either literary activity. Eighty-two percent of the high-arts, low-SES group read at least one book in the preceding year (1999-2000). This was roughly the same share of book readers as in the overall study population (81 percent), and it was higher than the corresponding share of the low-arts, low-SES group (74 percent).  Regarding library visits, 55 percent of the high-arts, low-SES group in the database did this activity at least once in the past year, compared with 48 percent of the overall sample and 43 percent of the low-arts, low-SES group. 

Could the research also suggest that the mere presence of interactivity would improve the meaningful learning of words in context?

Possible explanations

However, as Patrice Baldwin and Kate Flemings’ Teaching Literacy Through Drama:Creative Approaches (2003, 2005 & 2007) show, teachers are reluctant to use methodologies in which they have little training. This is despite the overwhelming evidence that drama methods develop students

  • socially (working in and out of role together to create and communicate shared understandings and meanings);
  • intellectually  ( thinking in and out of role);
  • physically (enacting);
  • emotionally (feeling, personally responding and empathising in and out of role);
  • morally  (linking thought, action and consequence);
  • spiritually (enduring personal insights); and
  • culturally (recognising and valuing diversity).

In short, the problem is that many teachers lack confidence and expertise to plan and deliver drama lessons because of

… the lack of professional development opportunities and limited initial teacher education opportunities for this in recent years.

Could the same be said of the classroom teachers use of vocabulary games within an already ‘crowded curriculum’? Again, it is for this reason that Drama Victoria & STC’s partnership to deliver School Drama™ makes sense in this context.

Action Researching Our Own Implementation Of Using Digital Technologies

According to dietitians, all diets work but that once you cease dieting the bad eating habits return. However, if you really enjoy and learn the recipes and follow its proportions, the likelihood is that you will internalise the practice of good eating habits through your love of the food you create. Trying any and all digital tools can satisfy the need to implement ICT policies in education, but it is only when you savour the benefits of digital tools on enhancing teaching and learning first hand that you can begin to take control of the rapidly changing digital transformation of education sweeping through education.

For this reason, we take an action research approach to observing issues we face in our projects, in this case, our work around teaching and learning vocabulary.  The action research investigates the three interrelated areas required for meaningfully using digital technology in educational contexts:

  1. Use of technological knowledge
  2. Creation of content on the web and
  3. Application of pedagogical knowledge.