Developing Vocabulary, I

salvēte, amīcī et sodālēs! Today we begin a series of posts about the development of vocabulary in the Tres Columnae system. This has been a continuing theme of ours since the early days of the project, but I want to return to it now as we draw ever closer to our formal, official launch.

In early January, we began a five-part series about Ownership of Vocabulary with this post, in which we talked about what vocabulary acquisition is and what it shouldn’t be.

We continued with this post, in which we explored the three metaphors of learning as factory, retail store, and workshop and considered how each one would lead to a different idea about how to teach vocabulary … and even what vocabulary should be taught.

In this post, we applied the first-language reading concepts of independent, instructional, and frustration reading levels and considered some specific strategies to avoid frustration.

In the past few weeks, well after this post was written, mention was made on the Latin-BestPractices listserv of this study, which found that hypertext glossing of a reading passage actually led to better comprehension than pre-teaching vocabulary … and was actually slightly more effective than a combination of pre-teaching and glossing! It’s never wise, of course, to put too much stock in a single study, but it will be interesting to see whether our participants gravitate to previews of vocabulary … or whether they avoid them. My own thought, for what it’s worth, is that previewing vocabulary is very helpful for beginning readers – and for readers at the beginning of a selection or a lengthy text – but less useful once you’re at a higher level of proficiency, or once you’ve reached the middle of a selection or text. By then, there’s so much variation in learners’ background knowledge that it’s essentially impossible to know which words you should preview.

Anyway, in this post, I traced my personal journey with vocabulary, as both a learner and a teacher, and applied the three metaphors to my students’ struggles with Ownership of vocabulary … and with frustration in their reading. If I’d known about the Alessi study, I would have cited it here as well.

And in this post, we looked at Robert Marzano’s system for academic vocabulary, which is all about Ownership, though he doesn’t use the term as we do.

Then, at the end of the series, I listed these core beliefs and assumptions about vocabulary that guide the Tres Columnae project:

  • We think there is a minimum list of words that every Latin learner should know;
  • We’re not quite sure exactly what words should be on the list, though we’ll use the ones we’ve mentioned previously as a starting point.
  • Some words can be presented with illustrations, or with obvious English relatives, and won’t require formal work.
  • We always need to find out whether the learner already knows the word. If so, we don’t need to “present” it formally.
  • Whatever we do about presentation, it must not just mean “giving them the definition” and calling it a day.
  • We’ll make sure to include work with opposites and with synonyms.
  • We’ll do a lot of work with homophones and near-homophones.
  • We’ll make sure our learners can take words apart and put them together, using prefixes, suffixes, and such.
  • Secondarily, we’ll explore connections between English words and their Latin roots.
  • We’ll have abundant opportunities for our participants to read and hear words in context.
  • We’ll encourage participants to use words actively, by writing original stories, recording audio, or creating original video versions of stories.

If you’ve followed the blog for a while, you can see how our roots in the Paideia movement have influenced our approach to vocabulary, too. And you can probably see the marks of our other primary influences, too.

You’ve also probably noticed how we’ve implemented many of these promises in the stories and other materials we’ve shared here and on the Version Alpha Wiki.

  • We still haven’t decided on “the” list of words that every Latin learner should know, but we’ve paid attention to the available frequency lists as we developed the Metastory for Tres Columnae, and as we worked out the details of individual stories. It’s a rather Vergilian and Ovidian list at the moment … partly because those words figure heavily in the frequency lists we’ve used, and partly because I’ve been reading a lot of Vergil and Ovid with my upper-level students this semester. (In Cursus Secundus, currently a very rough draft, Lucius and Caius will both serve in the Roman army, and at least one character will consider becoming a writer. So we’ll have abundant exposure to a “standard” prose vocabulary too!)
  • We tend to repeat words (and phrases and structures) … a lot! The Big Three Reading Method textbooks do, too, and that’s one of their best features in my opinion. But we aim for significantly more repetition, and for more active repetition as our participants use the vocabulary in stories they create … and in illustrations, audio, and video that they create, too.
  • We haven’t modeled the formal presentation of vocabulary much, but if you look at the illustrated versions of Fabella Prima, Fabella Secunda, and Fabella Tertia on the Version Alpha Wiki, you can see how we’re planning to use illustrations to introduce a lot of vocabulary, and how our participants will be able to hear words (and stories) as many times as they wish.

But what about the other promises we made? Specifically, what about

  • finding out whether the learner knows the word;
  • actual “presentation” of words that need to be presented;
  • opposites and synonyms;
  • homophones and near-homophones;
  • prefixes, suffixes, and such; and
  • connections to English and other languages?
  • And are there elements of vocabulary learning that we’ve neglected?

We’ll look at these elements in our posts for the rest of the week … and yes, there will be a story or two along the way! Tune in next time when we’ll begin with a look at the first three elements in the list above. Grātiās maximās omnibus legentibus et respondentibus!


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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Of all the entries you have posted, those dealing with vocabulary interest me most. For nearly twenty years I have experimented with a spectrum of methods of teaching vocabulary and have not found instructional methods that I want to commit to. I think the reason for is this: there is no single “right” way to do it. I continue, nevertheless to develop a plan (based on students’ learning styles). Recently, however, I read the following article I found (of all places!) on the College Board’s website:
    In this article, Robert Cape from Austin College deftly applies the research on the assessment of vocabulary to Latin, primarily by examining the work of John Read’s Assessing Vocabulary. I picked up the book last evening and have started reading it, so I can’t say much about it, but Mr. Cape’s article provides a compelling argument for Read’s methodology/philosophy. I encourage anyone to check it out and critically assess the article by comparing your experiences with what Mr. Cape proposes. I’ll follow up later on Read’s book as well.

    • Randy,
      Thanks so much for the link … I always appreciate your comments, and I’m glad this thread is interesting to you. I’ll take a look at Professor Cape’s article and will also take a look at Read’s book.

      Thanks again, and I do hope you enjoy the other posts in this series.

      All best,

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