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Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Bringing Words to Life: Instructional vs. Natural Contexts

What? We're on week 7? I feel like the time is flying, which I don't want to happen yet. August is only two days away, and I go back to school at the end of August...I know, some of you are already back and have no pity for me. But remember. I was in school until late June. So there. You can rub it in my face when you're out for Memorial Day.

And if it makes you feel better, I AM working this week. I'm on a committee reviewing our state reading test for 5th grade (which I will talk about more next week), so I actually have been not only getting up before 7 but also dressing professionally and walking out the door by 8.


But enough about me. Hopefully you're also here for the book study, although I'm sure you'll hear more about me later. Or at least my cutie-pie little boy!

Chapter 7: Working with Instructional and Natural Contexts

Let's start with Instructional contexts. These are when the context was intentionally created for the purpose of highlighting the target word and giving strong clues to the meaning. The big thing to add here is that it's important for a definition/explanation of the word to be developed. Teachers should begin by modeling their thinking to shoe how they used the context to determine the word's meaning (think alouds), but they should let go of the reigns and guide students to begin doing this on their own ASAP! Use guiding questions when they need help finding the right clues.

On the flip side, naturally occurring contexts may or may not even provide enough information for students to find the correct meaning of the word, but the authors make an interesting point that I agree with: It's more important to focus on the process of determining the word's meaning than actually finding the meaning. Why? Because then even when there isn't enough information to decipher the word, students may at least have a general idea of what type of word they're looking for. Plus they will be more equipped to use the clues that are provided independently.

Here's the instructional sequence they recommend:

  • Read the context, then record it with an emphasis on the unfamiliar word
  • Establish meaning of the context (What's going on? What are they saying?)
  • Make the first "guess" at what the word means, and support your prediction with evidence from the text
  • If the student can't come up with a response or support with text, go back to step two and flesh out what's happening in the context some more
  • Consider other possibilities (this helps students understand that they may not necessarily have it exactly right, but that's okay. Plus you can point out that there may not even be a way to know for sure from the text what the word means)
  • Summarize the entire process to review the information and let students draw conclusions based on that.

One final thought I will leave you with: it is VERY IMPORTANT for students to understand that not all contexts will contain useful information to figuring out the meaning of a word or even a general idea of the meaning. First, they should refer to a larger portion of the context (too many of my kids just look at the one sentence and are done), but they should be encouraged to refer to an outside source when that doesn't work. And don't make the just look in a dictionary because we've already talked about how that may be completely useless. Let them ask you! Of course, you may want to create a system (sticky notes, faint line under unfamiliar words, etc) to avoid interruptions, but they need to realize that it's okay to ask an adult and admit when they don't know what a word means. If they're scared to ask for help, then it's not benefiting anyone.


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