Monday, January 30, 2012

Is There a Solution? "They Just Don't Have the Words."

My friend Non Talbot Wels tweeted my last post, "They Just Don't Have the Words" and asked, "Solutions, Kristen?"
I can always count on Non to ask good questions.
I've spent over twenty years trying to answer/address the diminishing vocabulary of my students.
The answer I have now is the same answer I started out with: that students gain the power of words, and thus ideas, through stories.
I know a lot of teachers who assign vocabulary lists. I understand this, but lists are of limited use without context. I do believe in the power of Memory. Mnemosyne is, after all, the mother of the muses, but muses need mortar, not just bricks.
Word immersion is better.
Word immersion comes from books, from stories.
And, initially, this immersion must come from a kid's parents and primary caregivers.
I think the Edu-speak term for this is "language-rich environment."
I think immersion in books is best served by keeping a kid unplugged for as long as possible. Listening to books in the car, going to the library, telling stories, having the kid tell stories, illustrate stories, and just playing are all good things.
Toddlers with iPads alarm me.
Babies in front of televisions fill me with dismay.
Teens who are always plugged in without respite or boundaries of any kind are the products of grossly irresponsible parents who have chosen the path of least resistance.
The Path of Least Resistance ends, at best, in mediocrity.
I say these things and people are puzzled. After all, my classroom is a computer lab.
Without the human, I tell parents, technology is dangerous.
I know people get mad at me.
It's okay. I'm not running for Homecoming Queen.
I'm just fighting to give kids real power, the power that creates realities which arise from a glad union of dreams and action.
Dreams and actions that begin with words.


  1. 3 words that need to be in everyone's vocabulary: egad, accursed, and defenestration. Also, the phrase ye gods is very nice.

  2. Words written in text form and thought acceptable, annoy me. :-( I love reading comments on news articles etc, but increasingly some people comment as if they are texting and that really annoys me!


    Take care

  3. If you ran on this campaign for Homecoming Queen, I'd support you. It's the kind of thinking that does give kids power. Keep it up.

  4. Fighting television and other screens is a losing proposition. The better solution is to demand more vocabulary on screen media. We have to fight dumbing down with dumbing up. :o)

  5. This is why I think The Hunger Games could save the world. My students don't have the words either--but my twenty copies of each of the Hunger Games books are like gold bricks--I can't keep them on my shelves. Kids fight over them. Teachers fight over who gets to read them with their clubs and advisories next because these books actually get butts in seats and ears on the reader. And then when they finish, those magic words: Miss, I need another book.

    Stop by my blog if you get a chance--I really enjoy the way you write about teaching and I've named you the recipient of a blog award. (