Vocabulary is a big part of the new Common Core standards, but in many classrooms it continues to be taught in isolation. Students may learn words for a weekly assessment or for the length of a unit of study, but they are quickly forgotten. In Word Nerds, the authors skillfully show teachers how they can not only use direct vocabulary instruction, but also embed the teaching of vocabulary across the day so that students truly own the words. As they say:
Students need time to explore new words, play with them, and connect them to concepts they
already know. Words without a meaningful context remain random.
The organization and step by step procedures outlined in Word Nerds serve as a helpful guide to teachers without being formulaic. The book is full of classroom snapshots, allowing the reader to listen in on instructional conversations and get a true sense of what that kind of dialogue might sound like. By taking us into their classrooms, Brenda, Leslie, and Margot give a clear picture of what scaffolded instruction looks like, and how operating as a classroom community can boost student achievement.
As soon as I began reading Assessment in Perspective, I knew it would be an important book for teachers. In the opening pages, the authors included a quote from Lucy Calkins that I always had pasted in the notebook I kept on the students I worked with:
Assessment is the thinking teacher’s mind work. The intelligence that
guides our every moment as a teacher.
Often when we think about assessment these days we think about numbers and data. Teachers are often asked to look at data, or to bring their data to a progress monitoring or grade level meeting. But what does that actually mean? By sharing the stories from their classrooms, Clare and Tammy remind us that there is so much more to looking at numbers. They explain how one piece of data is not enough, and to get a true sense of what is happening with a student, we must look at more - formal and informal data, including observational notes of students in different contexts. Also through their stories, they are able to show teachers how to take an assessment stance in the classroom, so that everything they do and observe informs instruction.
Recently, I viewed an exhibit of art work by Jerry Pinkney at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Painted on the floor at the entrance to the exhibit hall were these words from the illustrator: “There is something special about knowing that your stories can alter the way people see the world, and the place within it.” Story is powerful, and by choosing to use story to explain their ideas, the authors of Word Nerds and Assessment in Perspective have given teachers the opportunity to reflect on their classroom practices and perhaps see them a little differently. I highly recommend both of these books to both new and experienced teachers.