Teaching Vocabulary to Gifted and Advanced Learners--Pre-Assessment

Tackling vocabulary instruction in any classroom is a complex challenge. Add in students who function above or below the mean, and suddenly trying to meet everyone's vocabulary needs can feel pretty daunting! If you've ever felt overwhelmed by trying to figure it all out, you're not alone. I feeeeel ya!
It took me some time, but over the years, I feel like I ended up with a sort of "system" of differentiated vocabulary instruction that worked really well for both me and my students. In the next few posts, I'd like to take you through my complete setup.

In the Upcoming Series...

We'll start with pre-assessment, and move on to instructional strategies. Then I'll cover independent learning activities, as well as some formative and summative assessment strategies used to measuring student growth. There are so many fun and simple things you can do with vocabulary instruction, I can't wait to share my ideas with you!

I hope you'll join me as I spell it all out.  If you have any questions along the way, free to leave it in a comment for me at the bottom of the post or send an email to me: jen@soaringwithsnyder.com I would love to hear from you!

First Things First

Before I go around passing out new lists of words to my class, I spend time on something super important: FINDING OUT WHAT STUDENTS ALREADY KNOW! Ahh, sorry to shout at you there, but it's something that is SO important to me as an educator of any student, but especially gifted and talented learners who may come to you already knowing up to 80% of what you're planning to teach on any given day.

There are many ways to quickly pre-assess. It can be as simple or as involved as you like. KWL charts, concept maps, graffiti walls, and formal pretests with multiple choice or short-answer prompts are some of the ways to check on students' prior knowledge.

{Want to know more about this? Pop on over to this post here for more detailed information about pre-assessing student knowledge, including explanations for twelve different ways to do it.}

My preferred method for pre-testing vocabulary is having students self-rate their knowledge of the word list. This is a research-based strategy credited to several authors (Blachowicz, 1986; Young et al. 2002, and Stahl & Bravo, 2010). 


The Self-Ratings Scale

With a self-ratings scale, students are presented with the words and are asked to rate their knowledge and understanding of the words on a spectrum. It makes SO much sense if you think about your own understanding of words. Some words you have seen a zillion times, used them in your everyday vernacular, and could teach someone else about them in your sleep. Other words you may have seen and been able to infer the meaning in context enough to get by, and some words are completely new to you and you have approximately zero ideas of what they mean. 

Truly, we are the only ones who know the depth of our own understanding, so why not use this to our advantage in the classroom, and trust that students can be empowered to do the same kind of self-reflecting?

Using a self-ratings scale can be done very informally using a fist to five-finger rating, with zero fingers up (fist) reflecting that a student has never heard or seen the word, all the way to a five-finger rating, meaning the student knows the word and it's definition and can teach it to someone else/use it in a meaningful sentence. 

For me, though, I like having a paper record of which words students are familiar with, and which ones are not known as well. It's nice for me to hang on to for my records, and it's fun for students to see their own growth before/after the unit. 
Picture of vocabulary self-rating scale for teachers to use with students. Includes  link for free download
For the paper version, students are presented with a word (or words) and then they take a moment to reflect on their current understanding of the word. Then they give themselves a rating--this can either be done with a number scale or on a chart. Ratings range from students never having seen the word, to seeing it before but not really knowing what it means, to seeing it and being able to define it, to knowing it so well that they can both define the word and use it in a meaningful sentence. 

When students indicate knowing the word, it's meaning, and the ability able to use it effectively in a sentence, I do prefer them to prove it by defining the word and using it in a sentence so that I can judge whether they truly know the word or not. 

However, if we were ever short on time (who isn't?!), I developed a quick color-coding system for students to use. With their highlighters, students marked words with red (or pink), yellow, and green to indicate how well they knew each word. If they didn't know it well enough to define and use the word, it was highlighted red, if they kind of knew it and/or could figure it out in context, they marked it yellow, and if they 100 percent understood and could use the word, they colored it green. Words rated red or yellow or marked below 4 or 5 (students being able to define and use words in a sentence) became the targeted words they were responsible for learning during that vocabulary cycle. 



You may be thinking that students might try fib a little on these self-ratings scales so that they have fewer words to study. I'm sure someone might try it, but because students knew that they were really only hurting their own learning, in the end, I really never had a problem with it. 

You can make your own ratings sheet or develop your own system, but if you're short on time, feel free to check out the one I made by clicking the image above or click here for your copy. 

Thanks so much for stopping by today! Don't forget--if you have a question or comment, feel free to leave it for me below. I love hearing from you!
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