Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Wednesday Words

Lovely lady, 15, told me a story last night. To paraphrase:
"We had a test today in English. You know those problems that go 'This is to this as That is to...' Yeah, analogies. Well, I did really well. But most of the people in class didn't do very well. So the teacher was trying to figure out why, and she asked, 'How many of you know what the word "elated" means?' And only a third of the class raised their hands."

Two-thirds of a class of high-school sophomores didn't know the word "elated". Which pretty well explains why they didn't do well on the analogy test. If you don't know what words mean, you can't compare them to other words or ideas. Lovely lady did go on to say that the teacher, who's had these students for only nine weeks, went on to say that she needs to teach some basic vocabulary. I said to lovely lady, "Aren't you glad that we started working through that list of words everyone should know by the time they graduate high school?" (100 Words Every High School Graduate Should Know) Vocabulary is important after all. Not just so that one can perform well on a test, but so that one can understand what others are saying or writing.

On another vocabulary note, a noun is called "noun". Why is it assumed that a second-grader is not capable of learning the real word for a concept? "Find the naming word." says fine young gent's Language Arts book. He's heard me gripe about this little peeve so often that he now crosses it out himself and carefully writes "noun" above. Same with "action word" and "describing word". Last week, he read his instructions, rolled his eyes and said in a peeved voice "Mom, it's an adjective." (I'm teaching this kid right. It's not my fault, honest. Blame my mom.)

Why should we "dumb things down"--a phrase I'm not particularly fond of in general, but which seems appropriate in this context--in order to make concepts seem easier or more learnable at a developmental stage in which children's young brains are primed for learning new words? I can see writing "noun (a naming word)" initially to help define the concept, but to leave out the word altogether, particularly in a language curriculum, seems shortsighted.

Vocabulary is important. I want my children to know the correct words for the concepts they're learning. They're walking around in the world soaking up the language around them. If we don't use "big" words when we're speaking or writing to children, and if we rewrite new ideas only in words they already know, how in heaven's name will they learn new ones?

Like "elated" perhaps?

1 comment:

Nina said...

Two thirds didn't know the word elated, really? My four year old understands the basic idea of the word. School or homeschool, I think parents need to be more involved in their child's education. I'm going to order the 100 words book from the library.