In my second year of teaching, our school had a professional development with Tim Rasinski, who takes a whole different approach to literacy then what is generally taught in schools now. He believes in the power of teaching reading through songs and games, basically on the premise that familiarity breeds fluency.
After his PD, I was inspired to put a twist on what my former assistant principal did in her classroom, which was assign monetary values to words kids were learning. The more impressive the word in it’s novelty, the greater its value. I adapted this to capitalize on my general education fifth graders’ interest in the Winter Olympics, and came up with Olympic Words. It was awesome, as kids really cultivated some new, exciting vocabulary that became a regular part of their speech and writing. Please check out these posts for more information: Let the Games Begin! and Let the Games Continue!
Two days ago, as I was reading Chrysanthemum with my third grade class of students with disabilities, my mind traveled back to Olympic Words when one of the students asked, “What does ‘dreadful’ mean?” It would have been easier for her had she known the meaning of the word “pleasant,” which is juxtaposed with “dreadful” in the book. I didn’t want to simply give the answer away (as I have learned quickly, the level of independence a 3rd grader has versus a 2nd grader is significant). So I said, with the kind of face that would give them a clue, “So, some kids think math is realllllly dreadful. Do you think math is dreadful?” Here, another girl called out, “No! I love math!”
It was obvious she got the drift. But did the other kids? “Okay, so we have someone who doesn’t think math is dreadful, she loves it. Does anyone think math is dreadful?” Unanimously, they said no. “Okay, so what do you think dreadful means?” They deduced it – “dreadful” must be something, “ugly,” “bad” or “awful.”
I put the word on a paper plate (hey, that’s all I had handy at this exciting moment) and made a point to pepper it throughout the rest of that day and yesterday. My knowledge of second language acquisition is not great, but I do know kids need to hear a word many times before they feel comfortable enough to use it. By the second day of hearing it, some were feeling brave enough.
Now, it’s becoming clear to me that, although it would have been tricky to do an Olympic Words program with my first and second graders last year, it won’t be nearly as hard with my third graders this year. Something tells me this class is going to want to go for the gold.
Wouldn’t that be pleasant?