Dyan Branstetter | February 2016

Academic Vocabulary and the Arts: Part 2

Last week, I shared information on academic vocabulary, and how vocabulary development is crucial to students’ success in school.

A quick recap: Dr. Isabel Beck categorized highly specialized words, such as vocabulary words from specific subject areas (i.e. octave, democracy). Academic vocabulary is not included in a tier. Instead, these words are labeled as “traveling words”, because they include terms students need in order to be successful on a test, and they also cross disciplines through common vocabulary terms. These are words such as “determine”, “analyze”, “judge”, “elements”, etc.

Common Academic Vocabulary

Finding shared academic vocabulary not only helps students demonstrate what they know. It also eliminates the barrier that is unknown words to them. It strengthens their understanding of the word in the arts context as well, by forming a connection across disciplines, and making students’ understanding of the word more meaningful. My suggestion for the arts teachers in my district was to review the lists of academic vocabulary words, and extract the words that make a natural connection to their specific arts area. Then, explicitly use those words when they fit into the arts curriculum. To truly make the sharing of these academic vocabulary words effective, it is crucial that teachers have a consistent vocabulary. These words would be a great addition to a “word wall”, so that they stand out to students.

I have included a document that contains the academic vocabulary words found in informative and argumentative writing. However, these are specific to just the Pennsylvania Core Standards. You will see that many of them cross disciplines, and could be related to art or music. The document also includes academic vocabulary words from the PA Core Glossary for ELA Anchors Eligible Content that are shared with the 2002 Pennsylvania Standards for Arts and Humanities. I’m sure there are more connections with the National Core Standards for the Arts, but our curriculum is based on the PA Standards. You can find these documents here: AcademicVocabArts

Acquiring Vocabulary:

When teaching vocabulary, Dr. Robert Marzano found a striking achievement gap in vocabulary acquisition between students who came to school with vast background knowledge and students without. After numerous studies, he developed six steps teachers can use to close that gap This allows all students to learn and retain new vocabulary words. This six-step process could be used for teaching your Tier Three vocabulary words (specific to an arts area), and for introducing academic vocabulary that relates to your specialty.

Marzano’s Six Steps to Building Academic Vocabulary:

  1. The teacher provides a description, explanation, or example of the new term.
  2. In an effort to understand, students restate the explanation of the new term in their own words.
  3. Next, students create a nonlinguistic representation of the term.
  4. Every now and then, students should participate in activities that add to their knowledge of vocabulary terms.
  5. Periodically, students will be asked to discuss the terms with one another.
  6. Students should be involved in games that allow them to play with the terms.

You can find a great, detailed printable of these steps from Jen Jones at Hello Literacy here: https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/9493103/Hello%20Literacy/Vocabulary%20Marzano%20Steps%20Descriptors.pdf, and a video clip explaining Marzano’s research on vocabulary here: http://www.ascd.org/ASCD/media/siteASCD/common/six_step_flash.html)



About the Author

Dyan is a fifth grade teacher in a public school district in Lancaster, PA and has over 16 years of classroom experience. With a Masters of Science Education and a passion for dance and music, she strives to integrate the arts into the curriculum whenever possible. Dyan has a background in teaching advanced learners, and is devoted to using project based learning to help her students achieve 21st century learning skills and master the PA Core Standards.