Leading with Vocabulary – Another Possible (Un) Productive Structure #MTBoSBlaugust


I continue to enjoy revisiting the notes and posts from Juli Dixon on possible unproductive structures in the math classroom. In one part, she discusses that sometimes the structures are from ELA perspective and not necessarily supportive for math instruction. My big take a way – thinking about our learning goals, are they procedural or conceptual and whether the tasks I am choosing are the best for that learning sequence.

I have struggled with implementing an effective Word Wall in math class. I’ve seen examples, I’ve given effort, but it has just not been my thing. I don’t skimp on vocabulary, I have been highly aware of literacy strategies for at least the past ten years and tried to learn and implement to the best of my knowledge what works for my students.

Some of Juli’s suggestions are to move the vocabulary instruction to the end of the lesson – so more students would have access to the concepts within the lesson, especially for ELL (Cummins, 2000).

She shares that leading with everyday language will allows understanding to transfer as academic language is introduced as long as the experiences are connected. Use everyday language in context, when you moved toward the procedures, the concepts support – bring the academic language into the conversation.

Vocabulary Rating Chart

As I consider ways I bring focus to academic vocabulary, I love using the vocabulary rating chart from NCTM that @mathequalslove shared several years ago.

Part of my unit organizer.

You can see the table on the right side of this page. This would be folded into a booklet and the right side is the front of the booklet for INB. I ask students before beginning the unit to rate their understanding of the vocabulary in a mathematical context. I am not asking them to know or memorize, just tell me what you know about. I walk the room and observe their levels from 1 to 4. This gives me some idea of what topics I may need to focus on.

As we progress through the unit, we may revisit the table, using a different color pen to mark and date. But I find it most helpful to do the rating toward the end of the unit, a couple of days prior to the assessment. I am able to observe any areas I may have missed and clear up misconceptions students have immediately. This serves as a great review/formative assessment. The goal is to have everyone at a 3 or 4 level of understanding.

Desmos and Polygraph

At the beginning of a unit, I like to share a related polygraph with students. This has been effective in helping me see what the students are seeing. I let the students “play” a few rounds of Polygraph using their everyday language/ descriptions. I love to take a few snips of their responses/graphs, etc. and use them in our class examples. By using their language, and asking for clarification – what did you mean by that?, I am able to help them make connections to the academic language throughout the unit. As a post assessment of sorts – we will use the same Polygraph – but this time, they are encouraged to use our academic vocabulary. I like to create a chart – prior to the task, asking them what words we’ve learned for our “math talk.” It is a great way to see growth.

Open Sorts

Hands down, one of my favorite lessons I ever taught was using Open Sorts with Mathshell’s FAL – Representing Polynomials, shared here. One of the things I love about the FALs is having students experience a task prior to the lesson actually taking place. I am able to see their thinking/approaches and build off of their responses. Within the FAL, students are given opportunities to view big ideas through their own lense, sharing and listening to their classmates. I too get a chance to listen and learn! Throughout the lesson, I am able to take their thinking and link it to the vocabulary/concepts which are the goal in the learning sequence. In the end, students reflect on the task, then are given a similar task as an opportunity to show their learning. Here is how I took apart the original student page and turned it into a Gallery Walk.

Again, the time to listen, reflect and make sense is crucial. As a teacher, I have the opportunity to help students make the mathematical connections I want them to see within those discussions and final work.

I never was a fan of copying the definitions for vocabulary in math class. It always felt fake. I wanted my students to “experience” the vocabulary. After reading Juli’s thoughts and reflecting on what I seek to do in my classes, I feel like I am moving in a good direction.

Now, how do I transfer these ideas to remote learning? For my rating charts – a google form with a rating checklist will work. I can continue the Polygraphs during synchronous time. I plan to create some ABs in desmos and utilize collaborative Jamboards, slides and/or flipgrid in the gallery walks and FALs.

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