Most vocabulary workbooks have one fatal flaw: they require memorization as the first and usually the only step in the acquisition of words. This program does not.
We strongly believe—and evidence shows—that while memorization is important, it must not be the first means that students use to learn new words. In this program, instead of first being given definitions and answers, students will use word parts and context clues to figure out the possible meanings of words. This thinking and reasoning process is extremely important as it prepares the ground of the students’ minds for the sowing of new seed-words into their long term memory.
The point is simple—yet essential: memorization must not be the first step in vocabulary acquisition. Inductive and deductive reasoning must preempt all other activity because reasoning is preparatory for deep learning and real understanding.
When students actively participate in the learning process, when their minds are thoughtfully engaged in the first encounter with any new knowledge that must be acquired, it is far easier for them to understand, remember, and apply that knowledge throughout their lives.
Every educator must, therefore, ask the supreme question: How does this lesson create an opportunity for the student to thoughtfully and confidently participate in the learning process?
Flash cards have their place, but students get bored with this approach, and words lose all of their beauty, significance, and fascination when drilled into short term memory. Regurgitation is never pleasant, and eating with the sole purpose of regurgitation is considered a destructive disorder (unless you are of ancient Roman aristocratic lineage). So why do we make students learn this way? When memorization is used as a factual foundation, it’s fine. But when it’s used as learning itself, it results in stunted growth, and short, nasty nightmares (we dare not say memories) of education.
Where there is no feeling, there is no learning. Words must be felt. They must be experienced. Experience always trumps memorization. We don’t memorize tunes: we experience them. They just linger in our minds because we experience them emotionally; therefore, if it is possible, words must “come to life” for students. Each word carries its own emotional seed. Each word can be linked to something or to other words that convey some meaning beyond its denotation. To get students to “enter into the word” is crucial. Even if their “experience” is participating in the process of discovering, or decoding, or creating the words, their chances of remembering and using the words are greatly improved.
Someone passionate about words, someone in love with their meanings, subtleties, origins, and parts can make all the difference in a student’s encounter with words. When Steve Jobs would hold (or rather caress) an iPhone in his hand during its newest launch, even his detractors and competitors would feel the blush of his passion and a certain unstoppable impulse to find out what he was “so damned excited about.” This is true of students. Even the most lackadaisical student would become intrigued—if not energized—to find out what this teacher-person was so “excited about.” The subject can be anything from anatomy to zoology (even geology): it doesn’t matter! An excited teacher—someone passionately in love with his or her subject—can make a student interested even in something as arcane and soporific as the various striations in rocks. The challenge, then, is not for the student to learn, but for the teacher to create effective ways to engage the student so that he or she becomes an active, willing, and thus successful participant in the process of learning. To this end, we present our vocabulary program, hoping that it will become another good means for parents and class-room teachers to use to engage, exercise, and expand their students’ minds as active participants in the lifelong—and life-giving— process of learning.
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Rev. Vieira is a former high school master teacher, and the founder and president of ScholarSkills Learning Center.