Layered Language Learning

Layered Language Learning photo

On Aug. 20 & 21, thanks to the efforts of district administrators Ms. Pamela Fine, Dr. Maureen Hull, and Ms. Eileen Kelly-Gorman, renowned staff developer Amy Benjamin visited educators throughout the district to help enhance student reading comprehension, fluency, writing, and oral communication in all content areas. This professional development course was designed to help faculty and staff from a variety of grade levels to hone in on academic vocabulary and to give specific attention to those working with non-native speakers of English.

"Over recent years, there has been a tremendous amount of research related to how people acquire language,” said Mrs. Fine. “This research has prompted educators to reflect on the instructional practices employed in our classrooms and to identify the most effective techniques to help students learn academic vocabulary.”
The workshop began with debunking ideas about how children learn academic vocabulary. Groups discussed questions such as “Is learning new words cognitively difficult?” and “Should teachers not use big words in class to avoid confusion in students with vocabulary deficits?”

Ms. Benjamin shared her knowledge and research in engaging ways, including research and personal anecdotes, exploring language acquisition, and helping staff members grasp a deeper understanding of the English language.

“There are no such thing as hard words,” she told the staff members, “just infrequent ones. The English language is layered, so frequency, context, and reputation are important aspects of learning it more in-depth.”

Throughout the rest of the two-day work shop, staff members were shown specific practices to best teach vocabulary, worked together to identify relationships between words, and played different games to learn the meanings of word parts.

“We learn words because we can’t help it,” said Ms. Benjamin, “so as educators we need we teach in a way that our children can’t help but learn what they need to know!”