George Watson’s College: extending pupils’ vocabulary
Our journey to using Vocab started with a positive reflection – our pupils have a wide vocabulary which supports reading and comprehension.
Nevertheless, a key area we always look to develop is the transfer of vocabulary to creative and functional writing. We have a text rich Literacy curriculum with many of our pupils setting personal targets to extend and improve their vocabulary.
This in mind and having previously used ReadingWise’s Decoding and Comprehension programmes, we were keen to explore Vocab. Vocab is an online programme designed to strengthen the words we as teachers introduce in context in the classroom – tier 2 words, topic-specific lists, vocabulary from books being read as a class etc.
The Vocab pilot
George Watson’s College’s Junior School was one of 32 schools across the UK that participated in a four-month pilot of Vocab, delivered through intervention groups and whole class delivery, as directed by the teachers involved.
During the pilot, we had two groups of pupils, one in Primary 5 and the other in Primary 6, accessing the Vocab module. Each pupil throughout both groups had their own username and password with me allocating them the words. All schools used 39 words across 10-minute sessions, two to three times per week.
Vocab proved to be a simple, highly effective and enjoyable online resource for our pupils. The Vocab pilot report provides more detail on the results and returns from all schools involved.
After such a successful trial, we decided the optimum year group for the continued use of the Vocab module was our Primary 6. So, for the remaining school session, the pupils are continuing to work through the tier 2 Vocabulary word list and the Background Word list. (The Background Word list consists of over 1,900 tier 2 words together with Coxhead's academic word list. It is the default list for learners who have not been allocated a specific word list by their teacher.)
The pupils are responding positively, enjoying learning new words and exploring antonyms and synonyms for vocabulary that they are already familiar with, alongside the Vocab module cleverly identifying how well each pupil knows the words they’re learning.
How Vocab works
Vocab learns how well your learners understand a word. A 'definition card' is attached to each word with the meaning, an example sentence, synonyms, antonyms and an image. As a learner gains confidence with each word, the definition card becomes more challenging – the image disappears, then the synonyms and antonyms, and lastly the example sentence. If the learner makes a mistake, then the framework returns until they have mastered it. Once learners have grasped a word it flags it as ‘mastered’.
Furthermore, the intelligent technology behind Vocab re-exposes learners to mastered words, reinforcing and embedding those words in learners' long-term memories. The programme repeats words at key intervals – ReadingWise explains the science of memory and explores the famous work of Ebbinghaus in another blogpost. In short, we tend to forget up to 75% of what we learn within 24 hours. Vocab interrupts the tendency to forget new things by overlearning at deliberate intervals.
In terms of what is needed next, we are working alongside ReadingWise with dedicated help from the Community team, to develop vocabulary lists to support our wider curriculum. The team recently uploaded vocabulary for “Wonder” by R.J Palacio – 100 words from parts 1-3 of the story – at our request, so our Primary 6 pupils can be supported while working on the book. We anticipate that through frequent reinforcement of the target vocabulary every day in our lessons, we will see a positive impact on extended writing. I hope to review results at the end of the Summer term and provide an update thereafter on how the pupils are progressing.