Monday, April 20, 2009

Topic: Vocabulary (1)

10-second review: Three useful, practical methods for teaching vocabulary in secondary schools.

Title: “Building Word Knowledge.” Raymond Stopper. Teaching English, How To…. Xlibris. 2004.

Vocabulary and the SAT

For most of the years that I was a K-12 English supervisor, [1970 to 1990] the Verbal Section of the SAT consisted of three vocabulary sections and one reading comprehension section. Those three vocabulary sections—antonyms, analogies and sentence completions—made the SAT truly what it was called, an aptitude test, or, in other words, an IQ test, that had little or no relationship to students’ achievement in English courses.

Admissions people at the college level and college presidents, particularly, of the California State University System, began to realize that a high IQ or SAT Verbal Test, did not guarantee high achievement in the first year of college. For example, the US Naval Academy complained to the guidance counselors at our high school that their students had very high SAT scores, on average, but could not write. The SAT had nothing to do with writing—at that time. It consisted only of vocabulary and reading comprehension, heavy on the vocabulary, three out of the four sections on the Verbal SAT.

Students did not know that the SAT Verbal Section was not an achievement test, thinking it was similar to the Math Section, which truly did test math, and, of course, when they didn’t do well on the SAT, they blamed the English department which taught writing, grammar, speaking, and literature. The Reading Section of the Verbal SAT consisted of passages from every discipline, and, occasionally literature. History, Social Studies Science and just about every other discipline appeared in the reading passages of the Verbal SAT.

The English department was blamed for the decline in SAT scores, no matter what our English teachers did to tighten and improve the teaching of writing, grammar, speaking and literature. No wonder. The SAT was not an achievement test in English. No one would listen to me. But the President of the California University system discovered it for himself and threatened not to accept the SAT unless it became more of an achievement test.

Since people at ETS, the makers of the SAT sold their test to make money, they now began to fiddle with the SAT for fear that colleges would begin to follow California’s threatened lead. First, the SAT dropped the antonyms and, later, substituted the writing test for the analogies, leaving the sentence completion test as the only vocabulary test on the SAT. So vocabulary is no longer as significant on the SAT Verbal Test as it once was. And, since the SAT is now testing writing—a 25-minute writing sample and a usage/style objective test—the makers of the test can claim that the Verbal Test is now an English achievement test, even if the sentence completion vocabulary test and the reading comprehension test are based on vocabulary and reading passages from all disciplines.

Why Is Vocabulary Development Important?

Still, vocabulary development is an important part of the English program, not just because of the SAT, but because a knowledge of words increases the range of ideas available to people, enriching their personalities; because a knowledge of words is related to IQ; because a knowledge of words is vital to skilled communication in writing and speaking; and because a knowledge of words is essential to comprehension of reading material.

What Does a Complete Vocabulary Program Consist Of?

In my opinion, a complete vocabulary program at the secondary level involves pre-teaching difficult words before reading assignments in every discipline, using an effective vocabulary development textbook and providing a system for students to collect and practice the unfamiliar words they meet in their independent reading.

Next: Pre-Teaching Vocabulary Before Reading Assignments in All Subjects. RayS.

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