A lot of vocabulary is learned indirectly, however some should be taught directly. Direct instruction assists students when learning to read (particularly when learning difficult words and concepts). One of the direct instruction methods used is specific word instruction, which is teaching individual words prior to reading text. This also assists with reading comprehension. A student’s knowledge of a word prior to reading it in text will assist his understanding of what he read.
I recently read a National Institute for Literacy article which illustrated this concept perfectly. A teacher assigned the novel Stone Fox by John Reynolds Gardiner to her class. The novel deals with a young boy who hopes to win a dog race so that he can pay his Grandfather’s taxes on his farm. A reader must understand the concept of taxes to comprehend the novel’s plot. Prior to reading the book, if the teacher adapted specific word instruction, he would discuss the concept of taxes or ask questions to make sure the students understood the concept. I thought to myself what a great idea!
Like most things in my life I tend to go too far. Yesterday morning while everyone was still sleeping, I decided to review our finances. A few minutes later, my seven year old son woke up asking what I was doing. I told him and then proceeded using specific word instruction to teach him various banking terminology. I also discussed the concept of gross verses net pay and the various components of a paycheck in detail. I thought this is great until my husband woke up and inquired as to what we were doing and when I told him he gave me a somewhat puzzled look – did I tell you it wasn’t even 7 am? Perhaps my son would have been better off reading a book or playing a game with me but at that moment (I was still drinking my coffee) I thought about the article and I wanted to expose my son to complex concepts.
Looking back I can now laugh at myself. It is important to educate our children every chance we get but it is equally important to remember they are children. When used judiciously, the direct instruction approach can be extremely beneficial to our children by exposing them to complex concepts at an early age. As with everything in life; there needs to be a balance which I sometimes need to readjust.