CCTL Mini-Grant Proposal Sharon Green, Reading Coordinator, Office of Academic Support email@example.com; ext. 8071 May 2007 TOWARD A MORE AUTHENTIC LEARNER-CENTERED APPROACH TO VOCABULARY DEVELOPMENT Proposed Project LSK 045, “Vocabulary Enrichment,” was introduced in 1999 to address students’ need to acquire collegelevel vocabulary. Students are recommended for LSK 045 based on their score on the Vocabulary sub-test of the Nelson-Denny Reading Test, administered during CARE. In fall, about 40-50 students enroll in the course; in spring, about 4-10 students. Since 2001, the text has been Advanced Word Power by Johnson & Gamer (Townsend Press). We typically cover 20 chapters, with 10 words per chapter. However, I am dissatisfied with this instructor-oriented approach because students do not select the words they will learn. . Natural acquisition of vocabulary occurs through listening and reading; the latter usually provides a richer vocabulary. As Rubin points out, “A good vocabulary and good reading go hand in hand…the more you read, the more words you will add to your vocabulary” (1). And although as Harrington reminds us, “Reading is the most effective – and enjoyable – way to build vocabulary,” many students who place into LSK 045 are infrequent readers. Advanced Word Power and other textbooks on the market do not address this deficit. In addition, a frequent admission made by LSK 045 students is that when they encounter unfamiliar words, they usually don’t bother to look up their meanings. The current workbook approach to LSK 045 does not give students an opportunity to change this passive behavior. Further, because students take courses with different reading requirements, the words in any workbook may not be the words that students will encounter when they read. Although there is merit in expanding one’s general college-level vocabulary, workbooks remain, at best, an artificial approach, and at worst, a passive approach. As a first step in addressing this problem, in fall 2003 I began supplementing Advanced Word Power by asking students to self-select and define words from the nonfiction book Not Without My Daughter (sample assignment sheet attached). Although I was reluctant to add a 420-page book to a non-credit one-creditequivalent course, reading is a more authentic approach to vocabulary acquisition. As Nilson reminds us, “A successful course must be relevant to the needs…of its students” (12). To determine whether students found this book assignment onerous, I wrote an assessment instrument. Results have consistently shown that students like this book and can easily find 100 unfamiliar words, and because they enjoy the book they don’t feel burdened by the assignment. In fact, some students even read ahead of deadlines, and many want to know more about the people and events depicted in the book. Their positive responses have paved the way for this project. Since LSK 045 meets for only 80 minutes a week, it is difficult to adequately cover both Not Without My Daughter and the workbook, and since the course is non-credit, additional assignments are a concern. Therefore, in fall 2007 I plan to eliminate the workbook in LSK 045. In its place, I will implement a more authentic approach to learning vocabulary: students will learn words from three high-interest fiction or nonfiction books. The goal of this approach is to help students become more active learners, while achieving the learning outcomes for LSK 045. Expanding on my experiment with Not Without My Daughter, students will now self-select words while reading books throughout the semester. Approximately the first three weeks of the course will focus on words from the 2007 Niagara Reads selection, The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini. Students will then read Not Without My Daughter, and for the remaining 5-6 weeks students will learn words in Lucky by Alice Sebold. I will directly teach the more challenging words, especially those with Latin or Greek etymology. Students will then work actively in small groups to teach self-selected words to one another. This will also provide opportunities to practice pronunciation. In addition, students will do a creative project integrating words into a skit, a dialogue, a poem, or song lyrics or by making visual representations. In addition, I will supplement the reading with activities related to the books. For example, I plan to show the DVD Without My Daughter, which presents a very different version of the events recounted in Not Without My Daughter. This project, which will be piloted in fall 2007, will serve as a prototype to move LSK 045 toward my ultimate goal of pairing it with two courses with heavy freshmen enrollment. These courses would include at least one fiction or non-fiction book. Examples might include Professor Ken Culton’s SOC 101 which uses Nickel and Dimed: On [Not] Getting By in America, or REL 101 taught by Professor Brian Bennett, who assigns about four nonfiction and fiction books. Ideally, one section of LSK 045 would be paired with one course and the other section with a different course, to provide students more choice in course selection. Further, I plan to integrate large- and small-group discussion of the content of the books, as well as written assignments, to provide students with opportunities to use the new words they’re learning. Students who seldom read may have limited background knowledge, which can be a disadvantage in college. Not Without My Daughter provides an opportunity to learn about Iran in the 1980s, and The Kite Runner will provide an opportunity to learn about the history and culture of late-20th century Afghanistan. Evaluating the project and analyzing the data I will evaluate this project in a number of ways. First, I will develop a Likert-type instrument to assess students’ perceptions of the format of the course and of each book. It will include reflective questions to invite detailed responses to this more active reading-centered approach. Then I will analyze the results. Second, I will observe students during class, noting any problems and using my observations to make adjustments in subsequent semesters. Third, I will have ongoing discussions about this new course format with the other LSK 045 instructor, Mrs. Ginny Pasceri. Fourth, I will monitor the time it will take to write new tests and assignments, since we have other job responsibilities in addition to teaching. Fifth, I will compare assignment completion and test scores with the new course format to the previous format. Sixth, I will review course evaluations. Finally, at the end of LSK 045 students take the Vocabulary sub-test of an alternate form of the Nelson-Denny Reading Test; I will compare the average gain from pre- to post-test scores to the average gain in previous semesters. Sharing outcomes I plan to submit a proposal to present my project at the January CCTL conference. I also plan to submit a proposal at the state level, for the annual symposium of the New York College Learning Skills Association (NYCLSA), and at the national level for the annual conference of the National Association for Developmental Education (NADE) or the College Reading and Learning Association (CRLA). I have presented at each of these conferences in the past. References Bain, Ken. What the Best College Teachers Do. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2004. Elster, Charles H. “The Benefits of Building Your Vocabulary.” Succeed Magazine, Fall 1995. Green, Sharon. “Developing a ‘Mini’ Course in Vocabulary.” Michigan Developmental Education Consortium Newsletter, Winter 2002. Nilson, Linda. Teaching at Its Best: A Research-Based Resource for College Instructors. Bolton, MA: Anker Publishing Company, Inc., 1998. Rubin, Dorothy. Gaining Word Power. 5th ed. Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 2000. Smith, Brenda D. The Reader’s Handbook: Reading Strategies for College and Everyday Life. New York: Longman, 2003.