In recent posts I have argued, vigorously, that 21st century learning does, indeed, teach content and is serious about it– and indeed, we believe our contemporary teaching techniques teach content better.    And in my recent post on the 21k12 model, what we are serious about, I listed as number 12, that we are serious about research (or evidence) based teaching methodology, and I listed Robert Marzano as the leading national figure in this evidence based approach.  (I have appreciated Marzano previously on this blog.) Ed. Leadership,  in its recent excellent issue, is initiating Marzano as a new regular columnist, and this is an excellent thing.

Marzano’s piece is on teaching vocabulary effectively, and vocabulary, most certainly, is content, is knowledge, and I here loudly endorse the importance of this!   Marzano offers six, research tested and research demonstrated, steps for effective vocabulary teaching:

  1. Provide a description, explanation, or example of the new term.
  2. Ask students to restate the description, explanation, or example in their own words.
  3. Ask students to construct a picture, pictograph, or symbolic representation of the term.
  4. Engage students periodically in activities that help them add to their knowledge of the terms in their vocabulary notebooks.
  5. Periodically ask students to discuss the terms with one another.
  6. Involve students periodically in games that enable them to play with terms.

These studies have taught us several things about this six-step strategy. First, the strategy works at every grade level, from kindergarten to high school. Second, it works better if you use all the steps without leaving any out. In one middle school study, teachers found that thewhole process enhanced students’ achievement much more than the parts of the process in isolation did.

I think this list is very much demonstrative of 21st century learning.  This is content learning by students doing, not by students listening.   Kids need to restate in their own words, they need to make a picture or visual representation, they need to collaborate.

And Marzano goes further in our direction: “When students copy the teacher’s explanation or description of a term instead of generating their own explanation, the results are not as strong. Ideally, student explanations should come from their own lives.”  As this blog says repeatedly, (and contrary to Ravitch’s mockery), students learn more and more effectively when they connect the subject of their learning to their own lives.

Finally, we all want to believe that learning is most effective when it is most fun, and Marzano provides good evidence to this effect:

Games seem to engage students at a high level and have a powerful effect on students’ recall of the terms. Games not only add a bit of fun to the teaching and learning process, but also provide an opportunity to review the terms in a nonthreatening way. After the class has played a vocabulary game, the teacher should invite students to identify difficult terms and go over the crucial aspects of those terms in a whole-class discussion.

This last makes for a perfect segue to a recent blog post over at edutopia by Jim Moulton called “How the internet can help kids build their vocabulary.”  These are fun and interactive on-line games to support kids learning, and would be well utilized to fulfill Marzano’s suggestions.   One, in particular, would seem to reinforce the Marzano urging of teaching kids to visualize words: “Visuwords.com is a free online graphical dictionary that can help kids see the complexity of language.”   I took a quick look at visuwords, and it looks really cool— definitely something fun to try in class.

But others also are enticing:

Marzano and edutopia together: Let’s teach more content knowledge via better, more contemporary,  active and fun, learning methods.