Integrating Technology and Interactive Learning Logs to Improve Vocabulary Acquisition in Fourth Graders in an Area of Poverty

Polly D. Westfall

Fourth Grade Teacher, Union Elementary School, Brunswick County Schools


When I moved to Brunswick County, I learned that all of its elementary schools were Title I schools. The school system and individual schools were working diligently to give their students a strong academic foundation, but many of the students were lacking some of the basic literacy skills needed to be successful. Their vocabulary was deficient. It was in my position as a Writing Specialist where I saw a huge discrepancy between the vocabulary words used by the students based on their backgrounds. I wanted to level the playing field for my impoverished students, giving them the same chance to excel as their more adept peers. This year, I moved to Union Elementary School and took a position as a fourth grade teacher in a self-contained class. My school is one of the Title I schools who received praise from NC DPI for being a "high progress school". This means my school is making the most progress in improving the performance of all of our students over the past several years on our EOG assessments. However, when initially assessing my students, I noted the simplicity in the words expressed in their daily speaking and writing. I knew this was an area I could alter.I delved into research regarding three topics: acquisition of vocabulary, poverty, and technology. I discovered the research-based vocabulary program, the Word-Up Project, and decided to test its program with my own twenty-one, diverse fourth graders in my Language Arts class. My action research project studied the students' acquisition of Tier Two vocabulary words. Tier two words appear frequently in the the texts my students read. In my study, students took two diagnostic vocabulary screenings, weekly pre-tests and posttests, and two comprehensive assessments at the conclusion of the project. Combining the use of writing in an interactive learning log, the fourteen week Word-Up program from Flocabulary, along with daily games and activities to keep the word acquisition fresh and interesting, my fourth graders of diverse backgrounds made great gains in their vocabulary acquisition. In fact, there was only a slight difference between males and females, students from diverse ethnicities, and students with or without technology access at home when comparing the mean, mode, and median of pre-tests and posttests. Attendance, however, was a difference maker. In this study, students were interviewed and surveyed to compare their attitudes and opinions about the way they learned words in the past compared to their new acquisition of words. This is a program that could be easily replicated in any classroom to give students a better chance at success in all realms of literacy, including reading, writing, listening, and speaking!

About the Governor's Teacher Network

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The Governor's Teacher Network (GTN) was established by North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory, in partnership with the NC Department of Public Instruction (NCDPI). This initiative, funded by the state’s Race to the Top grant, provides a statewide platform for teachers to share their best work around instruction and professional development and help advance Race to the Top (RttT) funded educational remodeling efforts across the state.

Through the GTN, approximately 450 outstanding teachers from across North Carolina were selected to serve for one year as instructional and professional development experts and facilitators. Network teachers remained in their current roles but worked to gain a deeper understanding of the State's RttT-funded work in one of two "pathways," both related to the establishment of Home Base.

In Pathway 1, teachers created professional development sessions and materials (face-to-face, webinars and/or online content) to address classroom instructional needs and increase the PD offerings in the state-wide Professional Development system in Home Base. Projects were developed from action research performed in participating teachers' classrooms. This wiki represents the product of that action research and professional development.