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


Polly Westfall, Union Elementary School, Brunswick County Schools


Area of focus statement

Will intensive instruction through the use of Flocabulary and the Word-Up Project, along with note-taking using different types of graphic organizers in an interactive learning log and daily interaction with the words aid students in their acquisition of Tier 2 academic vocabulary words over the course of a sixteen week period?

Context of study

  • I am a veteran teacher with over thirty years of teaching experience in several different elementary school settings in three different states. I have experience in every grade level. After seventeen years teaching in Guilford County, primarily in a neighborhood school in Adams Farm of Greensboro, I moved to a more rural setting in Brunswick County Schools. First, I served as a Writing Specialist at Belville where I discovered a real void in my students' use of strong academic vocabulary words in context to reading, as well as in their speaking and writing. Writing is my passion and I knew that I wanted to help make a difference for all of my students by strengthening their word choices in their writing.
  • This year I transferred to Union Elementary School in Brunswick County and although I loved being a Writing Teacher, I missed the relationships with the students in the regular classroom. I have twenty-six students in my diverse, self-contained classroom, but my action research project focused on my twenty-one Language Arts students. My AIG students are pulled out during this block, so my students are a wide range of learners including three African-American students, six Hispanic students, two Multi-racial students, and ten Caucasian students. I have ten boys and eleven girls in this group. Only seven of my twenty-one students had access to any type of technology at home including a computer, a laptop, a tablet, or a smart phone. Using data from the End of Grade Tests in 2013-14, two of my readers had scale scores of 428, Level One. Five students scored Level Two including three students who scored in the 35 percentile or lower with scores ranging from 432 to 436, and two twin boys who arrived in mid-September after being out of school since mid-May. Four students received passing scores through the Read to Achieve program. Five additional students scored Level Three, passing scores, but not considered proficient for college or career readiness. Nine of the students scored at that proficiency level, Level Four. None of these students scored in the new Level Five range.
  • Union Elementary is an incredible school, where the principals are extremely supportive, welcoming, and encouraging. My principal supported my project by funding Flocabulary for me and by mid-January, she found a way to purchase a subscription for the entire school. Union is the top-rated elementary school in our county, scoring a B on the state's strict grading scale. This year, Union was recognized as one of North Carolina's 2014 Title I Reward Schools, which means it is "among the ten percent of Title I schools in the state that are making the most progress in improving the performance of the 'all students' group over a number of years on the statewide assessments." (ncpublicschools.org, 2015)
Union's Website

Purpose of the project

The purpose of this action research project was to measure and describe the effects of a multi-modal teaching strategy which included the use of Flocabulary and the Word Up Project, along with games, activities, and graphic organizers in an interactive learning log to aid fourth grade students in a Title I school in their acquisition of Tier 2 High Frequency/Multiple Meaning vocabulary words.

What I hoped to accomplish


In the past, students have learned vocabulary words in old fashioned ways, by talking about words in their reading books each week, or by memorizing a list of definitions after defining them in a dictionary. Many times students see sight words on Word Walls or Tier Three Academic Domain Words that correlate with Math, Science or Social Studies topics. My students and many others like them lacked the Tier Two words and I wanted to improve their chances of being equal during wide reading experiences. I know that 21st century students learn in different ways than students of the past. I wanted to introduce my students to a highly engaging web-based program, the Word Up Program in Flocabulary. I hoped to engage my students with the Flocabulary raps, songs, and activities which would allow my students to participate in multi-modal learning as they sang along, added movements, and engaged with the words. To assist in the acquisition of the Tier Two words, I wanted my students to write the words weekly, gaining their own insights to the definitions and ways to connect to the words through the use of various graphic organizers. My ultimate goal was to help all of my students, no matter what gender, ethnicity, or poverty level to become proficient with the Tier Two words, giving them the ability to succeed with grade level material as they read, write, listen, and speak. I wanted my students to enjoy the experience of playing with words, so they could become collectors of words! I also wanted my students to learn how to build vocabulary, so that they can continue to use these strategies as they get older to acquire new words in different contexts.

Importance

This change is important to me because it aids in literacy. When I have parent conferences, I realize that many of my students are actually more literate in fourth grade than some of their parents. We must break this cycle and give our students tools to be successful. All of my research linked the importance of intentional instruction on vocabulary. When students have an emphasis on word acquisition, their entire focus shifts and they become word collectors. Ultimately, I want my students to have a chance to be successful in the career of their choice, but they must be literate readers, writers, speakers, and listeners in order to succeed. The Word Up project begins in kindergarten and goes through eighth grade. It also has a program for high schools with SAT prep words. What if every child had the same access to these words in all schools? We truly could close a part of the achievement gap, while bringing a bit of joy back to the classroom.

The activity

  • To begin, I pre-assessed my students with two diagnostic vocabulary screenings, the Core Vocabulary Screening created by Academic Therapy Publications in 2008 and the Word Up Diagnostic Screening.
  • Students completed a survey regarding prior ways to acquire vocabulary words.
  • Each week, for fourteen full weeks, students were given a pre-test on Monday using the Orange Level Word Up Program for fourth grade from Flocabulary.
  • On Mondays, students completed a graphic organizer in their learning logs to define the words and make some type of personal connection. Based on suggested research, the type of organizer varied to keep the students' interest from week to week.
  • During the week, students listened to the raps, sang, danced, created movements, played games, and completed various activities with the words. They interacted with peers to read, write, listen, and speak using the words in context. Essentially, they played with the words and this became an interactive, enjoyable experience.
  • On Fridays, students took a posttest on the ten vocabulary words.
  • Weekly, individuals recorded data in their data notebooks which included the pre-test score, posttest score, number of words gained, and words missed. Students who missed words were given more specific word organizers to help them learn the words they had missed.
  • At the end of the program, students were assessed again with the Core Vocabulary Screening and the Word Up Final Assessment.
  • Students were interviewed and surveyed throughout the program informally and formally to diagnose their opinions and attitudes regarding this type of instruction and the actual acquisition of Tier Two words.
  • Videotaped segments recorded the students at different intervals throughout the study.

Problem of practice question

  1. Will the students show an increase in their core vocabulary words from their pre-assessment to their final assessment using a Core Vocabulary Diagnostic Screening?
  2. Will students show a significant gain on the diagnostic test for the Word Up Project from the beginning of the instruction to the completion of the fourteen week program?
  3. Will students who complete the Level Orange Flocabulary video lessons show growth from their pre-tests to their posttests of weekly words?
  4. Will there be a significant difference between the scores of students with access to technology at home, compared to the students who can only access Flocabulary at school?
  5. Will there be a difference between the acquisition of males and females?
  6. Will there be a difference between the acquisition of different ethnicities?
  7. Will attendance have an impact on the vocabulary acquisition of the twenty-one fourth graders during the fourteen week period?