Wednesday, February 8, 2012

5th Grade Vocabulary

As a writer, I'm all about vocabulary.  I love words that say exactly what I mean.  Words are cool, right? 

My son is in 5th grade.  As I may have mentioned before, this year chance has provided him with a team of maniacal homework-loving 5th grade teachers.  On Monday night, he had four hours of homework, not including reading, and not including weekly packets.  At least he doesn't have time to get into any serious trouble...but, wait, 5th graders don't actually have any serious trouble to get into, do they?

My son is a very good student; he works hard and really cares.  He's the kind of kid that forgets only one homework assignment in a school year.  It's been more often this year because, well, there's easily twenty times the homework. 

Despite his hard work, he isn't really keeping up with the 'challenge' vocabulary.  When I hear the word 'challenge' related to the classroom, I think it's extra work, simply meant to...well...challenge the students without counting against them if it's too challenging.  Not so much for my son's class.  The challenge vocabulary is required.  And it's cumulative - old words show up on new tests.  They are expected to remember the definitions of the words forever, or at least until the end of the school year. 

My son dropped the ball, didn't learn the old words, and is having a hard time learning the new ones while struggling with the volume of in-class work and homework.  So I emailed the teacher and asked for the list of vocabulary words.  She sent me a packet that was something like 14 pages long.  And apparently she didn't send me all the words.  I remember quizzing him on 'irksome' but it's not in the packet, which really is irksome.  It appears she only sent me half. 

The packet has words like amalgam (a word only my dentist uses - it's his favorite word to describe fillings), ignoble (very helpful if my eleven-year-old decides to read some Jane Austen), and jingoism (my 10th grader's vocabulary word for the week). 

I told my daughter quagmire is one his words.  She said, "That's a word?"  She thought it was just the name of a character on Family Guy - apparently jokes are lost on kids that didn't go through my son's 5th grade boot camp.

The last page of the packet has sample questions for these SAT words.  That's right, SAT words in 5th grade.  Part of me thinks it's good to develop a strong vocabulary early, and part of me thinks it's absolute overkill.  What do you think?

19 comments:

  1. I'm rolling my eyes but it sounds like your school wants to educate your son. When my younger two were in school, their teachers didn't care if they knew big words or even spelled them correctly. To this day, niether one can spell anything right.

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    1. My 10th grader just learned to spell. Her elementary school teachers opted out of spelling tests and the district policy was not to teach phonics (seriously). They finally figured out that wasn't working when even the exceptional junior high kids couldn't spell.

      I wish there were consistency from year to year and half the homework in the evenings so my kid can be a kid.

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  2. Oh my goodness. Overkill! Isn't a fifth grader still supposed to be a kid?

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    1. I worry it's going to make him hate school.

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  3. That seems like waaaay too much. I thought my third grade teacher giving us a handful of vocabulary words that no other third graders were learning was a lot!

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    1. They also have weekly work on correcting sentences using rules that haven't been taught, questions asking about literary techniques like alliteration, metaphors, etc., and paragraphs where they have to pick out the main idea - but the paragraphs are formed improperly and typically state the main idea anywhere but the first sentence.

      It's an opportunity to learn these things, but only for kids whose mama is home and has a degree in Enlish Lit. Very irksome. Quite a quagmire (not sure if I used that one right).

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  4. I think education needs to be tailored to each individual person based off of their ability to soak up knowledge. If a person is very smart, then they need to be challenged. If a person is not too bright, it needs to go much slower and at a pace where they are not frustrated. But this kind of thing that I'm talking about requires MONEY and TIME and is probably not even feasible in a classroom situation.

    I'm woefully disappointed with education in our country. The ones in charge want to streamline it the same as a business. They want it to be a conveyor belt where everyone gets the rivets at the same time and where the engines are all installed simultaneously, and the paint is applied and then one engineer (read test giver) goes over the model as it falls off at the end of the conveyor belt. This is NOT how we should treat our children, and I believe it is at the root of failure in the educational system.

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    1. In my school district, which is well-funded, it's all about test scores not what the kids need. This teaching team believes in 'boot camp' style teaching, where they overwhelm the kids with work and hope most of it sticks on them. I dunno. He is very smart with a crazy high reading level. I'm just not so sure it makes sense to introduce SAT level words when they haven't taught the words below that level. I should have been a teacher...but kids are all germy and loud.

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  5. My mistake - irksome was apparently a spelling word, not vocab, along with simpler words like circle (it was the 'ir' pattern) and birthday.

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  6. Being a kid who loved words and learning new ones, I would have so loved this teacher's approach. Part of me thinks then that this should be optional. But another, bigger part of me thinks that all kids should learn how words can say precisely what you mean to say.
    I forbade my kids to use the word 'boring'. They had to find a different way to express their ennui.
    And they all remember the difference between 'less' and 'fewer'. It drives them crazy, too!

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    1. I think it would be worse if they had their feet up and weren't even trying. I wouldn't be as annoyed if they taught it more than they tested it and if they took a more systematic approach to teaching, like Michael suggested. I think if the spelling word last week was 'fire' (a pretty basic word), the vocab this week shouldn't be 'eclectic' and 'ennui' - it's a pretty big jump.

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  7. I have a problem with giving kids a list of words and having them memorize them. That has to be the least effective way of teaching vocabulary. Words are learned through context...which means reading and language. If they want children to learn a wide variety of words they should have them reading a wide variety of books, IMO.

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    1. I agree. I think they should have the kids come up with their own vocab list from whatever they are reading. It should be about actually increasing your vocabulary in context, not just about testing and grades.

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  8. I think the hours of homework and the overkill on SAT vocabulary in 5th grade are just two of the things that make kids say, "I hate school."

    My kids love school and love to learn (so not the norm amongst their friends), but it's because we homeschool for MANY years, and they returned to public school later on in the process (middle and high school).

    JMHO

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    1. That's great your kids were happy with the homeschooling. We have some homeschool families in our neighborhood and considered it.

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  9. My 4th grade teacher went out on maternity leave. She was replaced with a high school teacher who kept throwing middle school work at us in 4th grade. For most of us, it was waaay beyond our comprehension levels. That was the most frustrating school year I ever had.

    The vocabulary is good, but she should be using it on a regular basis in the classroom, too. It's hard to learn words in a void. There needs to be practice using them and hearing them in sentences.

    Pushing too hard too early does not make a kid feel good. I know this from experience. Only one super smart kid in my 4th grade class could keep up. The rest of us felt like your son, overhwhelmed and out of our league.

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    1. I wonder how much this will affect my son. I hope can just understand it's a lot and whatever he can do to get through it will help him later. He knows his sister is super smart and also knows his vocab list is a little harder than hers (10th grade), so I hope he can put it in perspective if he doesn't do well.

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  10. sounds like overkill to me!!!!

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    1. I wonder if he'll have the opposite situation next year - teachers with their feet propped up waiting for the bell to ring.

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