Students begin the day like many math classes might, working a 'starter' problem, with the exception of three students who busily wind a piece of yarn between the 'words' on the bulletin board. The students discuss where to go next with the yarn and why. They work for another minute to stretch the yarn through as many of the words as they can, as the other students finish working the starter problem. The three explain the connections they made with their yarn, "Pints connect to liters to measure wet volume, liters connect to milliliters in the metric system and milliliters connect to ounces to measure little things." The three take their seats as the class discusses today's connections, how those connections related to yesterdays, any potential clarifications, and finally, the conversation moves to the other starter.

The teacher is involved in the Kentucky Striving Readers Project. Part of a five year federally funded research grant is to develop literacy for struggling adolescent readers. Part of the grant is to implement the Collaborative Model for Content Literacy (CMCL), a cross-disciplinary literacy approach where teachers in all disciplines provide direct instruction on specific literacy strategies, and integrate those strategies into ongoing content instruction for all students (Narrative for sharing, ??). The second goal of the grant is to identify adolescent readers who are two or more years behind grade level in their reading and provide those students a rigorous intervention to bring them up to grade level in reading. All teachers in the project undergo extensive training in strategies that are intended to provide students opportunities to experience their content through communication (Biancarosa and Snow, 2004). Schools in the project have a literacy coach who teaches the intervention classes for half the day and works directly with teachers to implement the CMCL the other half (Narrative for Sharing, ??).

Many early readers fail to develop if reading instruction is not maintained in the middle and secondary grades. The project defines six sub-domains of literacy instruction; vocabulary development, reading comprehension, writing to learn, writing to demonstrate, fluency, and academic dialogue (Literacy Strand, Narrative for Sharing, ??). The six components are critical to developing understanding of content material, and to the changing nature of reading in middle and high school. Teachers in the project are provided training in the use of a common set of strategies that incorporate the goals of the sub-domains. The common set of strategies are designed to provide students a better understanding of learning processes, as well as engage and motivate the students. One common strategy that teachers have been provided is an interactive word wall to increase student experience with vocabulary. Mathematics teachers across the grant have identified vocabulary as one of their pressing concerns. Teachers want their students to better understand and be able to use the language of mathematics (NCMT, 2000).

In math classes word walls include important terminology and vocabulary from the topics being covered. They, also, include symbols that students will read and need to be able to understand, and they include numbers that students struggle with. Importantly, teachers have increased their understanding of vocabulary to include the different symbolic representations used in the language of mathematics. By using the different representations that are critical for student understanding, teachers have created opportunities for students to be able to interact with the language of mathematics intentionally.
Vocabulary usage is part of the communication process in mathematics. One way students will need to be able to do in mathematics to communicate is to read. Teachers think about the different things their students read in their class. Reading in mathematics includes being able to read charts, graphs, and diagrams. It is important to identify trouble points and include those 'terms' on their word wall with the intention of having students interact with the material during their lessons. Some researchers believe encouraging students to read is the most valuable way for them to learn the words they will need to communicate effectively, so it is important to understand what students will be reading in a math class (Rekrut, 1996).

Introducing a New Unit of Study
Teachers have developed different approaches to introduce the vocabulary to the word wall. One approach is to use the word wall as an activity to activate prior knowledge. Teachers allow students to brainstorm the words they already know about the topic being studied, share those words in small-groups, and then share findings in a whole class discussion. This approach builds student buy-in and provides the teacher with formative feedback about what the students already know about the topic. During the process students write the words on sentence strips or construction paper, add them to the word wall, and explain their understanding of the word. Quite often several groups will contribute the same word or similar words. This approach provides the teacher with a collection of terms that students have already been exposed to, still remember, and allows the teacher the opportunity to clarify misunderstandings (Renne, 2004).

Another is a text-walk through the chapter. Students look through an assigned section for key terms, symbols, formulas, etc. that they feel may be important to the unit. Teachers can allow students to add as much information as they deem necessary or limit the students to 3-5 additional items. The goal is to have students identifying terminology in advance, trying to create some understanding, becoming familiar with the text book so that it becomes more accessible to the students, and to increase student buy-in.

Teachers with multiple sections of the same course will often cover the first periods work with chart paper before creating the word wall with the second group of students. The second group of students goes through the same processes as the first, but takes the activity one-step further by uncovering the first attempt and analyzing the two groups of words. The second group has the opportunity to see the first groups thinking, compare their prior knowledge, and the teacher creates a common word wall where everyone's thinking is shared.

Words on the word wall do not all have to come from students. Teachers know what terms will be important during the unit of study and often place words on the word wall strategically. Some teachers choose to put all the words on the word wall at the beginning of the unit. Putting all the words on the word wall initially provides students more words to work with as well as gets students looking for the words before they actually experience them.

However some teachers choose to add words as they appear in class to add meaning along with the words. As words appear in class they are added physically to the wall to add importance to adding the word to the lexicon of the classroom. Teachers, also, build on the word wall by adding other representations as they are relevant to the class. When a class struggled with rounding to the nearest hundredth of a unit, a teacher added several ‘words’ or numbers that allowed students the opportunity practice that skill in planned word wall interactions.

Routine Use of the Word Wall for Instruction
Many of today's students are visual learners and the visual representation of the vocabulary supports greater learning, but just having the word walls up is not enough (Thompson, Rubenstein, 2000). Intentionally creating opportunities for students to interact with the word wall is essential to developing true understanding of the language of mathematics.

Making the word wall part of the classroom routine maximizes the impact of the strategy. Teachers will introduce the vocabulary along with definitions and examples, and coupled with strategies like the Frayer model will build a strong foundation for vocabulary (Rekrut, 1996), but learning vocabulary is a slow process and students need to see words used in writing, speaking, and listening. Continually and actively engaging students in the learning process makes the instruction more valuable (Mezynski, 1983). These processes can be short activities that take only a few minutes each day or several days a week and can be fit easily into the teaching day.
In anticipating using the word wall throughout the unit of study routinely, the teacher knew 12 + 55/8 would be a relevant expression for everyone in the class and added it to the word wall. In a unit on measurement, the teacher asks students to measure objects in the classroom, such as the dimensions of a bookshelf, books in the class, the classroom and the student desks. The width of the student desk is 175/8 inches. Knowing that the students struggle with rounding to different units of measurement (a strand in the mandated state curriculum) the teacher added 17, 17½, 17¾, and 18 to create opportunities for students to be able to interact with the word wall around a common experience. It is this kind of planning that can make the word wall a valuable instructional tool in the classroom.
Another opportunity for students to create meaning from the word wall can be making connections between different words on the word wall. To get students involved, give them a length of yarn to wind between words on the word wall that make connections. Students in the beginning may only make a few connections between words, but as the unit progresses and as students get more comfortable with the process they will be able to make more and deeper connections. One teacher intentionally uses a three foot piece of yarn so that students get more experiences with a yard. Another allows students to choose how long a piece they want to use, with a contest to see who can legitimately use the longest piece of yarn as a motivator.

One teacher uses the word wall as an activity to brainstorm what the students already know about the topic they are studying in a unit. The students break into small groups, brainstorm terms, terminology and numbers that they already know. For instance in a mini-unit on area one group contributes 1 foot is 12 inches, and explains that to find area you needed to know how to measure. Another may add that π is 3.14; both representations can go on the wall. This provides the teacher the opportunity use student input to help build engagement and provide students common experiences to build understandings.

Another uses the word wall in conjunction with a mathematical journal to have students writing about mathematics. Several times a week students will have writing prompts that originate from the word wall. One prompt is to write a mathematical sentence using three terms from the word wall that were used in class today. The sentences may be grammatical or mathematical in nature. For instance, “π is used to find circumference which is a measure of distance.” or “4 · 3.14 = 12.56 which is the circumference

In an algebra class that is studying functions, students struggle remembering the different input and output terminology. One starter in that unit might be to use a venn diagram to classify terms that deal with domain and range. Interestingly, a teacher put “x + 3” on the word wall and a student put 5 in the domain section. The student was forced to explain the reason for placing 5 in the domain, which created a discussion about putting 5 in the range if ‘2’ had been the input.
Word Wall Through the Year
The word wall needs to be a living document in the classroom for it to be most effective. The words on the word wall need to change with the unit of study. Not all terms must be removed each unit. Terms that are relevant to the current unit should stay so that students are able to make connections between different concepts. For example in a middle school course terms from many terms from the measurement unit will be relevant to a unit of study on area. In an algebra class terms dealing with translations in graphing linear equations will be relevant in a unit on quadratics in which graphing will be studied.
In one classroom the word wall becomes a collection of the major terminology the students are exposed to during the entire year. The teacher creates different sections on the wall and allows students to borrow terms from different sections. The teacher continually plans experiences that allow the students to utilize vocabulary from previous chapters in their interactions making the words pertinent to the current topics. For instance, the teacher asks small groups of students to find an example of proportionality in as many chapters or sections of the word wall as they can.
This strategy helps students learn words that are important to learning mathematics at high levels through engaging review and interactions (NICHD, 2000). Depending on which interactions the teacher chooses to implement, the word wall offers assessment opportunities to inform how well instruction has gone. By continually referencing the vocabulary in different manners students will increase their mathematics communication.
As students are asked to communicate about the mathematics they are studying they gain insights into their thinking (NCTM, 2000). The strategies presented here have helped students to learn and make meaning of vocabulary effectively and enthusiastically. Students start to see vocabulary learning as a source of enjoyment rather than as a boring or threatening burden. More importantly teachers who are already presenting vocabulary to their students are intentionally and directly offering opportunities for their students to develop stronger understanding of vocabulary.


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