Monday Success: Vocab on Video

Mar 24, 2013 by

Every week on Monday I share a classroom success story that started with teachers using technology. PLEASE SHARE your stories of success in the classroom so other teachers are willing to take chances too! This week we hear from Brad and Christa, two teachers at Pizitz Middle School. I have been lucky to work with Pizitz faculty. Pizitz is an outstanding school with great leadership that gives teachers permission to “be awesome” and think outside the box. This is an e-mail that was forwarded to me by one of their administrators. I love this example because it includes REAL RESULTS.

“Vocab used to be a droll necessary evil in English class. In order to combat this and based on the ideas we had developed from our recent PD, we gave the students the following assignment:

Choose a word from the unit and find a picture that represents it, either on the internet or take one with your phone, OR find or make a video that shows what the word means. Upload your pictures and videos to our classroom Moodle account. You can also tweet the pic/video if you feel comfortable.

After they submitted, we shared the student-created content. Even if they didn’t choose a certain word from the unit, they still saw a picture or video of it. Granted, not every word was covered because some words weren’t chosen. We saw immediate improvements in the scores but, more importantly, we saw an increase in the interest and engagement of our most struggling learners. To make sure we were actually seeing the improvement we thought, we looked at several vocabulary tests from the past few months. They were all clicker tests with the same format, so we figured that was good comparable data. this is what we found:


Class 1: Previous vocab test class averages were 76, 85, and 80, which average to 80.

Recent vocab test class average was 88.

Class 2: Previous vocab test class averages were 81, 78, and 79, which average to 79.

Recent vocab test class average was 89.5 (90!). This class has ELL students and struggling readers!

For the next unit, we allowed students to choose from a variety of assignments for the most recent vocab unit. There are 10 choice assignments all worth a different amounts of points. About half are technology related, such as uploading pictures of videos. The students tend to gravitate toward those choices. We also changed the rules with our current unit. Students upload the words they choose to a Moodle forum. They have to check and make sure that the word they have chosen has not been already used twice by their classmates. So a word can be represented twice but not more than that.

In addition, to make it more relevant/engaging/exciting, Brad had the idea of a Vocab Smackdown. So we brought our students together on a Friday and had them challenge each other in head-to-head battle for candy or A-slips or House Points. For instance, if they had made a video they thought was good, we would show it. Then another student could challenge and show their video. Then we (Brad and I) decided who won. They loved it.

Class 1: Previous vocab test class averages were 89.8, 88.9, and 82, which average to 87.

Recent vocab test class average was 93!

Class 2: Previous vocab test class averages were 80, and 80.

Recent vocab test class average was 93!

Here’s what has surprised me the most in a good way. The choice work and excitement of digital content engaged learners that I was struggling to reach. Not only that, these students handily won the Smackdown for their period. I was shocked. Their work was original and really good. And they understood the words. As part of their grade, they all elected to take the 30 point quiz (which is given AFTER the choice work is done). Almost every grade was an A or B.

To me this is just an incredible illustration of how to engage those struggling learners. This class is so low – they have almost never gotten cookies when we have made a cookie deal for a test. And yet, not only did their grades for this unit result in a 93 class average, they got excited. ABOUT VOCABULARY. (What!?!?)

That is an amazing improvement, especially for the struggling learners!”

How unique is this lesson? I love this because this is something simple that almost every English/Language Arts teacher could do in their class. This is a great example of how much success we can have when we are willing to try new things, be creative, and allow students to be co-teachers and co-creators of content. I cannot thank the faculty and staff at Pizitz enough for sharing. Please continue to share your stories too. Stay crazy in the classroom!


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