Imagine enjoying high school English. Imagine the feeling of confidence exuding from your mind over how excited you would be to open the anthology reader in that English class, knowing that you would be learning several new words with nearly every selection. Wouldn’t it be nice?
To learn new vocabulary without a grade attached to the test that determines whether you’ve learned a new word or not. Not likely to happen:
There’s this mechanical nature about learning new vocabulary that never allows students to enjoy the acquisition of new words. It lies in the rote memorization of a set of words just prior to a standardized test. Regardless of which standard for assessment is used–whether multiple choice or fill in the blank or matching word to definition–the procedures for ‘learning” the words through whatever method of study usually ruins the very nature of learning and the enjoyment of that learning.
So much pressure is put on students to acquire new knowledge that the joy of the learning is lost in the study for some test.
As a teacher, I cannot stand the scoring of a test for vocabulary in particular. Standard scales take in no consideration for the idea that students are learning a variety of new words. Once a student misses a certain number of words, the grade earned in no way reflects the idea that the student has, in fact, learned a few more words than they had previously known.
For example, of a 20-word list, a student shows understanding for 15 of the 20 words. He or she now knows 15 new words, but due to the errors on the other five, he or she scores a 75 for the test. In North Carolina, where the grading scale bears a strange seven-point interval (a 93 is an A-, as opposed to the standard ten-point interval where 90 is the A-), a score of 75 is a D!
Here’s where the love of learning is lost on standardized test, where rote memorization takes over and doesn’t fully satisfy the desire to learn! A student learns fifteen new words in a week and gets a D, an unsatisfactory grade that may ruin the rest of the overall grade in a mandatory class (most states require four years of English to graduate). That kills the learning for many students. Not necessary.
Never mind the “shoulds” involved here: “should have studied better” or “should have been able to…”. Students memorize to the test at hand and usually forget the information after the test is over. Even students who have learned to memorize word definitions long enough to pass a test and get an A–they lose the love for learning because they instantly–often purposely–forget the words and move their attention on to new information without retaining the new knowledge just acquired.
I prefer to score vocabulary tests differently from the rest of the components of my English class. I take away one to three points only for each word missed (one for spelling; three for definition errors). If a student misses five words, then the score becomes an 85–a B- in North Carolina schools. That’s great!
Say a student misspells two words and “misdefines” two other words. On a standard test, that’s five points per error; four errors; a loss of twenty points; a score of 80. With my scale, he or she loses one point per misspelling, three for using the wrong definition; two points off for spelling; six for definition; eight points. The final score: 92, a B+ in North Carolina ( a low A, in most states!). The student has learned fifteen new words and has a B+ to show for their test. That works. This student has been freed to learn, without the censure that accompanies such learning. Enjoyment wins!