Prior Vocabulary Knowledge: What is a Tam Anyway?!

dogChalk this up as another time my own children push me to reflect on teaching and learning. This weekend my daughter, who is in Kindergarten, and I were playing around with words and their sounds. She was having a great time exaggerating the sounds in words… in fact she thought it was hysterical. So hysterical that she rolled off the couch at one point. I loved how she was having so much fun with it all.

So, my teacher hat came out and I thought it was a great opportunity to bring out all my phonemic awareness puzzles and games. We began with a puzzle where you are required to match pictures of words that have the same beginning sounds and fit them together. It was a slow start, as there were many pieces to look through. I helped her out by saying one of the words and having her look for the corresponding picture. We started with rose, she had to find rake.  I could tell she was struggling, so we tried balloon and she found ball right away. This continued and definitely wasn’t as fun as what we were doing before!  I found she struggled with many of them, it actually shocked me how much help she needed.

After a bit, I realized, she was not having difficulties with the beginning sounds of words. She actually didn’t know what many of the pictures were. Now we are a family that sailboatreads a lot, we have hundreds of children’s books all over our house. We take our kids on excursions to expose them to many different environments, people and history. We have many discussions about what is happening in the world and every time our kids ask us questions we try to honour them all. We are doing the things that teachers tell parents to do all the time. We are exposing our children to activities that increase their vocabulary as well has giving them a bank of prior knowledge that they can refer to when they are learning.

But, my kid couldn’t look at a picture of a rake, a tiger, a lion, a zebra, (she confused these animals) nuts, map, can, bug and identify what it was. With some, after I told her she would say, “Oh yeah!” but she didn’t even know what a rake was at all.

This got me thinking, how many activities and assessments are we asking our students to do and they have no idea what the words are? How many students freeze up because oberetf these words. There are so many games and worksheets (sigh) that rely on students having a certain vocabulary bank… I’ve seen some that use the words tam and mast, what?!! When was the last time you heard the word tam or mast?

Words for learning need to be relevant to the students we are teaching. While exposing them to new vocabulary to grow their vocabulary bank, we also need to get to know our students and allow them to show us what they know. We also need to be very careful how we use assessments from generic programs and workbooks that assume that all students know the words they are asking them to work with.

Note: Before I get comments about this, I would like to clarify that I know the rabbit above is wearing a hat that is more like a beret than a tam. I couldn’t find a TAM on Pixabay!