Recently a school district made the news by removing all the dictionaries from classrooms because someone found an inappropriate word. Did the media exaggerate this or is it really true? Was this the real reason for the removal of the dictionaries? I taught in public schools for many years so I find this unbelievable.
Do adults actually think that taking an important learning tool like a dictionary away from students will dampen their curiosity? In my experience, young people have many resources available, especially via the internet, and taking dictionaries away will not keep them from finding inappropriate words. Dictionaries need to be in every classroom and available to every home school student as an essential resource for information about words.
Why? Because the extent of one’s vocabulary is directly related to the level at which a person can read proficiently. Yet only 50% of Americans can read at 8th grade level. In a recent study, about 20% of seniors who graduate from high school in our public and private schools are illiterate when they graduate. This means that they can not read and write well at a basic level, which is 5th grade.
In an increasingly complex world, reading skills are important for career success, survival skills, and everyday life. We need to do more in our schools to develop vocabulary so that students can become more proficient at reading.
As a reading specialist, my last few years of teaching I taught freshman and sophomores in high school. I gave them vocabulary words weekly that were selected from books that we were reading. They were required to look up the definitions in the dictionary.Occasionally they snickered over a “bad’ word someone found and then kept working on the assignment.
I was surprised to find out that many of my students did not understand a pronunciation key, the etymology of words, and idioms. These were skills I had taught in a fourth grade classroom 25 years earlier! This is an example of how the skills of our students have not improved over time. I did not discourage the use of a computer dictionary but told my students that a computer is not always available.
Furthermore, at the end of every week I gave my students a vocabulary test. They were allowed to quiz a partner verbally to practice for the test, which is good exercise in memory recall. My students definitely increased their vocabulary and their reading levels during the school year. Yet I was ridiculed by an administrator in charge of curriculum for using such an “old-fashioned” technique as having my students look up definitions and learn the meaning of words. I was told that if I insisted on teaching vocabulary, the only way to do it was to give the students all the definitions on an overhead.
If I had bowed to the pressure of the administrator who knew very little about the teaching of reading, my students would not have learned how to use the pronunciation key, which helped them sound out unknown words. They also would not have learned about the derivation of words, idioms, and all the different definitions that a word may have.
Too many times I have seen a “teaching fad” come into use. Unwise administrators often jump on the bandwagon and insist that teachers quit using methods that they have always found successful & start using a “new” one. I am glad I refused to be intimidated because my students profited from regular practice in using the dictionary and learning vocabulary, which had a positive impact on their reading skills. Certainly they don’t need dictionaries removed because there might be a few “obscene” words inside the pages.