Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Have you bonded with your words lately?

We're thrilled to introduce the newest member of the VocabSlam team, Dr. Rachel Ebner, an expert on student learning. She has an M.A. from Columbia Teachers College, an Ed.M. from Harvard, and a doctorate from the City University of New York.

Dr. Ebner brings her research cred to VocabSlam and will explain the research behind what we're doing.

Her first blog is about word consciousness. Enjoy, and be on the lookout for more from Dr. Ebner!

How do you know when you really know a word?  

By Rachel Ebner, Ph.D.

How do you know when you know a word?  I mean really know it. The answer is that to really know a word, you need to be "word conscious." Becoming word conscious involves a lot more than looking up a word in a dictionary.  It involves knowing how to say a word, what it means, and how to use it, in different contexts.

According to the incremental theory of word learning, word knowledge progresses from having never heard or seen a particular word to developing a comprehensive understanding of its multiple meanings, uses, and even pronunciations.  This sort of word consciousness requires repeated, interactive, and multi-sensory experiences with words. Those kinds of real-world experiences literally bring words to life. They enable you to move far beyond perceiving an unfamiliar word as just a string of letters and sounds. They get you to really know a word, not just its dictionary definition.  They get you to wrap your mind around a word, emotionally bond with it—in other words, own it.  

A study that I recently conducted with 70 college students supports this point.  I asked study participants to learn the meanings of certain words in relation to the way they were used in an online Wikipedia article.  Results showed that students were able to significantly increase their multidimensional word knowledge by using online tools and resources (e.g., hyperlinks, search engines, online dictionaries, pictorial and auditory sources of information) to interact with the words.

VocabSlam is an online tool that provides an ideal way to increase your word consciousness. This is because seeing and hearing real people use a particular word in sometimes funny, sometimes serious, and always entertaining ways,dramatizes the word so that you can cognitively and emotionally connect with it in meaningful contexts.  That in turn allows you to remember the word, what it means, how it sounds, and the ways that it can be used.