'The Word of the Day' - It's for everyone
As a copy editor for The Pocahontas Times I live with Merriam-Webster's Online Dictionary. In addition to spelling and definitions, this site offers "The Word of the Day."
Our fun with words in the office recently lit a spark of curiousity in Robbie Sharp, our mailman.
"What's the word of the day?" he asks as he enters the office.
The Times office may be his only mail drop where he finds himself a little smarter when he leaves than when he came in.
A conversation about the word of the day with Cathy Mosesso and Margaret Worth at the Farm Family Insurance office led me to two intersting "halls."
Worth is a member of the Pocahontas County Board of Education and she informed me that Marlinton Elementary School had implemented their own "word of the day" and they do it with an artist's flair.
Judy Sanders, who, according to second grade teacher Denise Burns, "is wonderful" and does all of the school's "fancy stuff," has "planted" a tree of knowledge in the hallway of the school.
Principal Ron Hall announces the word of the day over the loud speaker each morning and uses the word in a sentence, as well.ﾠ It is then added as a leaf to the tree in the hall and, more importantly, it is used over and over in the classrooms during the day to help prepare the students for the WesTest.
"You need to build their vocabulary, or kids fall behind," said Hall.
One example of a stumbling block for students was the word "sum."
Prior to the implementation of vocabulary improvements, students considered the answer to a math question to be the "total," Hall said.ﾠ Standardized tests refer to it as the "sum,"ﾠ - a simple word, but worth a lot of points.
Although the word of the day is taken from the fifth grade vocabulary book, even first graders get in on the action.
First grade teacher Barbara Beard uses the words several times a day.
"If the students come up with a sentence using it, I brag on them," she said.
Due to the mild winter, the words attached to the tree of knowledge now stretch the length of the main hallway of the school and have rounded the corner toward the gymnasium.
Snow days in the last school term limited the number of words, said Sanders.
"When we made the cut around the corner, my kids were so excited," said Burns.
Burns uses the word of the day every way she can.
She sometimes teaches the meaning of the word by teaching what it "is not."
For the word "organize," Burns gave her students several examples and let them distinguish between organized and disorganized.
"That's how they really learn a word," she said.
"Similar" was the word of the day early in the school year.ﾠ Burns' students now make a connection.
"It's not the same, but it is similar," they will tell her.
Each leaf of the tree - or turkey or heart and now eggs and carrots, - depending on the season, has the printed word of the day which often includes a definition or a sentence.
For the word "significance" the leaf reads, "The stars on our flag have special significance.ﾠ One star for each of the fifty states in our country."
Emphasize - "In our school, we emphasize the importance of good manners."
Good manners were on display Monday morning when Independent Educational Consultant and board of education member Jan McNeel held court in Jamey Weber's fourth grade class.
The purpose of her instruction was to help the children create a Vocabulary Notebook.ﾠ One word per page, one word each day, which helps to improve their reading and comprehension skills.
Each student was given a small bound notebook.ﾠ McNeel then instructed them to write one word per page. Along with each word, the students wrote the definition and added a picture to help them remember the word.
The school's word of the day Monday was "complicate."
"It does no good if you don't use it over and over again," McNeel told the group.
"Say it three times. Snap your fingers. Clap it. Pat hands with your neighbor," she instructed them.
And so the word rang through the room, "com-pli-cate, com-pli-cate, com-pli-cate."
"Your brain has to hear things 15 times to stay in your short-term memory," she said.
Two more words were added to the book - "nescient," which means ignorant; and "investigation," which needs no definition here.
With the words firmly embedded in their brains, the student worked quietly with a partner to draft sentences in their writing folders using those new words.
"There are three kinds of sentences," McNeel said. "Seven-up, V-8 and Upper-10."
Most of the students went beyond the Upper-10, which brought out McNeel's flashlight as she put the spotlight on those who excelled in the practice.
McNeel encourages students to go beyond what they learn in the classroom and to include their parents, whose support is so vital to the children's success.
"Research is clear," said McNeel, "parent involvement equals high test scores."
For homework, the students were encouraged to listen to journalists on TV, to listen for "high-dollar words" and to find words that the family can learn to use together.
By improving vocabulary skills, low achieving schools have pulled out of a slump, McNeel said. Students who keep a vocabulary notebook have increased their test scores dramatically.
McNeel said she began her journey into teaching vocabulary words because she wondered about the meaning of the word "unctuous."
It turns out that the meaning of that word is "insincerely smooth in speech and manner."
But that does not describe McNeel.ﾠ She is sincerely volunteering her time to help the students of Pocahontas County schools, so one could say she is operating in the realm of supererogation - "the act of performing more than is required by duty."
As for Robbie and his "partners" at The Times office, you could say we have an edacious appetite for "The Word of the Day."
"Excessively eager and insatiable."