We had an opportunity to welcome Dr. Kevin Feldman to our school district last week. He presented a day-long session on “Narrowing the Lexical Divide: The Critical Role of Vocabulary & Academic Language in Improving Secondary Literacy Across the Curriculum.” His focus on academic vocabulary was of great benefit to the teachers in attendance.
One thing that really caught my attention in his presentation was the discussion about where we find Academic English – that Hayes and Ahrens (1988 ) used a measure of “rare words per 1,000” to evaluate the frequency of word use. They found that the everyday adult speech of college graduates is at approximately the same level as preschool books, and that most informational texts are at a level comparable to newspapers and magazines.
This reinforced my belief that we have to talk about math before we write about it, and also supports the notion of developing formal spoken language as one path to formal written language (see Pimm (1991)). It also made me wonder about the level of spoken English in math classrooms, both by teachers and by students. Then Dr. Feldman showed us this website, which will analyze passages to determine rare words per 1,000.
Those who know me will likely guess what I’m thinking: research. This should be fun!