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Saturday, October 10, 2015

What's a Lug Nut? (And Other Pertinent Questions)

What is a Lug Nut?

A. A powerful fictional character known as a Decepticon
B. A large, rounded nut that fits over a heavy bolt
C. An object of scorn and ridicule

I confess that I learned about the indestructible, incomprehensible, incorrigible lug nut during my college days when I had a flat tire on Highway 6. Luckily, I had an auto policy that allowed me to call for help rather than tackle the job alone. Through the years I've learned how utterly deceptive a lug nut can be.

 Although relatively small in size, the lug nut could very well be a contender for Ripley's Believe it or Not edition of "Small Metal Things that Make Grown Men Cry."

Back to my initial question.

A Transformer Decepticon
What is a lug nut? It depends on who you ask. If framed as a fictional, animated character from the Transformers, the answer is:
A: A powerful, fictional character known as a Decepticon. 

And you would be correct.

If you are my husband who is a car aficionado, the answer is:
B. A large, rounded nut that fits over a heavy bolt.

And you would be correct. This is also the appropriate definition for anyone who has had to change a tire.

I have also witnessed from both my husband and from movies how obstinate a lug nut can be. In The Christmas Story Ralphy helps his dad change a flat tire. His sole responsibility is to hold the lug nuts but instead he drops them. In the iconic scene Ralphy says "Oh....Fudge!" (But he doesn't really say fudge) which results in getting to taste a bar of soap.

Lug nuts can be a source of ridicule and scorn even if you have a lug wrench to remove them from your tire. This scenario was featured on a recent Big Bang Theory episode.

 My husband the car afficionado
The four geniuses, Leonard, Howard, Sheldon, and Rajesh encounter a flat tire and are not able to remove the lug nuts. They are on too tight. In spite of their ridiculously high I.Q.s and applied Science, they are no match for the lug nuts.

So...if you are Dr. Leonard Hofstadter (or Ralphy) the answer is:
C. An object of scorn and ridicule.

And you would be right.

It doesn't take a genius to  see that a lug nut means something different depending on your schema (or background knowledge). As educators it is imperative that we tap into our learners' understanding before throwing out vocabulary terms and wonder why learners don't "get it."

Here are some vocabulary tips to avoid the lug nut trap:

1. Front load essential vocabulary in context. 
Handing a list of terms to define isn't enough. I can define lug nut in the dictionary, but is meaningless without a picture to give me a context. There are also incidences where the dictionary can make it worse.

For example, if The dictionary defines lug nut as a noun: a large rounded nut that fits over a heavy bolt, used especially to attach the wheel of a vehicle to its axle. 

If I were an English Language Learner and trying to make sense of words with multiple meanings, a dictionary would make the meaning more confusing. This is especially unhelpful if I think a "nut" is a pecan or a walnut and a "bolt" is lightening. This would make me think of a large walnut that fits over a bolt of lightening attached to the "wheel" used to steer a car.

Here is an example of how to introduce vocabulary in context using an app called lino it. The board can be shared live and allow learners from cross campus or classes to collaborate in real time. This was a board created last year for upcoming 6th graders.

What is sedimentary rock?

2. Build background knowledge (even when you are 99.9% sure they've got it).

Building background knowledge should not be an option. It is only fair for our English Language Learners or economically disadvantaged students to be supplied the prior knowledge most privileged students have. It is as simple as providing a two minute You Tube video, a virtual field trip, or a picture walk.

There is some discrepancy as to what it means to build background knowledge. Teaching a learner to spell a word or "sound it out" isn't teaching the definition of the word. I can learn to spell l-u-g-n-u-t but it is meaningless without background knowledge. Teaching affixes (stems and roots) are helpful...only if background knowledge is provided as to what the affix means.

3.  Integrate opportunities for writing across all content areas

One of my high points as an instructional literacy coach was collaborating with Science teachers to create "How to Be" Poems. I modeled for teachers how to teach literary elements such as personification and language structure into a lesson on scientific elements. The learners worked alone or with partners.

Learners chose an element from the Periodic Table. Next, academic vocabulary was introduced in context (not in isolation). Scaffolding was embedded in the design. Here are a few of projects our middle school learners created. Notice the rich vocabulary and creativity that went into writing these! Learners had to investigate the element and thoroughly understand the features before writing these poems...and they had fun!

Other ideas are to have learners write a R.A.F.T. This is when the writer takes on a "Role" and writes to an "Audience" in a chosen "Form" on a specific "Topic." One of my favorites from years back was a letter from Pluto asking the Science community to reinstate him as a planet.

4. Ask pertinent questions in conversation

One of the BEST ways to teach vocabulary is to begin with pertinent questions. Asking pertinent questions are questions that are focused and specifically designed to tap into and build on the learner's prior knowledge. A multiple choice quiz; a poll; a worksheet; a matching game are not asking pertinent questions. Pertinent questions are relevant and meaningful to the learner.

For example, through questioning about my learners interests, I discover he/she collects Transformers, I could integrate Lug Nut, The Decepticon, into a lesson on story conflict. As a project, the learner could create a story about Lug Nut battling his arch rival. By questioning, educators tap into their learner's schema. This is where teaching begins.

Confession Reflection:

1. Why is it important to teach academic vocabulary in context and not in isolation i.e. vocabulary worksheets, vocabulary matching.

2. What are the benefits of tapping into learner's interests and passions? How does this shape vocabulary instruction?

3. When is it appropriate to incorporate other genres such as music, poetry, art to teach core academic vocabulary in content areas such as math, science, and social studies? How can an instructional coach support these efforts? 

1 comment:

  1. Vitally important for all students but imagine being an ESL learner in this situation. Examples like these always make me think of how many meanings we have for the words chicken and run.