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5/12/2010 6:06:14 PM
Home School Legal Defense Association
HSLDA's Homeschooling Your Struggling Learner Newsletter

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HSLDA's Homeschooling Your Struggling Learner Newsletter
May 20101--Using the Dictionary: Going from Drudgery to Delight
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Using the Dictionary--Going from Drudgery to Delight

by Betty Statnick, M. Ed.
HSLDA Special Needs Coordinator

The command to "look it up!" may still be echoing in your mind. It
may have been extremely distasteful for you to comply with that order.
Furthermore, you can't recall having received any formal instruction
in "using the dictionary." Some of you will admit that there was no
drab-looking volume called a dictionary in the home where you grew up.
So any "looking it up" had to be done at school or in a library.

How the scene has changed! My observation is that editors and
publishers of some current dictionaries have gone from "drab to fab."
Since they know that we learn from seeing pictures, they have included
not just "words about words" but also colorful photographs and
drawings in their dictionaries.

Joseph Pickett, executive editor of "The American Heritage Student
Dictionary" (2007 edition), may have been eavesdropping on some of my
sessions with students, for he has paraphrased what I have often set
forth to students:

"Imagine that you are lucky: You have a good friend who is always
there for you, full of useful information and advice, and who lets you
take what you need whenever you want. This friend promises to stick
with you in good times and bad, to help you when you are in need, and
even be a source of entertainment from time to time. Imagine no
further. That friend is this dictionary. It is designed to introduce
you to new words and new facts that are essential to your success in
learning new subjects..."

The preface to the "Merriam-Webster's Dictionary for Children"
(especially for students ages 8-11, grades 3-5) explains, "You will
get help with understanding meanings and with spelling and pronouncing
new words. You will learn much grammar and usage. And you will find
out the differences between words with similar meanings and discover
interesting history of many words."

In the back of this same dictionary there is a section on "confused,
misused, and misspelled words." I am especially pleased that this
section includes, among other things, instruction regarding use of
"it's" and "its," "who" and "whom," and "you're" and "your." Those
three pairs of words are still problematic for many adults. Imagine
how wonderful it would be for a student to learn their correct usage
before he even embarks on high school.

Dictionaries certainly do have their place in teaching students new
vocabulary. However, in my teaching experience, I have found two
specific things which have caused students to have animosity toward
using the dictionary:

1. Requiring that students write the dictionary definition for each
word on their spelling list. (Many of you agree that this may be more
an exercise in penmanship than in vocabulary development).

2. Directing a student to stop and look up a word in the dictionary
while he is engaged in a reading lesson. This interrupts the flow,
takes words out of context, and comprehension likely will suffer. New
vocabulary words should be identified and discussed prior to beginning
the reading lesson. (Of course, a purpose for reading should also be
established, but that is beyond the scope of this newsletter.)

When you model before your child your use of the dictionary and you
also teach him how to use the dictionary, you will see those actions
continue to pay dividends for the rest of that child's life. It is my
conviction that the dictionary "look it up and search it out" habit is
somewhat akin to the Berean approach of Acts 17:10, 11. In that
scripture reference the Bereans were said to be "more noble than those
in Thessalonica, in that they received the Word with all readiness of
mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were
so...." Most of you do tell me that you do want to give your child
the opportunity to live life to his full potential and to his maximum
usefulness for his Creator and Redeemer.

Look for a future e-newsletter about some nuts and bolts for teaching
dictionary skills. It will be designed especially for those learners
who are not now as efficient or interested in using the dictionary as
they would like to be.

In the meantime, when you are selecting curriculum for the upcoming
school year don't forget to purchase a children's dictionary
(preferably one for each student).
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