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May 2002 Issue

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Vocabulary Development is the prerequisite skill required for applying a rule to solve a problem

By Gary K. Probst

Email:probstgk@pg.cc.md.us

Before any rule can be used to solve a problem, it is necessary to know the definition and be able to recognize examples of all of the terms used in the rule.  This will be illustrated by using a rule from English and algebra.

English:  When to use the nominative case

 Rule: Use the nominative case when the pronoun or noun is the object of the infinitive to
          be and the infinitive has no subject.

In order to apply this rule and answer the following question, it is necessary to know the definition and be able to recognize examples of the following terms:

bulletnominative case
bulletpronoun∑ noun
bulletobject of the infinitive
bulletsubject

She was thought to be ____.  (I or me)

In order to correctly answer this question on English grammar, it is necessary to know which one of the two terms is an example of the nominative case.
 
Algebra:  Using the multiplication property of equality with a fraction
         Rule:  Get the variable alone by multiplying both sides of the equation by the
                   reciprocal of the coefficient of the variable.

In order to apply this rule to solve the following problem, the student must know to use the following term's definition to recognize examples of them:

bulletvariable
bulletreciprocal
bulletcoefficient

Solve:  X/2   =  6

Then, in order to solve this equation for X, the student must know how to make the coefficient of the variable a reciprocal.
To apply the rules given in a course to solve a problem first requires knowing both the definition of the terms used in the rule and then being able to recognize examples of these terms.  If a student is unable to do this, he or she will not be able to apply the information given in a course to solve a problem.

Therefore, the most important learning skill required in any college course is learning each new termís classification, and identifying characteristic(s).  Then, the student must know how to develop criterion questions from the termís identifying characteristic(s) to determine if something possesses the characteristic(s) required to identify it as an example of the term.
 

Because of the importance of being able to solve problems in any course, the following suggestions are given how the instructor can prevent this learning problem from developing:

  1. Select a textbook that gives good definitions of the new terms introduced.
  2. Give on the first day of class a test on the prerequisite terms whose meanings must be known in order to learn the material covered in the course.  This would be a good time to stress it is necessary to look up in the dictionary and learn the meaning of terms whose meaning is not known.
  3. Never assign chapters in the middle or end of a textbook at the beginning of a course without first checking to see if prerequisite information is required for understanding the information given in these chapters.
  4. Emphasize the learning of the new terms in the course by informing the students the first day of class the number of new terms introduced in the course.
  5. Demonstrate how it is impossible to use a rule to solve a problem in the course unless the definition of the terms used in the rule is known.
  6. Inform the students that a part of the tests given in the class will require knowing the definition of terms introduced in the course and being able to recognize example of these terms.
  7. Have a separate part of each test measure the studentís knowledge of the definition of the terms introduced.  If this part is graded separately, student accountability is developed.  If a student has not learned the definition of the terms introduced in the course, the instructor cannot be held responsible for the studentís lack of success in the course.
  8. Have a section of each test that measures the studentís ability to recognize an example of the terms introduced in the course.  So that the students do not complain that the test is unfair, the students should be told the examples that will be given on the test will not be the examples given in the textbook or lecture.
  9. During class suggest ways the students can learn the new terms introduced in the course.
     

The learning center staff should do the following when a student comes for assistance to determine what he or she needs to do in order to pass a course:

  1. Determine if the studentís learning problem is the result of not knowing the prerequisite terms required to learn the information in the course.
  2. Determine if the student knows the terms currently introduced in the course.
  3. Determine if the student knows how to use the definition of a term to apply the rules introduced in the course to solve a problem.
  4. Demonstrate ways to learn the new terms introduced in the course.
  5. Explain how to use the identifying characteristic(s) of a termís definition to recognize an example of a term.

The learning center staff can promote vocabulary awareness by using the following attention getting techniques:

  1. Create a display containing the textbooks used in a specific major in one semester.  Above each textbook have the number of new terms introduced in the textbook.  Then give the total number of new terms must be learned in one semester.  Have a big sign that says, ďWorriedÖAttend a study skills seminar!
  2. Through the college newsletters, email, etc. convey to instructors they must stress the importance of learning the terms introduced

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Please send comments on this article to probstgk@pg.cc.md.us

http://academic.pg.cc.md.us/~gprobst/

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So what's next in this column?  These articles are coming in the fall:

1. College Reading Tests -What do they really measure?  It is not college reading skills!

2. Developing outlining skills by using concept maps.  A traditional outline does not show relationships between concepts.  Visio by Microsoft is a great program to use to develop a concept map that shows the relationships between concepts.

3. A test that measures the psychological attributes of time competence and inner other direction that determine academic success.  These attributes are more important than reading skills.

4. Vocabulary Across the Curriculum.  An online program that instructs a college faculty member on how to teach the vocabulary terms in his or her subject area.

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