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Guest Post - Interactive Word Walls

To continue my little "guest post" series with my amazing first grade team, I bring you a beautifully written and well thought out post on Interactive Word Walls!

A first grade teacher and the team leader was kind enough to take some time to put together the following post.  I hope you enjoy!

My name is Luz Jasmine Arias (@Luzjasmine1) I graduated with my bachelors in Bilingual Education in 2010 and I received my Masters in Reading from Texas A&M Commerce in 2012.  I have been teaching at Barron Elementary for 6 years now and I absolutely love it.  Working with my students is my biggest blessing and I am so blessed to be able to do what I love to do!

                                              Interactive Word Walls

In the spring semester of 2016 our principal sent two teachers from each grade level to the Interactive Word Wall training with Julie Jackson provided by our school district.  It was there when so many of our eyes were opened as to what a word wall should be.  Being in the education system for over 6 years and feeling pretty good about word walls and their purpose I figured it would just be another presentation on using word walls in our classroom.  However the training completely was far beyond what I expected; to be honest it rocked my world because everything I thought about word walls was completely wrong.  Please continue reading to find out why my head was spinning at this presentation and how Interactive words walls have shaped my entire classroom and my entire team’s classrooms as well. 

To start off; we need to discuss what exactly is a word wall and why so many teachers use them.  “A word wall is a collection of words which are displayed in large visible letters on a wall, bulletin board, or other display surfaces in a classroom”  (http://www.readingrockets.org/strategies/word_walls).  They are used generally for students to use and refer back to when learning new high frequency words and to be able to spell their HFW words correctly…..  And that’s exactly how I would use them in my classroom.  We would have our words of the week, we would study them, and then I would post them to my word wall.  Now whether they were used or not is another story.  But naturally I assumed students were and I felt I was using them the best way I knew how. 

Now let’s talk about Interactive word walls, based on the National Science Teachers Association an interactive word wall is a word wall that resemble semantic maps (Masters, Mori, and Mori 1993). In other words they resemble graphic organizers to help students achieve meaning rather than just spelling.  Interactive word walls target vocabulary for meaning and understanding.    (http://static.nsta.org/files/ss1103_45.pdf). However If you’re like me and need it broken down in simpler terms here it is; the difference between the two is that regular word walls, teach spelling and is created seldom by the teacherWhereas interactive word walls are completely 100% students generated in where students build a word wall and take charge of their own learning by discovery.  “Interactive word walls are able to provide rich instruction that builds basic language comprehension through the use of context clues that include authentic pictures, illustrations, diagrams, graphic organizers, and interactive learning experiences”.(Julie Jackson)

When we attended the workshop we learned Word Walls should be engaging, student created and Interactive, why? Well it makes total sense … It’s because just like in everything else we do as teachers - we have to make it meaningful.  That word right there is exactly what it’s all about.  Students need to find meaning in everything they do in order to do it and be successful.  Why should the teacher do all the work? Why should teachers be the one to put everything up?  But most importantly what benefits will my students gain from Interactive word walls.  All those questions raced through my head during the presentation.  We are taught to motivate, inspire our students; but then don’t give them a chance when it comes to students taking control of their own learning. 

As the presentation continued I knew I had to start interactive word walls right away, and I did!! And let me tell you the outcome has been remarkable.  Just as Julie Jackson stated, the teacher provides the frame for the unit or lesson being taught based off the grade level TEK  and then students take control.  For once in my entire career I can truly see my walls are being utilized for learning and my students are actually referring back to what we have learned and are making connections.  Their language vocabulary has increased tremendously due to the interaction between their peers and by using the vocabulary provided from sentence stems but most importantly, by using rich academic vocabulary to back up what we are learning at school.  My students TELPAS all increased by at least one proficiency level and what’s more important, is that I can see the gain each and every day we create and build a wall and I get to hear from students completely understanding concepts they struggled with before.   

 I also must mention that you can use Interactive Word walls for every subject area.  This school year my entire team and I decided to build  interactive word walls for Language Arts, Math, and of course, science.  I have heard from many teachers say “It will take a long time to build and create”  “we have so much we have to do already”  and all those are valid points that I even questioned at the beginning, but I can honestly tell you it’s really quite simple.  Remember, teachers build the frame they want to use to teach the unit and students do the rest.  In fact something we used this year and that really helped and got us going with Interactive word walls was that the teacher who plans the subject area for the team created a frame already made.   For example Tracy Szczesniak plans math for our team so she would provide a frame already made for us to use in math.  She would provide in our team lesson plans pictures, graphic organizers, etc. to jump start our creativity and to motivate us to use the Interactive word wall. 

To end my post, I wanted to provide a few pictures to hopefully inspire you to start using Interactive word walls!

With everything said and done; I want to leave you with this quote that I read that truly represents what Interactive word walls truly are. 

"You can teach a person nothing. You can only help them discover it within themselves."    --Galileo














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