Monica L. Harris
Assistant Professor, College of Education
Grand Valley State University
Certified SIM Professional Development Specialist
University of Kansas Center for Research on Learning
My Background and Interests
In the mid-1990s, I started my graduate program in special education at Eastern Michigan University. Here, I learned about the SIM strategies from Kansas and with the encouragement of a professor (and mentor), Dr. Larry Bemish, I made the yearly pilgrimage to Lawrence, Kansas to “get trained” and learn about research-based instructional strategies. That’s all it took – I was hooked (and a SIM lifer)! Currently, my research interests include response to intervention, adolescent literacy, and teacher preparation.
The Story Behind this Product
My first teaching position was as an eighth-grade social studies teacher in a building where the staff embraced the middle-school philosophy of “teaming” and implemented the concept of full inclusion. My “team” was comprised of science, math, and ELA teachers, and I was the social studies teacher. As a team, we embraced the idea that all kids can learn, and our administration was very supportive and encouraged us to try new and different things. The students whom our team served were academically diverse (i.e., accelerated/gifted, special education, at-risk, etc.) and came from low SES families; a high percentage of them received free/reduced-price lunches. In order to meet the various learning styles and needs of our students, I had to think strategically about how I could truly differentiate my instruction and raise student performance.
As part of our teaching responsibilities, we taught an “academic enrichment” (AE) course as our elective course. Academic enrichment could emphasize any subject as long as it increased the academic performance of students in a specific content area. Most teachers chose to drill deeper into the content area they currently taught. For example, a science teacher might choose to teach a unit on the “wetlands” or an ELA teacher might spend a 15-week semester on poetry. I chose to teach a study-skills course. The students who enrolled in the course were at-risk, received special education programming, or were struggling academically in some way. In this class, I focused on teaching students the skills and meta-cognitive strategies required to be successful in their core courses. To begin, I focused my instruction on vocabulary, realizing the importance of vocabulary knowledge and its pervasiveness across the curriculum. Typically, the very first strategy I taught my students was the LINCS Vocabulary Strategy (Ellis, 1992) – they loved it! I loved it! However, after the “love-fest” was over, the reality of trying to keep up with all of the curriculum terminology and vocabulary lists for each course overwhelmed students (and me!). I wondered how I could help students improve their comprehension of content without insisting that they take the time to memorize every word on the list.
During the summer months, I taught summer school. Teaching summer school provided me with the opportunity to teach new strategies I had learned at KU right away in the classroom. I had my own “lab” (so to speak). One summer in particular, after assessing my students on their present level of basic decoding and reading comprehension skills, I found many (if not all) would greatly benefit from learning the Word Identification Strategy (Lenz, 1990). With great enthusiasm (and naiveté), I jumped in with reckless abandon! After teaching the SCORE Skills (Vernon, Schumaker, & Deshler, 1993) to establish a community of learners and provide students with a way for them to participate effectively in cooperative learning groups, I started the Word Identification Strategy instruction. After getting student buy-in, providing rationales for learning the strategy, and teaching about prefixes and suffixes, students wanted to know about the meanings of these word parts. Evidently, identification wasn’t enough for some of them. I found myself looking for more resources to help students to learn the meaning of each prefix and suffix on the lists associated with the Word Identification Strategy. Eventually, I did what only any good LINCS vocabulary teacher would do, I had them make LINCS cards to learn the meanings of the word parts! Somehow, this was only a start – they needed more. I needed more! However, I wasn’t sure how to approach this. I kept working on the issue, and the rest is history.
My Thoughts About Instruction in the Word Mapping Strategy
Once I was accepted to attend KU as a doctoral student, I looked forward to pursuing a line of research. This is when it all came together! I drew heavily on my prior experiences as a general and special educator. I remembered how critical vocabulary knowledge and learning is to academic achievement and content comprehension in the classroom. I guess my thoughts regarding the strategy are that should be taught in general education classrooms and that educators need to take advantage of teachable moments in content courses to prompt the use of Word Mapping by students. For example, science, math, and history teachers should consider how to embed the use of high-frequency affixes (prefixes and suffixes) and roots in their weekly lessons and/or units. Also, I have found that when teachers share the etymology (word origin) of academic vocabulary with students, this information often creates background knowledge (and, at times, a visual image) that enhances recall and comprehension. What a great way to bring history and the sciences to life!
Teacher or Student Feedback on this Product
Overwhelmingly, teachers share with me success stories about how wonderful Word Mapping is for their students. Often, I hear, “Why wasn’t I taught this in school?” or “Thank goodness I had to learn Latin in school!” As I visit schools and work with content-area teachers, I find they understand the importance of word study (teaching students about word origin and Greek/Latin etymology) and connecting this information to their curriculum. Specifically, secondary teachers teach this strategy to focus student learning on high-frequency prefixes, suffixes, and roots. As one student told me, “Word Mapping helped me to prepare for ACT, and I learned to predict meanings of words I did not know – that was cool!”
My Contact Information
Monica L. Harris, Ph.D.
Grand Valley State University
Work Phone: 616-331-6538