Good Idea Gone Wrong: The Problem with Tuscarora’s Vocabulary Framework

by Anna Shaw

I’m sure most of you know about the vocabulary programs that have been taking hold of our high school. Those bright orange workbooks for juniors and seniors and the prefix-root-suffix quizzes for the freshmen and sophomores are all a pain, but are students positively affected by the recent increase in vocabulary focus?

First of all, let’s talk about the prefix-root-suffix quizzes that the freshmen and sophomores are taking.  Ideally, this practice would enable students’ understanding of new words by making them more aware of the building blocks of vocabulary.  For example, if you take the word ‘biweekly,’ you see the prefix ‘bi’ and the root ‘week.’ If you put two and two together, you get the definition of the word: every two weeks.

However, the main problem with these quizzes is that students don’t find them useful.   “They’re unnecessary,” sophomore Erin Ergun said.  “We’re always doing [vocabulary work] and the quizzes are too tedious.”  Instead of being activities that students’ can learn from, students view them as one more thing to do and get over with. “I get why [the teachers are] doing them,” said freshman Vitha Chintam, “But they just pile on to the workload we already have.”

Next, are those neon orange workbooks that the upperclassmen end up having to carry around every day, just in case they need their all-important vocab books in english class. Some students, like junior Ben Fehr, said, “I think they’re great!  They have a good variety of words and they help with SAT prep and vocabulary.”

Other vocabulary-based activities have been initiated around the school in addition to what’s now a part of the English curriculum.  An example is Root of the Week, the contest where a root word is shown on an advisory slide, and throughout the week students can submit a sentence containing the root to the Library. Then, a random sentence is drawn from the submissions and one lucky student wins a prize of candy.  Reading specialist Mrs. Walter said that, “[Root of the Week] was started to help bring awareness to vocabulary and help with SAT preparation.”  Junior Kalsoom Khan, however, says that,  “Root of the Week could help [with students’ vocabularies] but people just don’t know about it.  It’s a mixture of students not caring and the fact that some teachers never even show the presentations in advisory; many of the ones that do simply skip over it,” she said.  Fehr concurs, saying, “[Root of the Week] is not helpful the way it currently is.  It’s [just that] nobody cares.  The people that win only do it as a joke.”  Walter, however, says that, “[Advisory] teachers who present the material well are encouraging most of the students to enter; we have more and more every week.”

“The new programs are too forced,” said senior Amira Campbell. “When [schools] force things like this on students, it causes a negative reaction.”  One thing that students can agree on is that, as senior Mason Cox put it, “[Vocabulary lessons] need to be more personalized. Teachers need to work with their students and be able to change things according [to each individual student].” If things like this are completely standardized then it’s going to come to an unfortunate conclusion: unhappy students who learn something to pass a test and forget it the moment the year is over.