Vocabulary and background knowledge across subject areas are critical ingredients of learning to read with comprehension as well as fluency. A delightful story in yesterday’s Boston Globe shows how a first grade teacher at the Orchard Gardens School in Roxbury finds lessons in history and vocabulary in Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech.
(Readers may recall that Governor Deval Patrick unveiled his education plan for fiscal year 2014 at Orchard Gardens last week. He proposed major new investments in high-quality early education as a way to improve third grade reading, a key predictor of children’s success in school and beyond.)
Darlene White-Dottin teaches her young students to recite a shortened version of King’s speech, complete with choreographed gestures that underscore the meaning of the words. She teaches both the words in the speech and the historical context. She’s been doing this for almost 20 years. When Governor Patrick heard the children recite the speech and define its words last year, he arranged for them to perform it at the White House for President Obama. In yesterday’s Globe White-Dottin and her former students, now second graders, described the experience.
White-Dottin explained the lessons she imparts. “King’s speech, she said, helps students build their vocabulary as they learn the meaning of words like brotherhood, justice, oppression, and creed. Students must do more than simply memorize words from a page, she said. They must comprehend the meaning and history behind them,” the Globe reports.
‘If they don’t ever remember anything else, if they don’t remember my name, I want them to take this history on and get an understanding that the way we are in this building and going to the movies and drinking from a water fountain, it has not [always] been like that,’ White-Dottin said.
“ ‘I told them, “You know a lot. You have to keep it.” ’ ”
Ajensy Rosario, who is 8, told the Globe that “Martin Luther King was trying to tell us that everybody could be friends and that’s the reason why we did the speech.” Aveley Kissi, 7, said, “The bathroom had a chandelier in it. It looked like I was in heaven.”