As children progress through primary and secondary school, it becomes vitally important that we support them to become more independent learners, so that they are better able to help themselves overcome academic obstacles. In order to develop independent learning skills children need to be provided with more opportunities to try things for themselves. They need to be taught strategies that they can independently apply to learning tasks and be motivated to learn through interesting activities, positive and specific praise, and clear rewards.
One way that we can make children more independent learners is by equipping them with strategies to learn unfamiliar words that they may come across in the classroom and daily life. For example, imagine a child who has been given a reading comprehension task, but they don’t understand the vocabulary used in the passage. How can we expect them to successfully answer questions about the passage? However, if that child is equipped with ‘self-help’ strategies to learn the meanings of unfamiliar words, they are going to have a better understanding of the passage and will be in a better position to answer the accompanying questions.
Children are continually exposed to new vocabulary throughout school. It is estimated that a typically developing school-aged child learns 3,000 words per year and secondary school children are exposed to up to 10,000 new words from school textbooks alone (Clark, 2003). Children are expected to understand and use a wide range of increasingly complex vocabulary to access different topics in the curriculum, as well as interact with others, and make sense of the world around them. In fact we never stop learning new vocabulary, which is why it is so important to equip children with strategies to learn unfamiliar words from a young age.