dic-tion-ar-y

I’ve always been relatively neutral in the hard copy book versus kindle versions debate. I like the feel and touch of paperbacks or hardcovers, but not having those formats is not necessarily a deal breaker for me. I understand the sentimentality of holding a book in one’s hand, maybe marking cool images or commenting on passages in the margin. And I get the convenience of having five or six or ten novels on my Kindle – easily accessible at any point. The highlight and annotation features on the Kindle are great to use. Regardless of format, it’s the content that stimulates my thinking or moves me emotionally.

This past week, though, when I was visiting a second grade class, I was intrigued by the student’s introduction to dictionary work. She was working with a small group of five students and introduced the task to them.The teacher admitted it was a rough intro; we’ve all been there as veteran teachers. You just slightly underestimate kids’ readiness to tackle the learning.

The target word, pulled from the students’ reading, was “horror.” The teacher distributed five copies of the Scholastic Children’s Dictionary and students dug in. The teacher worked with them on header words at the top of each page. When all the students were on the page with the beautiful picture of the horse, she directed their attention to the different entries until they found “horror.”

At one point, a girl in the group said, “This is hard. So many words!”

And it was at that point that my note taking on the class took a turn. I continued to listen and watch, but my attentiveness shifted to reflection rather than observation. She is so right. So many words on that page. And so many pages!

I went back to my elementary days and the fascination with dictionaries. We had dictionary games in fifth and sixth grade. The teacher would give us a word and we would try to guess the definition. Then the students with dictionaries would find the word, read the definition, and we would laugh if we were far off and cheer when somebody was close to the definition.

In all honesty, during my second grade classroom observation, I got a bit sentimental and nostalgic for those hard copy dictionaries. I watched as kids negotiated their way through the thick book, possibly the thickest book they have held in their hands.

I realized that with Google and with Siri, I can do a search or simply ask for the definition of a word. On my Kindle, I can click a word and see the definition. As can the students in that second grade class. And all of a sudden I felt a bit of sadness for them.

I loved having that dictionary open on my desk in Mrs. Meyer’s sixth grade class. And not just to find the target word of the day or to seek out the definition of the word she called out. I liked reading the word above the target word and the word after it. I liked to flip a few pages and find some random words to explore.

And I remember being introduced to the Oxford English dictionary in Dr. Boni’s class at Colorado State University and having the same reaction as the young second grade scholar: “So many words!”

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