When I was in Middle School I learned vocabulary by practicing with flashcards. It felt like a boring but necessary part of my education. Some years I also had workbooks, which offered a slightly cooler angle on the same thing: rote memorization. It was just accepted that vocabulary instruction was one of those things you had to trudge through to improve reading comprehension, standardized test scores, and the ability to speak like a well educated adult.
Computers have changed all this. Now students can learn new words through games and interactive exercises. We have raised the fun factor, but have we improved the learning? As always, it depends.
It takes time to evaluate the efficacy of new technologies, but research can shed light on what they should do, so that we can measure this against what they actually do. For example, studies show the benefits of students focusing on vocabulary from their current readings, as opposed to randomly selected words. Other studies show how learning word roots and root families can move students from memorization to process-based learning, the acquisition of strategies to apply to any unfamiliar word. Our goal at Word Voyage is first to deploy the methods proven to be most effective, and second to create a highly engaging learning platform. We balance both, cognizant that there are some things that just must be in the mix, like required practice and repetition.
Technology can and does help make learning vocabulary more fun, but it can do more than that. It can deliver the most effective techniques with great convenience and efficiency, and give teachers the ability to view each student’s efforts so they can provide the best possible assistance. Today, there are not only alternatives to flashcards that are more fun, but those alternatives also deploy educational techniques more powerful than rote memorization. At Word Voyage we believe learning vocabulary should both be fun and as effective as possible.