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Oxford Word Lists In Australian Classrooms, Discussion

Oxford Word Lists in Our Classrooms

Discussion

What Are The Oxford Word Lists?

These lists are the outcome of research commissioned by the Oxford University Press since 2007. The research was carried out in two stages and appears to be ongoing and subject to revision.

What Is Oxford University Press?

When I speak with parents it seems that many are in awe of the name “Oxford” and often don’t realise that OUP is a commercial organisation involved in publishing. The OUP grew out of Oxford University when Caxton first brought his printing press to England in the 15th century. OUP set up in Australia in 1908. We do not have an Oxford University in Australia.

Let’s be very clear. Oxford University Press paid for the research. The research has been carried out in Australia. The Oxford Word Lists reflect the way children in Australia use words in their free writing.

As OUP (Australia) is a commercial organisation, there have been many commercial products published in Australia that arise from this research. In other words, it is making money out of it. And there is no special evil in doing that!

What Are The Research Conclusions?

The researchers drew some interesting conclusions that simply confirmed what most educators already knew. For that reason the research is valuable because it gives a firm foundation to teachers’ observations and experience.

The Oxford Word Lists are made up of words children use in their free writing – in order of frequency. So, the word am appears in the first 100 words but is way down the list. In the 100 Sight Words, an older list, the word am appears in the first early lists.

Problems Using The Oxford Word Lists

Because these lists are drawn from what children are writing, there are no interrogative words in the first 100 words, except the word what which is often used without being part of a question. The word there appears also, but where – being an interrogative – does not. Should children be able to write the interrogatives of when, where, what, why, who, which, all of which (except what) appear much later? I think they do. These lists are not based on what children need to be able to read, but only on what they are writing. All these interrogatives appear in the 100 Sight Words.

What Is Missing In The Research?

I would like to have known from the research which words children were not spelling correctly – even as a percentage. And what words children should have been able to spell and were not. This would have been a lot more informative.

Incorrect Use Of This Research

  • The result is that the Oxford Word Lists simply reflect back to teachers what words children are writing.
  • The research informs us that adverbs and conjunctions are absent.
  • It informs us that children are using general verbs and are not using specific verbs. The researchers recommend that teachers teach more in these areas.
  • The Oxford Word Lists have a lot of verbs presented in the simple past tense and the present participle. The researchers, in their report, urge schools to use these lists as spelling and reference lists. Learning the spelling of a participle in a vacuum does not develop understanding or knowledge of verb formation and tenses.

CONCLUSIONS

So,

  • if teachers are to teach more in these areas, they can return to the older lists.
  • Teachers can collect adverbs and conjunctions from reading activities.

If this is what teachers need to do, the Oxford Word Lists don’t help in the early grades. However,

  • if children are given words in their spelling lists, they will use them;
  • if children are taught about conjunctions and verb tenses they will also use them.

Time will tell if the schools now using the Oxford Word Lists perform better in literacy.

Reflecting back to educators what children are already writing does not appear to contribute much to classroom education. We have known for a long, long time that Prep and Grade 1 students use the word because but can’t spell it correctly. I still believe that this 7-letter word should not be on the Prep and Grade 1 spelling lists.

Useful Link

Here is a link to a post “One Hundred Sight Words” that are not connected to the Oxford Word List/s.

https://www.tutoringprimary.com/one-hundred-sight-words-literacy/

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