What is The Visual Non-Glossary?

The Visual Non-Glossary is a resource designed to make deep learning about academic concepts available to all students. This depth is achieved, in an equitable way, from rich discussions about academic content using academic vocabulary. But students can only engage in academic discussions as much as they have mastered the academic language they need to use. The Visual Non-Glossary helps students master academic language in two ways:
  1. Through the use of visuals, students are able to comprehend the meaning of vocabulary words in their own language and through their own schemata.
  2. Through the use of structured sentence stems and references to other words, students are able to correctly practice using the words in context.

Take the example to the right. A group of four students might share the following responses:

  • A vestigial structure originates from bones.
  • A vestigial structure originates from functional body parts like legs.
  • A vestigial structure originates from structures that were functional millions of years ago but lost function over time.
  • A vestigial structure originates from functional legs a long time ago that went away because the animal stopped using it as it was evolving but is still there as a vestigial bone.
In each example, students are using the academic vocabulary word (vestigial structure) in context and with other vocabulary words (functional, for example). Additionally, students are able to hear ideas from each other and build on each other's ideas. In a bustling learning environment, the simple question "Where does a vestigial structure originate from?" turns into a rich discussion about what vestigial structures are, how they are formed, and how they remind the students of instances from their own lives.

A Language-Building Approach

Each vocabulary word in The Visual Non-Glossary comes with a visual aligned to multiple grade levels, and each visual comes with three discussion questions and sentence stems. The sentence stems and questions in this resource are deliberately designed to promote students' use of academic vocabulary. When students are given the opportunity to discuss the questions with partners or within groups, they grow their confidence and competence in pronunciation and proper usage of each word. Requiring students to use certain words in their verbal and/or written responses is effective at helping to build students' vocabulary. Using carefully labeled visuals and asking questions which naturally encourage students to use those labels, however, is an much more effective. It's like giving children broccoli versus folding broccoli into mac 'n cheese. Either way, they're getting their vitamins, but the second way makes them much more likely to do it - and to smile while doing it!

That's why every sentence stem in The Visual Non-Glossary is expertly written to incorporate academic vocabulary in different contexts and in different forms. Since every visual comes with three discussion questions and sentence stems, every visual of the 2,220+ visuals in The Visual Non-Glossary represents three unique opportunities for students to be exposed to, and to practice using, an academic vocabulary word.

Why is it called the "Non-Glossary?"

While this resource has a list of common vocabulary words aligned to the TEKS and NGSS standards, it is in every other respect not a glossary. This resource, unlike glossaries, is not designed to provide definitions of words. The word "definition" derives in part from the Latin word finis, meaning a boundary or limit. The definitions found in glossaries are fixed, absolute statements which, by their nature, set a boundary or limit to student success. Either the student reaches the boundary (understands or accepts the definition) or falls short of the boundary (fails to understand or accept the definition).

The rigidness of glossaries is problematic because they

  1. fail to accommodate students whose background knowledge restricts them from understanding all the terms in the way the glossary writers do, and
  2. offer no opportunity for students to think any more deeply about the scientific concept than the boundary of the definition determines.

Instead of providing definitions, this resource asks questions, and provides the support (through sentence stems and visuals) that students need to infer meaning and make connections about science content. The VNG is not a glossary. The VNG is a structure that helps students write their own glossaries and thus truly acquire their own academic language.

What Makes the VNG Different?

Structured Visuals

The Visual Non-Glossary is the only comprehensive source of structured visuals. Whereas an unstructured visual might be a photograph or cartoon that is related to a concept, a structured visual allows students to fully infer meaning of a concept and make connections to other concepts. Structured visuals include:
  • Arrows and brackets
  • Labelled vocabulary
  • Symbols
  • Cartoons and real-world images
  • Metaphorical and actual representations
  • Relatable examples
Structured visuals include flow charts and diagrams, but these are often only sporatically available and can be either too detailed or not detailed enough. Each visual in The Visual Non-Glossary is designed to be specific to the grade level and context in which a vocabulary word appears, which is why the visuals in the VNG cannot be found anywhere else.

Student-Centered Learning

Learning does not happen in isolation, and an instructional resource is only as powerful as the student interaction around it. The Visual Non-Glossary is designed to help students interact and discuss in cooperative groups. It does this in three ways:
  • Discussion questions and sentence stems are designed specific to the visual, so students explore the visual together to address each question.
  • Downloadable slides are structured with the QSSSA process, so students have the support and structure they need to engage in structured conversations confidently.
  • Pre-made lesson plans include warm-up and extension activities that engage students in the visuals and get them asking questions and making connections.

A Tool for Equity

Every classroom is diverse, and every student has different experience with any one academic concept or vocabulary word. For a lesson to be equitable, all students, including the most struggling students as well as the students who already have some familarity with a concept, must be empowered to grow in their learning. The visuals in the Visual Non-Glossary helps all students grow.

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