Jan 29 2008
…after 30 years, I still haven’t formulated a firm opinion on that time-honored parental tradition. You know the one: where the kid comes up to Mom or Dad asking what some multi-syllabic word means, and the traditional parental response instead of answering is “look it up!”
I believe the justification is that the kid will learn it better if they have to look it up themselves. (Feel free to share in the comments if you’ve heard other reasonings for this response.) Is this actually true? Is it better to have a “look it up” answer instead of looking it up together, parent and child? Or what about just telling them the meaning? Or telling and then together looking it up?
I know for me as a kid that was a frustrating answer to receive, so I usually (stubbornly) didn’t look whatever word it was up–though I’d read the dictionary voluntarily at other times. On the other hand, it was great practice for determining meaning from context; quite often I’d figure out at least most of what the word meant without ever looking it up. So even though I was stubborn and frustrated, I can still see benefit that I learned because of, or perhaps in spite of, the resistance to looking it up.
I’m curious how universal my own experience is with these things. Do other people not have the “frustration” emotional response? Did you receive a different answer than “look it up” when you went asking about word definitions? If so, what do you see as the pros and cons of your experience? Do you consider the resistance model of “look it up” interaction to be beneficial, or are there more cooperative or interactive approaches that will also result in increased vocabulary?
Like I said, I can’t say I’ve made up my mind on whether the “look it up!” tactic is a sound one. I remember being frustrated with it on the receiving end, and can’t really say whether a different approach would have resulted in more vocabulary learned. After all, I’m certainly not lacking in the density of my word-forest or the delight with which I populate(d) it.
I eagerly await the opinions and experiences of you, dear readers, from either or both perspectives on this issue.
(Note: this entry is not picking on any friends of mine who may have recently used this phrase, honest; though I did get inspired by one such reference into thinking about the topic, which inspired the post. So thanks for the thoughts!)