Lucy Huelin, a Latin and Classics teacher, has made the exciting decision to focus full-time on her new venture, Vocabulous. The innovative idea, which has gained huge traction, was developed by Lucy and is now set to take the education world by storm.
She set up the website “Vocabulous” for year 6 and 7 students to use in English lessons. Latin and Greek root words are used to teach English vocabulary patterns and it enables them to make links with new vocabulary, using the knowledge they gained through using the website.
“During lockdown, I did a lot of thinking about online learning and how having a useful resource for Latin would help my classes learn remotely,” Lucy explained. “Beyond this, I wanted to bring Latin to students in other schools where it is not taught, as I appreciate and understand the value it can have.
“Rather than create a resource that teaches Latin language, which could only be used by the limited schools that already offer the subject, I decided to focus on what I thought was the most useful for the largest number of students, which was patterns between Latin and Greek, and English vocabulary. When studying Latin or Greek, you have to break the words down into parts, so you look at the endings and the root of the word in order to work out the meaning. The first root students are taught is “port-“, which means “carry”. By making this root explicit and teaching its meaning, students are then able to understand words such as “portable”, “imported” and “deportation”, so learning the root pattern increases their vocabulary more quickly than if they were to just learn individual words. Using these root patterns, students can improve their decoding skills and become word detectives!
Lucy applied for SHINE funding in 2021, with the intention of working with two schools in York in the first year and ten schools in the second. However, when she posted on Twitter about Vocabulous, over 50 schools got in touch in the first month to say they would love to be involved in the trial. With more funding from SHINE, Lucy was able to make this happen, and as of January 2023 she is working with 45 schools, 200 teachers, and 5,000 students, and over a million quiz questions have been answered on the site.
Along with SHINE’s support, Lucy received funding from Christ Church at the University of Oxford in April 2022. Dr Arlene Holmes-Henderson, a language education specialist who conducts research and provides training for schools and universities, got in touch to ask if she could carry out research into the impact that Vocabulous has on students’ vocabulary skills, knowledge and confidence.
Lucy said, “In September 2022, around 700 students completed an assessment in 12 different schools, 6 primaries and 6 secondaries, and started to use Vocabulous weekly in English lessons. They will do another assessment at the end of the research trial and complete questionnaires at different points in the year to measure progress. We will also visit some of the schools to see first-hand how Vocabulous is being used in the classroom.
“When selecting schools to participate in the Oxford research trial, it was important that we were looking at the impact it has on students within SHINE’s remit, so we were specifically looking at students in the North of England, in schools where there are high rates of Pupil Premium, Free School Meals or English as an Additional Language (EAL). I was also keen to recruit schools from Blackpool to engage with the project as this is where I’m from and I wanted schools in my local area to be involved.
“So far, it has already shown early promise that it positively impacts student skills, confidence and knowledge, which is great!”
With the funding and the huge amount of interest and enthusiasm from different schools, Lucy has been able to evolve Vocabulous, with some substantial updates to the site. To improve its pedagogy, Lucy made changes to ensure that words used more commonly in the English language come up first and less frequent words come up nearer the end of the program as an extra challenge. Then, she made structural changes in coding and server capacity, meaning that many schools can use the site simultaneously.
Now that Lucy has decided to work on her project full-time, she has more time to continue improving the site and her skills base. She said, “The speed at which Vocabulous has gained momentum has meant it’s important for me to focus solely on this to make it the best I can. There is a lot of research that I want to do specifically about vocabulary acquisition and how we learn. I think one of the most important things for me is that the site is founded on research to ensure that it’s as effective as possible.
“This last year has been brilliant because I’ve been able to talk to lots of different teachers and students, to find out what is working and what they feel needs improving, as well as talking to EdTech companies, or academics who are researching education and education technology. This network of people has meant I’ve been able to learn a lot and use this to improve the site.
“There have probably been millions of lessons that I’ve learnt so far but I really think the stand-out is – and this applies to all of the teachers who work with SHINE – that we are in this unique position of being educators in the classroom but also designers of resources so we have the ability to look at our ideas with our teacher-head on and say, ‘how would I use that in my classroom? Would this be useful to me? How do I make it more useful? What do I and my colleagues want to get from the resource or program or project?
“If people were considering applying for SHINE funding or something similar, I would really encourage it. It’s important to utilise this wealth of classroom knowledge and experience we have because that’s what’s going to help other teachers and students the most.
Looking forward to the future, Lucy can now focus all her efforts on Vocabulous and already has an exciting vision for what is next. She said, “Last year, my main priority was the student experience and what we would be most effective for their learning. This half term, I am looking at what would be most useful for teachers. I hope to produce lesson plans that the teacher can follow to introduce each root and give them ideas for written activities that can be completed alongside the website, as well as refining the statistics the website generates to aid in measuring progress.”
A last piece of advice is, it is important to ask for things if you need them for your project. I had to ask SHINE for more funding to enable me to develop my idea further and also utilise their network, speaking to other teachers who have received funding through SHINE, and this has really benefitted Vocabulous. Everyone at SHINE is very kind and always willing to have a chat, offer advice or put me in touch with someone else.