Developing a Scientific Mindset

Last week I wrote a post called, ” Lab Coats Are Optional”.  In that post I described the scientific approach we are using to explore familiar words. As I walked around the classroom today with my video camera, I was thrilled to hear the kinds of conversations students were having about words, letters, and phonemes.

In groups of two, students have been asked to collect words and then to make some observations.  Some groups are comparing words with a <ch> digraph to words with a <tch> trigraph.  Other groups are comparing words with a <ge>digraph to words with a <dge> trigraph.  Still other groups are comparing words with a <k> grapheme to words with a <ck> digraph.

In this first video, Daphne and Emma share what they have noticed about words with the <ch> digraph and words with a <tch> trigraph.

They found that when the <ch> digraph was final in a word, there was either an <r> or an <n> immediately in front of it, or else there was a vowel digraph immediately in front of the <ch>.  The use of the words “usually always” confused me and I kept asking the girls to determine whether what they were noticing happened usually or always.  They did find one word in which there was a single short vowel immediately in front of the <ch> digraph.  That word was <attach>.  All of the rest of the words they looked at (<coach>, <reach>, and <screech>) had a vowel digraph in that spot.

At that point I suggested we look at Etymonline to see if <attach> is an English word.  Often times the rules that apply to English words do not apply to words that are not English.  We found that it has French origins!

In the next video, Kacey has made some quick discoveries about words with <k> as compared to words with <ck>.  Then Martha and Mayah begin a look at words with <ge> and words with <dge>, but have interesting questions about the phonology of <g>.  I enjoyed seeing their curiosities become unleashed in this way!

At this point I am encouraging the students to make lists of words that support any hypotheses they are making.  I would also like groups working on the same digraph/trigraph combinations to get together and compare their findings.  Perhaps they can combine their word lists so that they can have an even bigger sampling of evidence to support their observations and hypotheses.

It is obvious to me that these students have not been invited to really look at words and spelling in this manner before.  Some of the students are struggling to put their thoughts onto paper in order to explain what they see .  Some lose interest quickly because there is no quick answer.  But once they realize I am not looking for “that one right answer”, they relax and begin to let themselves really wonder about the words in front of them.  And finding the right words to explain their thinking will only improve with practice.  “It usually always does”, she said with a wink.