Stepping into a Deeper Understanding of Words.

Students have begun research on the American Civil War.  They are all researching Abraham Lincoln, and they are each researching both a particular person who was alive at the time and a specific battle or Civil War term (uniforms, artillery, medicine, etc.).  This week, we began talking about the research.  I also began lecturing, and they began taking notes.  Our discoveries are being shared, and the adventure of investigating a significant event in the history of our country has begun!

A new topic of study always lends itself well to word investigations.  The students practice their investigation skills and broaden their understanding of the topic at the same time.  This week the class was split into five groups.  The words investigated were <civil>, <slavery>, <abolish>, <immigration>, and <emancipation>.  The video clips below feature the words <civil>, <slavery>, and <abolish>.

<Civil> …

<Slavery> …

<Abolish> …

One of our last orthography investigations was that of comparing a word as it is split into word sums and into syllables.  The general consensus was that if we want to understand a word’s meaning, syllables  confuse the issue, whereas word sums help us isolate the base element.  The base element, of course, is the central kernal of meaning in a word.

When the students approached the task of investigating these words, they spent much less time creating word sum hypotheses.  They have internalized the difference between dividing a word into syllables and dividing a word into word sums.  When I went around asking about their word sums, their hypotheses was based on known prefixes and suffixes!  I smiled a big inward smile.

2 thoughts on “Stepping into a Deeper Understanding of Words.

  1. ‘Civil’was fun to learn about. ‘Civil’ means consisting of citizens. The fictional example was the book “The Help.” The historical example was the Civil War. Thanks Old Grouch.

  2. Generally speaking, the only thing that ‘school’ (in its modern institutional sense) and ‘scholarship’ have in common is the first four letters, a lamentable state of affairs that is the inevitable consequence of the cognicidal wet blanket of the official pedagoguery industry.

    But the growing presence of real spellers (of all ages, stages and personalities) is beginning to put the scholarship back into schooling, and what a wonderful example of the Return of Scholarship we see here.

    One of the signs of scholarly resurrection is when orthography pervades and informs all learning (which is denotationly “track-finding”). Real orthography – human thought made visible as text – is not timetabled, it omnipresent. This community of students (Chief Track-Finder Mary Beth included!) is showing such scholarship as a living reality.

    Real orthographic scholarship is collaborative, not a matter of delivery and, that ultimate of abominations, the spelling scheme, system, method or approach.


    Orthographic scholarship pervades the Seven Ages of Man. Following up the students’ comments and insights in my hoary old age I’ve already learned a few new things from them – and I haven’t had breakfast yet! I won’t detail them all. Here are just a couple of the leads that you have given me that I shall be following up today.

    – The Latin for “slave’ was ‘serv(um)’, that has given us such words as ‘serve’ and ‘servant’. It has, then, ‘ameliorated’. So I’m following the tracks of the root of our ’slave’; to my surprise I find that it has a connection with ’Slav’! I sense a history lesson in the offing!

    – The Etymonline entry for ‘abolish’ is an orthographic gold mine. I am in admiration of how this resource is continuously evolving and refining. Doug Harper, the genius behind it, is a contemporary liberator of the first order.

    And as a final sobering thought, the Greek root of ‘pedagogue’ is ‘παιδαγωγ(ος)’, who was a household slave whose only job was take the family child to the teacher, but had absolutely nothing to do with the actual learning that took place. The pedagogue is denotationally a servile instruction-follower!

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