What Have We Learned So Far?

I was talking with a teacher the other day about orthography.  She expressed an interest in trying some things but wasn’t sure where to begin.  My students and I have only been investigating words for three months.  We’ve learned so much that I had to pause before I answered her question.  And then I answered it like this … “Let me ask my students.”

So yesterday I asked them to brainstorm a list of things that they had learned and felt were important to know when investigating words.

It is obvious to me that my students enjoy orthography.  As we have investigated words and talked about morphemes, etymology, and phonemes, the students have gained confidence in themselves as word scientists, but also in a language they once had no hope of understanding.

The students have become so comfortable talking about free and bound bases.  Recognizing that bound bases are there, buried in words is so interesting!  They’ve always been there, but before this, we weren’t trained to look for them. My favorite line is at the end of the third video, when Maia admits that it is fun discovering a word’s history and word sum for yourself.  The teacher doesn’t have to know all the answers.  In fact they enjoy knowing that I don’t know ahead of time what they will find!

In this last video I specifically asked the students to describe how orthography has helped them.    As usual I love their candid responses.  For most, they feel that they are better spellers.  And in some respects they are.  Spelling errors have not disappeared from their work, but the approach we take when discussing the errors is completely different.  It is this awareness and learning to trust that spelling needs to follow rules, show relationships,  and make sense that will help spelling skills strengthen.

I love the fact that my students are learning spelling based on meaning and making sense, and not merely as a memorization task.  A few mentioned that they feel like they understand words and spellings without having had to work so hard at it.  The memorizing of spelling lists was daunting for some – a week of gimmicks, silly songs, and practice tests.  As you can hear in their voices, with orthography the joy and intrigue multiplies every day.

8 thoughts on “What Have We Learned So Far?

  1. Rich understanding one that stands out “…when we were in second grade, we had to write a word and a sentence about it and remember what the word meant…it really didn’t help.”

    If our students can understand this important difference about learning, surely teachers will too!

  2. I barely know what to say in response to this glorious display of matter-of-fact understanding of English spelling wrapped up in such obvious joy.

    I’ve been conducting workshops for teachers for days here in Melbourne. I have to thank you for sharing this work that is so inspiring. I will be sharing it with as many people as I can.


  3. Alright fellow cheeseheads (I’m from Appleton!), this was SUCH an amazing post. I am so impressed by your clear description of orthography and all that you’ve learned in such a short period of time. And you taught me something today! Not sure who it was, but one of you mentioned the word ‘abnormality’ and how focusing on syllables could lead to false conclusions about a word’s meaning. I couldn’t help but think of the structure of ‘normal’ – (This happens all the time now with me. Talking to someone, watching TV, reading a book…and I get sidetracked trying to analyze a word. It must look like I’m daydreaming or something. Does that happen to any of you yet?). Thanks to your lead I thought that ‘-al’ was the suffix, leaving me with a possible base element ‘norm.’ I didn’t go to Word Searcher but instantly thought of ‘enormous’…could it be ‘e’ + ‘norm’ + ‘ous’? And would there be the all important connection in meaning?
    Off to Etymonline…and…YES! They both share the Latin root ‘norma’ – “rule”.
    Thanks for the lesson!

  4. The clarity of understanding demonstrated by this band of orthographic scholars deserves to have a world wide impact. It knocks the scholarly indiscipline of the ‘official’ literature into a cocked hat!

    I challenge anyone to name any of the Great Panjandrums of the vapid approximations of the edubabble ‘research’ industry, who know even half of what your young scholars so brilliantly discuss. Your students all deserve doctorates – now. Their precision and handling of the evidence is light years ahead of what’s on the market at the moment.

  5. Inspiring Mary Beth… again so much understanding in such a short time. Stand out line for me are: “The most important thing is not the pronunciation, or syllables but the meaning”. This should painted across the walls of your classroom with bright lights surrounding it and blazing !! Your students have found principles and understandings that can be applied to all words. Great to show parents and teachers and I will certainly share this with my students when we come to reflect on the year’s learning.

  6. I appreciate hearing from these present and future authorities on English orthography. I shared this on my Facebook page and I hope every teacher I know will watch these videos! Such great words you all chose as examples — like emancipate! Keep up the inspirational work.

  7. I love how these kids bust the nonsense of syllables! Also love how they keep coming back to SENSE and MEANING. This is so great, Mary Beth. I’m going to send it to all of the parents and students I work with, and other colleagues as well. Great stuff!!! Incredible students. Kudos to you all. Thanks for sharing this.

  8. Listening to your students talk about orthography really moved me, Mary Beth. Adults make it sound so complicated, but kids know it’s really pretty straightforward. If we let them lead us, we’ll all get there eventually! Many thanks to your students for sharing their thoughts. I will share this with all my students and colleagues

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