Orthography. Scientific Word Inquiry. Real Spelling. I love it. I am hooked! To think that one year ago I was only able to offer students my extremely limited understanding of English spelling. Since then my students and I have become partners in learning the truth. We are learning (and this is quite difficult, really) to start asking questions again. Over the years we have become complacent when it comes to even wondering about words and their spellings. We’ve all heard over and over that our language is hard, crazy, and just plain doesn’t make sense. And we’ve bought into that.
But today is a new day, and all that is changing for us. We’re ready. We’re enthusiastic. We’re thirsty.
The fact that Pete Bowers offered to talk to my class about proving word sums by providing both morphological and etymological evidence was perfect timing. I had in my mind an idea of what they knew so far and what Pete could reinforce/introduce. I know that the tendency of many of my students is still to split words into syllables rather than morphemes. And that is because they are used to seeing words split into syllables – (often odd letter combinations with no meaning represented). They have not been trained to look for meaning in words that have been pulled apart. So at first, word sums looked kind of like syllable division to them. And like syllable division that is not at all about meaning, they were not expecting to look for meaning in a word sum. But, the light of understanding is getting brighter.
Pete patiently accepted their word sum hypotheses for <automatic> and <pleasant> and used them to talk about evidence. If you don’t have evidence that certain letters form a suffix, then you can’t consider them to BE a suffix. If at a later date you find evidence, well, then you can change your hypothesis to coincide with your current research. As an example, one student suggested that the word sum for <please> could be <plea> + <se>. But when <se> suffix could not be proven to be a suffix (we could not find other words with <se> as a suffix), then the conclusion is that the <se> must remain part of the base <please>.
Another important thing that Pete’s work with my students brought to my attention is their lack of understanding that every letter in a word has a job. I’m sure that at some point they knew that certain letters worked in teams (digraphs), but I suspect it’s been a long time since anyone asked them to think about the letters in words (other than to memorize them)! Pete asked them to spell the word <night>. The students responded with <n> + <i>+ <g> + <h> + <t>. In fact, as they were spelling the word, one girl said, ” I’ve always wondered why there’s a silent <h> in <night>. So when Pete then practiced with them to group the letters by the sound they represent in the word, the correct spelling was <n> + <igh> + <t>. And he asked them to spell the <igh> quickly -like in a cha-cha-cha dance step. Spelling out the word in this way helps them see that the trigraph <igh> represents one sound. The <h> is not silent. It is part of a unit – a trigraph. It cannot be considered individually in that word. This is work I need to continue on a daily basis. Spelling out words and recognizing digraphs, trigraphs, dipthongs and the like will be hugely beneficial when the students are back to proving and recognizing when letters are and are not forming affixes!
Below is a link to the video of our Zoom session with Pete Bowers. It is great stuff! Thanks Pete!