Word Sums That Pass The Test

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!

Pete Bowers Session With Our Class

5 thoughts on “Word Sums That Pass The Test

  1. Hi Mrs. Steven,

    How has your weekend been going so far? What Orthographic study are we doing this week? I’m so excited to do the Macroinvertebrate sampling this week. I can’t believe that our High School team lost 19-3. Now they aren’t undefeated. On Saturday our football team tied it 14-14. Thomas (in our grade) had a pick six (that means he intercepted it then ran in for a touch down), and then Chris in the 6th grade ran a touchdown handoff. I did pretty well myself with both blocking and tackling. Now our season is over. I am also going to go bow hunting on Sunday afternoon with my cousin. I will be on my best behavior during hunting and hope I get something. Well, it’s time for me to get on my favourite pyjamas and read a nice Roald Dahl book. Please tell me how your weekend went.

    Keep On Blogging Mrs. Steven,

    -Farmboy 920

    • Hi Ryan,

      So far I’m having a great weekend. I went to the pool this morning (I teach water aerobics on Saturdays), and then I spent some time outside. What beautiful weather again today. It reminded me of yesterday. It was so pretty back by the creek.

      Sounds like you will miss football. Will you play basketball next? Good luck with your bow hunting.

      How clever! I recognised your use of English spellings! Roald Dahl would love it! He might even have started a rumour about the colour of your favourite pyjamas. 🙂

      ~Enjoy the rest of your weekend,
      Mrs. Steven

      • Hi Mrs. Steven,

        I see you re+co+gn+ize/+ed the word favourite, and pyjamas. I also recognized the words ‘recognised’, ‘rumour’, ‘colour’, ‘favourite’, and ‘pyjamas’. Roald Dahl would be especially happy to see you switch sides, and Skot Caldwell would be happy that you are falling into his trap.

        Thanks for asking, or I never would have thought about it. I am going to play boy’s basketball for the Little Jay’s traveling league. It is either going to start on Nov.28, or Nov. 18. I’m not so sure yet.

        See You On Moon+day,

        -Farmboy 920

        • Hello Mrs. Steven and Ryan!,

          Happy Canadian Thanksgiving Moon-day! I laughed with delight at several aspects of this exchange, not least that I would be personally referenced by a student as having insidious designs on the American spelling system! I may find I need to allow more time to cross the border in future! (“What–these, officer? No, those are just Canadian dictionaries–nothing to fear from those, eh?”).

          I have to note that Canadian spelling–along with Canadian vocabulary–falls heavily and sometimes controversially under the influence of both our British and American cousins. Thus, we generally spell ‘recognize’ with a “zed” (though, alas, increasingly with a “zee”) but cling to our spelling of ‘colour’ and ‘centre’. I was recently surprised to discover that my spelling of ‘pyjamas’ was a surprise to anyone–why would it be?

          Growing up, we watched television sitting on a “chesterfield” while our British peers watched their “telly” on the same, but nowadays few Canadians sit on anything other than a sofa or a couch. And while I confess that Ryan is the first bow-hunting orthographer I’ve met, I know that only a Canadian bow-hunting orthographer would feel the cold and don a “toque”–a term introduced by a third major influence: French. After a day of bowhunting and word-pondering, one might wear one’s toque while hitting the snowy slopes on a “toboggan”, one of many words we have adopted from our Aboriginal people (though again, the American influence is increasingly pushing “sled” into the Canadian lexicon).

          I wonder what words are unique to Wisconsin?

          Thanks for continuing to share the amazing work you are all doing!

  2. What your students have so clearly learned from Pete is that a language community’s representation of its own language to itself is the structured representation of its sense and meaning as text – its very own ‘orthography’.

    Orthography is part of linguistics; linguistics is a science; therefore scientific rigour is obligatory. And scientific rigour is what your students have experienced and are making their own. They are now students of orthographic linguistics.

    As Pete has shown, there is a reason for every spelling, and for every one of its component letters. While we may not be able, for the moment, to explain – with evidence and proof – a particular spelling, we can be certain that there IS a valid explanation, and what a party we can have when we find – and prove – it.

    We know when unscientific behaviour is around when people – often supposed ‘experts’ – call spellings that they are themselves incapable of explaining ‘exceptions’. What they are really saying is, “Because the great I, myself, can not explain this spelling, therefore there is no explanation.” As Dr Johnson might well have said, “Calling a spelling that one is oneself incapable of explaining an ‘exception’ is the last refuge of the orthographic scoundrel!” Pete’s visit has ensured that there will be no orthographic scoundrels in your classroom.


    PS When you and your scientific orthographers are ready to discuss diphthongs, do let me know, and we’ll glide into action.

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