Why We Love Orthography!

Today I asked my students to brainstorm things they have learned this year while investigating words.  When it was time to share, I was impressed with their honest responses and their sincere smiles.  Just listen to the first boy as he shares his favorite word from the year … a word he will understand and appreciate all his life.  His proud smile as he finishes sharing the word sum says it all.  When he was done, someone mentioned that the base <phot> is probably <phote>.   Yes, I thought.  But did you see the confidence and pride as he mentioned the connecting vowel <o>?

Further into the video, a girl mentions that she was interested in the prefix <cide> which means kill.  As she finished her comments, a wonderful conversation sprouted.  Someone recognized that <cide> is really a base.  Someone else asked about the word <suicide> and wondered if the prefix was <sui>.  Then other words were thrown out like herbicide, pesticide and homocide.  With each word, students offered definitions as the word related to ‘kill’.  As word scientists, it is never a big deal to make a mistake.  Mistakes are like springboards for fascinating discussions!  They are an opportunity to clarify thinking.  My classroom has become a safe place to question each other without seeming critical.

My favorite comment is the last one.  I think it is beautifully put!


5 thoughts on “Why We Love Orthography!

  1. Thank you Mrs. Steven and your merry band of scholars for this brilliant summary! It is so lovely to hear “in their own words” from the orthographic actors who have brought us so much inspiration (and laughter) this year. One of you said, “you’re not that kid that you used to be.” But it is no exaggeration to say that with you in it “this is not the world it used to be.” Go forth and make waves!

  2. What a gift you have given to your students, and what a gift your students have given the world by sharing their learning in this blog. The confidence and curiosity your students show about learning by investigating orthography is truly inspiring. I am about to lead many workshops for teachers this summer. This video will have a prominent place in those sessions as an illustration of what this work is about.

    I’ve already watched it twice. Too many wonderful lines, but what a lovely final word your student offers…

    “Orthography makes me wonder, and fills my mind with more information.” with a beautiful big smile for an exclamation point!

  3. Brilliant, 5th graders! Each presentation gave a deep understanding of orthography. The beauty of looking and thinking about words by investigation and not rote memorization is key to thinking, reasoning, and questioning. You undoubtedly have learned new skills through this process that will serve you well through your lifetime. Bravo and thanks so much for sharing!

  4. LOVE IT! And yes, that last comment was my favorite, the part where she said, “Orthography makes me wonder.” Brilliant! I have had people imply that my class is all about language and spelling, at the detriment of other skills and concepts. But language is just one vehicle, as it is in your brilliant class, to something much more. Yes, it hopefully leads to a better understanding of words and our amazing language, but the real goal/benefit is getting kids to question, to care, to think, to investigate, to interrogate sources, to WONDER…as this amazing young scholar so eloquently put it.
    Thanks for sharing your reflections. Your fellow 5th graders in Switzerland really enjoyed hearing them this morning.

  5. The pivotal statement in this celebration of the cognitive liberation which the science of orthography brings is certainly this:

    “As word scientists, it is never a big deal to make a mistake. Mistakes are like springboards for fascinating discussions! They are an opportunity to clarify thinking.”


    The calm and productive authority with which these students – who happily cite Latin verbs by their principal parts and know how to analyse them – has deepened and strengthened their very humanity.

    The Liberty Bell should certainly be rung to greet the ten-word battle cry – so gently spoken by a student: “I like orthography better BECAUSE we have no spelling tests!

    The very origin of the term ‘test’ foreshadows the real nature of this cognicidal horror of the common bore spelling industry.

    The etymon of ‘test’ is the Latin ‘test(um) – test(i)’ which denoted an earthenware or metal vessel for cooking food by covering it with hot coals. For instance, Pliny writes of a tribe that “ranarum corda sub aereo testo discoxere”; he’s telling us that they cooked frogs’ intestines in a “test” with the hot air from burning coals that were heaped on it.

    And that’s a pretty good metaphor for the obsession with correctness that is the pedagoguerish poison of edubabbling ‘spelling test’ orthodoxy.

    These students are trail-blazers and liberators.

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