As I was grading the first math test of the year, I couldn’t help but notice some interesting variations in spelling.  The word fifteen for instance was spelled fiveteen, fiffytin, fifetyn, and fivtyn.  The word seventy was spelled sevend,  and sevendy.  The word million was spelled millean, and millioin.  The word sixty was spelled sixdy and sextie.

Now, these students have been using these words for a long time.  I’m certain that at some point they  showed up on a spelling list and were studied.  So why don’t the students remember how to spell them?  Hmmm.

Let’s see if we can try to look at these words with a different goal in mind.  Yes, you heard me right – a goal other than spelling the words correctly.  I’d like the goal to be understanding the meaning of the word.  I’d like the goal to be understanding how the word is built.  I’d like the goal to be understanding some of the history of the word.  I’d like the goal to be imagining the base of the word without its prefixes or suffixes — or with other prefixes or suffixes so that what blooms in front of the researching student is a family of related words with a common base.   This is where the real excitement is!  I had a student last year who said, ” I love orthography because you learn to peel off prefixes and suffixes and find the base.  While you’re doing this, you learn to spell the word, and you didn’t even know you were!”  Those words are golden to me.  So my goal is not correct spelling … but I never forget that it is almost always a wonderful side effect of the word inquiry we do.

Having said all that, the obvious course of action was to ask students to investigate!   In this first video, Abby and Landin are wondering about the word <million>.  Their word sum hypothesis is  <milli> + <on> –> <million>.  My favorite thing about listening to them is their enthusiasm.  The thinking that is going on is like fireworks going off.

By the end of our morning, the three groups who were looking at this word had decided its word sum is <mille/> + <ion>.  They built the following word matrix.

The group that was investigating <seventy> found that <ty> was a suffix that represents ten when there are multiples of ten.  That clears up why, when counting by tens, the suffix used is <ty> and never <dy>.  Examples:  twenty, thirty, forty, fifty, sixty, etc.

This next video is of Ezra and Austin who are investigating the word <fifteen>.  Again, I am so impressed that these students are driven to prove what they think.   It’s about finding evidence.  Whoot!