Shedding Light on Plant Processes

Wow!  It’s been a very busy eight days since I first handed out the scripts for our Photosynthesis Follies.  Yesterday and today we performed for twelve different audiences!  They included almost all of the students in our building and lots of parents and family members.  Over and over again we explained the process of photosynthesis to all those who came to listen.

Back in our classroom, in the chunks of time between those performances, the students took a closer look at the words photosynthesis and transpiration.  They began with basic definitions and then created word sum hypotheses.  Watching the videos it is obvious there is more to discover.  In the first video, Jacob’s research took him in many directions!  He was one of three who rather excitedly asked if he could work on this at home too!  This was the first time the students were off on their own to explore.  The lists of words he found to prove the <ic> suffix and the <photo> prefix are impressive.  He had come across many examples of <syn> as a prefix as well, but didn’t have them all written down.



In this video Zoe is also looking at photosynthesis.  She has found evidence to support her word sum hypothesis  <photo> + <syn> + <thesis>.   Next up is understanding what each morpheme means and how they help us uncover a deeper sense of what photosynthesis is.



In the next video this team of girls came up with some interesting ideas.  It is so second nature for the students to begin with the notion of sounds in words.  I found it interesting that this was one of the few groups that recognized that there is an <e> that was dropped when the suffix <ion> was added.  More investigating will uncover the other morphemes in this word.

The boys in the second half of this clip made a great discovery minutes after my camera battery gave up.  They had found the word <expire> and were comparing it to <transpire>.  I can’t wait to see what comes of this!



What an exciting time.  The students are ready for the challenge of figuring things out on their own.   This is going to be a wonderful year!

Who You Gonna Call? Mythbusters!

After a delightful discussion today regarding our treasured Skype visit with Michel on Friday, our small group of orthographers decided that we are indeed mythbusters!  Early last week we busted the myth that <tion> is a suffix, and now we have busted the myth that <ial> is a suffix!  It feels great to bust through our old misunderstandings and see words clearly for what they are.

Last Friday, Michel explained about connecting vowels.  We didn’t have as much trouble identifying the connecting vowels in tutorial, aerial, and memorial, as we did with the words racial, facial, and residential.  The difference is what happens when the connecting vowel <i> follows the <c> or the <t> in those words.  The letters <c> and <t> represent different phonemes in those cases than they do in the base words race, face, and resident.  What we learned is that a connecting vowel doesn’t always have its own syllable.

In our search to figure out if <ial> was a suffix or not, we looked at word searcher for words we knew that ended with an <ial>.  Then we tried to find evidence by finding the base of each word.  Along the way we were mislead by an entry in Etymonline (residential + -ial) and a similar one in an online dictionary.  But after looking at the Toolkit and talking with Michel, we understand about connecting vowels.  At the workshop Pete Bowers led, he reminded us over and over that we can’t just rely on one resource because, after all, human beings made each and every resource, and as human beings are all subject to error!  Here is the list of words we researched and our evidence that they, in fact, have an <al> suffix.

We were wondering whether <ial> was a suffix.  After two days of research, these are some of our hypotheses.

We hypothesize that in the following words <i> is a connecting vowel and <al> is the suffix:
à <aer> + <i> + <al>
à <tutor> + <i> + <al>
à <memor> + <i> + <al
à <reside> + <ent> + <i> + <al>
à <differ> + <ent> + <i> + <al>
à <race> + <i> + <al>
à <face> + <i> + <al>
à <office> + <i> + <al
à <finance> + <i> + <al>

We hypothesize that in the following words, the <y> is changed to an <i> and an <al> suffix is added:
à <bury/i> + <al>
à <try/i> + <al>
à <artery/i> + <al>

 We hypothesize that in the following words, there is an <al> suffix:
à <imperi> + <al>
à <soci> + <al>
à <seri> + <al>

This led to a revised version of our matrix:


Today we spent our time looking at several matrices and noticing how pronunciation in a base sometimes shifts when a suffix is added to that base.  We looked at tempest and tempestuous, real and reality, and heal and health.  Looking at matrices also gave us opportunity to talk about “checking the joins” and what that means.

Syllable Use Helps With Spelling? Not Likely!

I walked into a classroom last week and had an opportunity to really and truly understand how breaking words into syllables does not help students learn spelling.  Let me explain.

The lesson was focused on the base word <male/mal>.  There were 10 words written on the board and they were all divided into syllables to aid in pronunciation.  I asked if pronunciation or meaning was the most important thing this teacher wanted her students to know about these words.  She said meaning.  I tried then to point out that by breaking the words into syllables, she had disguised the word parts (morphemes) that HAD meaning.

Here’s an example using the word <malevolent>.  The syllable breakdown on the board was <ma + lev + o+ lent>.  So how hard have we as teachers just made it for the students to recognize that one of the base words here is <mal> which means bad … or that the other one is <vol> which means will?

Instead of a syllabic breakdown I would suggest an orthographic word sum that looks like this:  <mal> + <e> + <vol> + <ent>.  In an orthographic word sum, the word is separated into morphemes (a word part with meaning that cannot be made smaller).

With this kind of examination, the students will learn several things.  First, once they have researched this word, they will find the meaning of it — not just the general meaning, but the meanings of the morphemes <mal> and <vol>.  While researching (using Etymonline), they will also learn the history of the word and these bases.

With teacher guidance they will learn about the connecting vowel <e>.  They learn that with two bases in one word, this word is a connected compound (meaning it is a compound word with a connecting vowel between the bases).

Lastly the student will recognize that <ent> is a commonly used suffix (based on previously investigated words with that suffix  and also a list of words compiled by students in which <ent> is clearly the suffix).  By separating a word into syllables, the suffix <ent> is not recognizable because it is visually paired with an <l>, forming a familiar word <lent>.

None of the syllables in the word <malevolent> have meaning.  They do not enhance a student’s understanding of what the word means.  What if … instead of having students break words into meaningless parts that may or may not make the rote memorization of the word easier, we have them break words into meaningful parts that the student can then relate to what they know of other words and other spellings?  Gina Cooke referred to this process as peeling back the layers of a word in her video called “Making sense of spelling“.  What a beautiful way to think about a word and its affixes.

Initially, the teacher said that she wanted her students to be able to pronounce the words.  Teaching the students IPA (International Phonetic Alphabet) would be better suited to this end than syllables anyway.

Teach It! Then You’ll Know If You Know It!

Our class was invited to teach the three second grade classrooms in our building about word sums!  With great enthusiasm and excitement, we accepted.   We chose the word <star> because we knew they were studying the solar system.  Next, the fifth grade students brainstormed a list of words with <star> as a base.  Once we had that list, we sorted out the compound words from the “base plus suffix” words.  Someone volunteered to create the matrix based on our brainstormed list, and we were ready to practice.

For three days, the students practiced explaining what they knew to a partner.  We talked about naming bases and suffixes.  We talked about adding vowel suffixes to <star>.  We talked about spelling out loud while writing the word sum.  We talked about the “is rewritten as” arrow.  We talked about having in mind a logical order in which to share all this. We talked about compound words.

I was fascinated by our first visit.  The second graders were eager to please.  A few of the  fifth graders weren’t as secure in their own understanding as I thought.  I heard the “is rewritten as” arrow referred to as “equal” and “combines”.  There weren’t enough second graders spelling out loud.  But there were also these lovely moments when the joy of teaching and the joy of learning lit up each pair of students.



After that first experience, my students were looking forward to visiting the second and third classrooms and doing it again, only better!  We talked more about the importance of repeating the spellings out loud and of having slight pauses between two bases (compound) or between a base and a suffix.  I also stressed the importance of teaching that the arrow be referred to as “is rewritten as”.

With experience grows confidence.  The fifth graders thoroughly enjoyed being the teachers.  I enjoyed seeing them cement the cracks in their own understanding.  One second grade boy was paired up with his fifth grade sister.  He asked if she would teach him more when they got home!  Another second grader asked why there wasn’t another matrix on the back side of the paper!  Both groups decided this was fun!


Evaporation; Condensation – Don’t Get All Misty-Eyed!

I decided to give a quiz of sorts on Monday of this week.  I asked the students to write the word <prejudice> on one side of the paper, and <segregation> on the other.  These are words that we have investigated in the last two weeks.  For each I wanted:

1)  the definition
2)  a word sum
3)  two other word sums showing the base with other affixes
4)  two words with related meanings

I learned much!   The vast majority of the students spelled both words correctly, but the vast majority did not write an accurate word sum for that spelling.  For some of my students the tendency is to divide words by syllables rather than bases and affixes.  This makes for some random word sums as their hypothesis!  Even though they have knowledge about certain prefixes and suffixes, they aren’t applying that yet on an automatic basis.  I’m confident that as the investigations continue, and they talk about why they are making the choices they are making, that this will all come together.

Today we split into four groups.  Two groups investigated <evaporation> ,and two groups investigated <condensation>.  Rather quickly, both groups looking at <evaporation> found the base element to be <vapor>.  We all found out that <e> is from the prefix <ex> which means out.  That really helped with picturing evaporation!  Students used their hands to describe the vapor moving in an outwards direction.



The suffixes <ise> and <ize> in the matrix for the base <vapor> reminded us of the books we read by Roald Dahl earlier in the year.  As we read we collected spellings that were slightly different than what we were used to.  We remembered the word <realise>, which we knew was a British English spelling rather than what we are used to – American English spelling.

The two groups investigating the word <condensation> approached it quite differently.  The first group began with a pretty accurate word sum hypothesis.  Then they looked up <condensation> and <dense> to find out more.  With prompting they added the meaning of the prefix to their understanding of the base.

The second group was trying all sorts of random letter combinations as part of their word sum hypotheses.  At first it didn’t seem as if they had a plan, meaning a logical order for how to proceed with their investigation.  When I asked if they had looked on their list of proven prefixes to see if anything matched what they were seeing in the word, things began to click.



Curious Minds … apartheid and discrimination

As we continue our study of the Civil Rights Movement, interesting words keep popping up. So far we have looked at prejudice, segregation, and integration. During the research into those words, the words ‘apartheid’ and ‘discrimination’ surfaced. Intrigued, we began with the word ‘apartheid’. We read some information and recognized that there were some parallels to be drawn between the situation in South Africa from the late 1940’s to the 1990’s and the situation in the U.S. prior to the 1960’s. Then we wondered how the words ‘apartheid’ and ‘discrimination’ fit in with the other words (as far as meaning) that we have collected on the topic. It was time to investigate.
Two groups of students investigated the word ‘apartheid’. Here is what they found.

Three groups of students investigated the word ‘discrimination’. It was fascinating to listen to the hypotheses the students started with, and then the reasoning they used to alter them. It’s been pointed out to me by other orthographers that what I see happening while the students investigate and recap that investigation is the really worthwhile part of all this. I believe it.

While watching the following video, I thought of what the three groups found. Tomorrow each group will be asked to consider the following:

1) One of the groups found that ‘dis’ is a prefix and means away from. Can that be proven or disproven?
2) We know that ‘in’ is a prefix. Is it also a suffix? Check on WordSearcher for other words that end with ‘in’.
3) One group believes ‘ate’ and ‘ion’ are both suffixes in this word. Another group believes ‘at’ and ‘ion’ are the suffixes. How can we prove/disprove either of these?

Exploring Orthography … and Loving It!

Today we pulled a word from our study of the Civil Rights Movement and took a closer look.  We chose the word prejudice.  I asked students to hypothesize what its word sum might look like.  We had some thoughtful ideas.

It seems that everyone remembered that pre is a prefix!  Earlier this year we made a list of words that included preschool, predict, pretest, prepare, pretend, and preview. With each of these words the students could explain how the meaning of the word had something to do with before (which is what pre means).  But, no one knew for a fact what the base was.  We went to Etymonline to look up the word prejudice.

prejudice (n.) Look up prejudice at
late 13c., “despite, contempt,” from Old French prejudice (13c.), from Medieval Latin prejudicium “injustice,” from Latin praejudicium “prior judgment,” from prae- “before” (see pre-) + judicium “judgment,” from judex (genitive judicis) “judge.” Meaning “injury, physical harm” is mid-14c., as is legal sense “detriment or damage caused by the violation of a legal right.” Meaning “preconceived opinion” (especially but not necessarily unfavorable) is from late 14c.

 We noticed that we were correct in regards to pre meaning before.  Looking at judicium “judgment” and judicis “judge”, we decided to go to Word Searcher to look for words.  Would the root be jud, judi, judic or even judici?  What we found there was an extensive list of words.  Most of them had jud in them.  Few had the other letter combinations we had wondered about.  We came to the conclusion that jud must by our base.  Then we wondered if ice was a suffix.  We tried to think of words we knew that had an ice suffix.  We easily thought of justice, practice, service, and, of course, prejudice!  Based on that list, we decided that ice is a suffix.  Then we were reading to think of word sums built around the base jud.  Below are some of the word sums we found.

un + jud + ge + ment + al –> unjudgemental
un + jud + ge + ed –> unjudged
un + jud + ge + able –> unjudgeable
pre + jud + ice –> prejudice
pre + jud + ice + i + al –> prejudicial
pre + jud + ice + i + ous –> prejudicious
pre + jud + ice + i + ous + ly –> prejudiciously
jud + ge –> judge
jud + ge + s –> judges
jud + ge + ed –> judged
jud + ge + ing –> judging
mis + jud + ge + ed –> misjudged
mis + jud + ge + ing –> misjudging
mis + jud + ge + s –> misjudges
jud + ge + ment + al –> judgemental
jud + ge + ment –> judgement
jud + ge + ment + s –> judgements

Then we created a matrix featuring the base jud.

The students suggested we use a notebook to keep together all these valuable investigations!  Tomorrow we’ll discuss how to organize it …. a section for matrices, word sums, and related words … a section for prefixes … a section for suffixes … a section for bound bases … a section for free bases … and a suffix checker on the inside cover.  Sounds like an awesome idea!