Globally Connected: An Inquiry into Word Works

Crossposted from Language and Literacy for Learning

Since I have been Twitterpated, I have been learning at a mile a minute. Through blogging, I have become more reflective about my teaching practice and even the smallest feedback I have received on anything I’ve shared has given new cause for reflection and motivation. Becoming a connected educator has shaped my view on 21st century learning. If I am experiencing an unprecedented accelerated growth in my own learning, gaining ideas and feedback from other educators, imagine the possibilities for our students.

I love reading about language and literacy in relation 21st century learning on Sylvia Tolisano’s blog Langwitches. She has put a name to my learning experiences and what I have come to see is important about literacy in the 21st century. Blogging as pedagogy, Documenting4 learning, Twitter as a curation tool have made sense of how education and what it means to be literate, is changing.

So in an effort to apply my learning, and to be a 21st century learner myself,  this blogpost is a reflection on an inquiry I recently embarked on as a result of finding something on Twitter.

I am an EAL support teacher at an international school and collaborate with teachers to provide language instruction. I had introduced a spelling routine to the students with the grade 5 team at my school, based on personal wordlists that the students were given time to practice. As a team we also discussed the need to focus on root words, prefixes and suffixes so I had copied lists of these to put in the back of the students spelling record books – I just wasn’t yet sure how to approach this with the students.

My principal shared a Maths blog on Twitter by Graeme Anshaw that drew my attention:
I loved the documentation of learning on this blogpost, but especially the blog header “rescuing children from textbook or worksheet learning”. I saw a connection with my own ideas about learning, so started following Graeme on Twitter. A few weeks later, he shared a picture of student work.

The image drew my attention because I could see that this showed an approach to word study that involved student inquiry. Initially I was just planning to use the activity. However, I opened the link in his tweet and that’s where the learning journey really began, uncovering a network of teachers who were using the same approach. Over the next few days all I wanted to do was learn more. I spent time looking at blogposts and videos of student work from other international teachers who had used a similar approach, like Dan Allan who use Peter Bower’s approach to teach spelling and word study as well as Lyn Anderson‘s wonderful blog. Feeling slightly overwhelmed, along the way I read about curation of information on the Langwitches blog and created a Livebinder and downloaded Pocket. It was time to start organizing the stuff I found.

I found a real jewel of a video on the Word Works Literacy Centre website of Dan Allan modelling thinking aloud about how words work. I could see how engaged the students were. I also knew that this was not only about spelling- it was going to help students build vocabulary, become better readers and language learners and develop a lifelong curiosity about words.

So how to start? We decided to show the student a Brainpop movie about etymology and morphology as a way in to get them wondering, using the Connect- Extend- Challenge routine.


Already at this stage, I was amazed at the type of questions the kids were asking. Even though I felt anything but the expert (and I was sure to remind them!) I was hopeful we were headed for some deep learning. We decided to record all the students responses on a Padlet. Their initial wonderings can be seen here. We arranged them into three categories: morphology, etymology and evolution of language.

It was exciting to see the amount of questions the children had about language- fruitful ground for learning!

Inspired by video of a guest visit by Peter Bowers at ZIS and a blogpost from the dyslexia institute, we talked to the children about the word <sign>. What did they find strange about the word? Could we form other words from <sign>? If <sign> was in signature, was <sign> the base of the word? If so, would <grown> be a base too, or <grow> + <n>, with <n> being the suffix? How about <known>? Can /n/ even be a suffix? If so what does it mean? How could we prove this?

Our discussion went on to one of the unit words ‘perspective’. Based on its word sum, we hypothesized what the base word would be, <perspect>? <spect>? We decided on <spect>. We looked up <spect> on Word Searcher and found 80 matches or words with <spect>. Then we entered it into the online etymology dictionary and found:

One student said:

“…if <spect> means grow from Old English, and <per> means for or through, then perspective is about growing your ideas.”

But then a student found the word <specere> to mean ‘look at’. We debated which one was the better explanation.

Inspired by Dan Allan to get them started we would set the children a suffix challenge– find as many suffixes as you can and PROVE it!

In this video the children have figured out that a suffix has meaning. For example /s/ is a suffix because it means ‘more than one’. /n/ means past tense and /ing/ means that something is happening now. These students were getting it! Yey! 

In another group, the students were testing the suffix /tion/. These students chose harder words, so it was harder to figure out the meaning of the suffix. But if you listen to the video until the end, you’ll hear them figure that /tion/ and /ion/ could be two different suffixes, based on the two different bases in imagination an immigration. My initial thought was that these students weren’t getting it, which is why I’m glad I took the video. You can hear there is inquiry going on and I now have a starting point for next lesson!

5ED suffix challenge from Marcelle Houterman on Vimeo.

If you happen to stumble upon this blog, please know that apart from the student responses I stole all ideas presented here. But wait,  that’s the old way of looking at things, so I might now say I have curated the information I needed to start my inquiry. Through acquiring, selecting and filtering, contextualizing and presenting information- I was able to reflect deeply on how this approach will help student learn. Thanks to all the educators mentioned in this blogpost for sharing!

© 2016 SPELTAC

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