Real Spellers

English Makes Sense!

Here is an email from a parent at the University School of Nashville (USN) that was shared with me a little while ago.

Molly is over the moon with the work you guys are doing! In addition to the very high cool factor of the video conference, Molly is so excited about the flow chart. She gave us a lesson on how to use it today at breakfast and I don't know that I've seen her happier. She added, "Mr. Bowers taught Ms. Wasserman and now I am supposed to teach anyone I can about this - that's how teaching and learning works!" Holy cow! Thank you very much for all that you are doing - We are so grateful!

Below I am embedding clips of the video conference lesson I got to teach with this kindergarten class that has had the good fortune to have a teacher like Jan Honsberger take on the challenge of re-learning how English spelling works as she teachers her students. That work sparked learning that led to Aviva Wasserman -- a leading light in bringing Real Spelling and structured word inquiry into a school setting -- having a go with introducing a flow chart on consonant doubling. That interest sparked my digital visit where I wanted to have a go at sharing what I learned from Lyn Anderson about helping teachers and students not just study flow charts, but learn to construct them as a means of deeply studying those conventions. Lyn's post on flow charts at her blog "Beyond the Word" invaluable. Don't miss it!

The videos are edited into three parts. The first two focus on revisiting children's understanding of word structure with word sums from the context of stories that they had been reading. Hopefully those videos help teachers see how any class reading activity can provide an opportunity for orthographic investigation with word sums -- with students guiding the words of interest to study.

 

 

By the end of video 2, I had guided the investigation to the specific issue of consonant doubling for which I had planned this flow chart construction session. Part 3 takes you through that process.

 

 

Below I have pasted the email from Aviva, which sparked my participation in this learning.  I encourage you to consider the culture of learning Aviva has cultivated by making the scientific inquiry of English spelling a priority for teachers and students at her school. A key message I am hoping that the videos above, and Aviva's email below, convey is that educators' and researhers' untested assumptions about what content is appropriate for literacy instruction have been a major hindrance to the literacy learning of children. For decades research acted as though morphology instruction was inappropriate for less able and younger readers. When that hypothesis was finally tested with meta-analyses in 2010 (Bowers, Kirby, & Deacon, 2010; Goodwin & Ahn, 2010, 2013) the empirical evidence was exactly the opposite. Less able and younger students gain the most from intruction which targets morphological structure. We should keep that story in mind the next time we are tempted to hold something back because it's too difficult. Why not give kids a chance to show us what they are or are not ready for? 

With that -- here's Aviva!

Dear Pete,

Your reminder that "nothing motivates like understanding" has come alive in our kindergarten classrooms over the past week.  
 
Our students had begun to notice that sometimes a letter doubles in a word with a suffix  (I am intentionally being imprecise in my language to reflect their actual observations).  I suggested to the teachers that we  introduce the "To Double or Not to Double" flow chart from the Toolbox to help the kids make sense of their observation, and to understand that there is a logic to this phenomenon they had noticed.  We all had some trepidation about overwhelming the kids with too much complexity (I myself had initially eschewed the flow chart because I wasn't sure that I could make sense of it!).  However, buoyed by the work of Lyn Anderson, we forged forward.
 
I introduced the flow chart in a whole class lesson in each of the four kindergarten classrooms.  It was difficult to discern the students' reaction during the lesson; there was the usual spectrum of involvement, from riveted attention to polite perseverance to checked-out gazing round the room.
 
I could not have predicted what came next.  Independently in each classroom, the kids locked on to their new tool.
 
Later in the day, one of the teachers caught me in the hall.  "The kids can't get enough of the flow chart.  After you left, they didn't want to stop using it.  We worked on words for another half hour."
 
From another:  "Could you come back and work on the flow chart with us some more?  We have some new questions coming up."
 
The next day, in my own kindergarten small groups:  "Can we use the flow chart today?"
 
This continued for three days.  And who knows what this week will bring?
 
I had never seen a response to a lesson like this before.  As I puzzled about the impetus for this astounding degree of interest and enthusiasm, it struck me--"Nothing motivates like understanding."  The kids had noticed something that seemed mysterious, possibly even random.  We showed them that there is a tool -- concrete and accessible -- that can not only crack one particular word mystery, but others as well.  Something that seemed difficult and beyond their comprehension was now squarely in their grasp.  And now they were insatiable word explorers.
 
When I introduced the flow chart in the whole group lesson, I started by asking them whether it looked hard or complicated.  At least half of each class that I asked gave me a thumbs up to indicate "yes."  I told them that I had had the same reaction the first time that I saw it.  I promised that if we practiced using it, they would see that it wasn't complicated, and that it would help them in their word detective work.  I believe that their enthusiastic response was also an expression of the joy of discovering that they could master something that initially seemed unattainable.  As one student said, "When you first showed it to us, it looked so hard.  But now it's like a game."
 
This week's teaching has been a lesson to me in so many ways.  And to quote you yet again, "The children are raising the village."
 
With appreciation,
Aviva

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