Real Spellers

English Makes Sense!



Last Wednesday Nueva had a special visit from Dr. Pete Bowers. Pete has been helping Nueva grow their Structured Word Inquiry (SWI) program and he was here to meet with some older grades, as well as facilitate a word lab for teachers and parents. Luckily, we were able to invite him down to pre-k, where he helped us tackle a new word family, <transformers>. (The word came up the day before in a discussion about new games in Pre-K).

Like usual, we began by trying to identify the base of the word. One child immediately mentioned that it might be a compound word, where two bases join together. This thought was passed over as AK hypothesized that the base might be <transform>. With that possibility in mind, we identified two suffixes, <-er >and <-s>.

Next we were on to meaning. What does it mean to transform? Someone mentioned, "To turn into something else." At this point of the process, we usually ask the children to try to physically act out the meaning. Carolee asked the children to transform from one thing to another. The children squirmed and wiggled their bodies. Then TC thought of another member of the family, <transformed>.

Carolee: What does it mean to transform?
SH: Like you just transformed, already.
AK: Like, Why do you look so weird? Because I'm transforming.
Carolee: Transforming is another member of the word family!
JJ: <ing>! (noting the suffix)

At this point Pete found a moment to interject:

Pete: I remember at the beginning of the conversation someone mentioned that <transformers> might be a compound word. Are there two bases in <transformers>?

With this gentle redirection, the children begin to analyze their original hypothesis again. AK remembered that compound words consist of two bases, of two separate meaning-bearing elements.

AK: Trans. Trans is not a word. (Therefore it cannot be a base.)
Carolee: Then what's the base?
SH: Form.
Carolee: What's form?
Pete: When you guys go from one shape to another? My hypothesis is that form has to do with shape.
There is a brief discussion about the fact that Transformer toys change into different things.
ER: Like Optimus Prime.

Carolee: Can we think of another word that starts with trans?
DH: There's an orchestra called the Trans-Siberian Orchestra. (It's a real band!)
Carolee: Siberia....hmmm. Like in Siberia?
DH: Like a Siberian Tiger.
Pete: I live in Toronto, and if I fly from east to west it's called a transcontinental flight.
AK: It's move (addressing the meaning of trans).
Pete: Maybe instead of changing shape it means across. Like changing from ice to water.

After thinking of a few other words that begin with <trans> (<transplant>), Pete was off to another classroom and we gave our brains a rest. Later that day at the word lab, Carolee and I checked in with Pete about our discussion. He encouraged us to have the kids explain their evidence in group discussion.

The group of teachers and parents present that day all agreed that diving into SWI with children is a messy business, and we often don't have all the answers. (What is the meaning of <trans>?) In fact, we are often stumbling alongside children as we make these connections between spelling and meaning in the English language.

As you can see from the process above, SWI in Pre-K is extremely collaborative, and it leads in many directions. Our takeaway is to be brave and curious about words, just as you and your children are brave and curious about other things in our world. Try out some of these experiments with your children. Words can be studied just like mushrooms and young children are fully capable of engaging in this kind of work.

Like MM said this week, "Brainstorming is thinking and throwing out ideas and no idea is a bad idea."

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