Real Spellers

English Makes Sense!

Hello all, 

My friend Jason is a computer coader (and Gertrudes bandmate who wrote this song). A little while ago he posted an article titled "Reality has a surprising amount of detail" by someone named John Salvatier. that you can access HERE

I think he offers some profound insights into the process of developing a deep understanding about any complex domain. Because of my interest, I see it as completely applicable to many aspects of learning and teaching about orthography. Here is just one paragraph to give you a sense of the discussion. 

"Before you’ve noticed important details they are, of course, basically invisible. It’s hard to put your attention on them because you don’t even know what you’re looking for. But after you see them they quickly become so integrated into your intuitive models of the world that they become essentially transparent. Do you remember the insights that were crucial in learning to ride a bike or drive? How about the details and insights you have that led you to be good at the things you’re good at?"

I really recommend reading the the article closely. It is an eloquent description of the process of learning about complex information over time that I experience as I learn about oral and written language. But I also found it a powerful way to better understand the surprising difficulty some have at seeing the importance of studying the interrelation of morphology etymology and phonology in spelling. The better I understand that, the better I can get at helping them perceive details that are otherwise "basically invisible" to them based on the frame of reference from which they are looking. 

I'm going to resist going on about the many links I see between this article and my work with structured word inquiry, but I do hope that we can use this article as a launching pad for a discussion on exactly this point. 

I will point to two Real Spellers posts that I think have particular relevance to the ideas Salvatier articulates in this article. 

1) See the "snow plant" story in  WordWorks Newsletter 82

2) See this story posted on Real Spellers years ago from Grade 2 teacher Neha whose co-learners/students helped her see the significance of the <u> in <triangulate> when she tried to construct a word sum building that word from the base <angle> in the word <triangle>. 

3) There are also very strong links between what Salvatier's article is describing and a poweful theory of learning called "cognitive load theory". I wrote a piece describing this theory and it's link to structured word inquiry a while ago that I posted HERE on Real Spellers if you are interested. 

Perhaps those connections will prompt some interesting discussion, but of course feel free to launch your own connections!





Comments (4)

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"This problem is not easy to fix, but it’s not impossible either. I’ve mostly fixed it for myself. The direction for improvement is clear: seek detail you would not normally notice about the world. When you go for a walk, notice the unexpected detail in a flower or what the seams in the road imply about how the road was built. When you talk to someone who is smart but just seems so wrong, figure out what details seem important to them and why. In your work, notice how that meeting actually wouldn’t have accomplished much if Sarah hadn’t pointed out that one thing. As you learn, notice which details actually change how you think."

This is great advice and a great example the metacognition of an individual who is *already* (likely) an excellent fine detail processor. SWI is powerful medicine for those individuals who struggle with fine detail analysis and juggling multiple details in mind at one time. I first encountered explicit conversation with regards to the vital importance of fine detail analysis when I found Making Math Real. David Berg was the first person I had ever encountered that posited the idea that not all processing styles handle details in the same way, and that in fact many processing styles cannot accurately perceive many details until those details are made explicit.

I would argue that equipping students with the ability to perceive and manipulate details is the single largest development they can undergo in their educational career. Managing details is how you earn a paycheck as an adult, and if your processing style is one that struggles in this area you are at a huge disadvantage.

I believe passionately that MMR and SWI are the single greatest active developers of fine detail processing that I have found for my students. The transformations I have seen my students experience are extraordinary.

Emily O'Connor
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I loved the title of this post as much as the article, your thoughts and Gail's story!

Yes, "Memory problem solved through understanding" really struck me also. Recently, Ellen Meyer and I were asked to talk with parents of students diagnosed with dyslexia and ADHD. We presented a brief exploration of our English orthography and how it helps students understand our writing system. The details of our orthography which were "basically invisible" to every parent in the room became glaring obvious. "...the details to be examined are not within (their) experience" but seeing the truth about how our language works built an immediate understanding of why decoding programs, phonics and other inventions haven't work for their intelligent yet struggling students.

Thanks for all. I intend to share this post with any of those parents.

mary mcbride
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Wonderful Gail! Yes your attachment worked, and what a great way to share your story with the formatting as you normally do it in your word processor!

This is the line that got me most, "Memory problem solved through understanding."


I also think your account of forgetting to think in Latin like you do when you are in English is perfectly in line with the message of Salvatier's essay. And what's more, now that you've had this explicit experience, I suspect you will return to your scientific orthographic inquiry in Latin more automatically than you did before. This is the other piece Salvatier clarifies - once you see something, it becomes so hard to imagine how you didn't see it before!.

And now responding to your response has sparked me to think of the way all of this learning relates so well to a theory of learning I find very powerful called "cognitive load theory". I posted an article on this and how it relates to structured word inquiry some time ago at this link ( . I'll add that link in the initial post so people see it whether on not they dig into the comments.

Peter Bowers
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I have attached (or at least I hope I have) a story in response to the Salvatier essay, which I loved.

Comment was last edited about 3 years ago by Gail Venable Gail Venable
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