This morning I was just so inspired by the spelling knowledge and investigative skills displayed by grade 7 students in Ann Whiting's class displayed in their latest blog post. (See the "Word Nerds" tab in the Real Spellers Menu to visit thier blog.) This particular blog included a video that follows a student investigation of the word differentiation. Viewers are invited to follow their use of on-line resources which guide the development and testing of hypotheses of the morphological and etymological relatives of this word. They offer us a crystal clear illutration of independent, scientific inquiry of the written word.
These studnets have internalized facts about English spelling that few adults know. This is not inert knowledge of the minutea of fo the spelling system for its own sake. This is generative spelling knowledge they use in investigations that deepen their understanding of the sense and meaning of words they encounter. Ann has clearly provided a learning environment that has resulted in both spelling and scientific inquiry knowledge and skills that are transferable to novel contexts. This is exactly the kind of work I work hard to support in teachers.
I encourage you to watch their video below, but then, please go to their blog at this link post to get more background from Ann's post.
These students captured the trail of their thinking brilliantly, and we can learn so much from taking their lead. But I have given myself a slightly different task. My job is to help teachers gain access to the explicit spelling knowledge, steps and resources that can be used in any investigation. To that end, I decided to take advantage of the students' work including parroting their use of technology to create a video of a parallel investigation. I hope to make the steps that these students do as a matter of course, even more explicit so as to help learners (teachers) with less background get used to doing this kind of scientific inquiry of words themselves. I also wanted to model how teachers and students can take this initial investigation to other possible additional steps of constructing a matrix, and investigating the orthographic phonology that can be revealed by the sets of morphologially related words that are discovered.
I want to be clear that I'm not "correcting" anything in what they have presented. What I am hoping is that watching two presentations of a paralllel investigation will offer teachers a better chance of understanding the principles of spelling involved, and greater comfort making use of these tools for their own investigations. In my film, you will see me make mistakes, and the catch them (one during the filming, and one subsequently - if not others I've still missed!) with the aid of the self-correcting influence of the word sum and the matrix.
I hope teachers who watch these two films don't only deepen their understaning of how to investigate how the representation of morphology and etymology and phonology in English spelling, but also their ability to investigate those principles in any word they encounter.
With that, here is my offering with thakns to the word scientists at the International School of Kuala Lumpur!