Real Spellers

English Makes Sense!

Click HERE to download this special issue that attempts to convey a "big picture" of how and why the learning through SWI has become so compelling for more and more people.  


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I was the visiting scholar at the prestigious Nueva School for the 2015-2016 school year. Regular WordWorks followers will be familiar with stories from my time there from the last couple Newsletters

It was quite powerful to view the extent of the healthy growth of SWI not only at Nueva, but in the Bay Area in General. 

The effect of Nueva’s support for SWI in the area by hosting public workshops during my visits over the years is clearly evident. My Nueva workshop last year with Lyn Anderson from Australia sold-out quickly from teachers in the area. In previous years I conducted workshops with San Francisco Friends SchoolSan Francisco Day SchoolAthena Academy (a school for gifted dyslexics) and others. The San Francisco Friends School hosted the fourth annual Etymology conference by Gina Cooke and Douglas Harper, and many schools have now worked with local SWI expert This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. That interest explains the approximately 70 attendees at the last Nueva Summer Institute made up from  teams of teachers from over a dozen local schools, as well as individual tutors, educational specialists and parents from the area that attended and teachers that travelled from schools in from as far away as Calgary, New York City and Jakarta! 

It is also exciting to see that a similar growth seems to be happening in Melbourne Australia. After a number of visits over the years, anchored by the support of Wesley College. We had to cap the upcoming workshop Lyn and I are conducting there at 60. 

This WW Newsletter tries to give a “big picture” of how and why so many teachers, tutors and students have been eagerly working so hard to make sense of the written word through SWI and the ever growing community supporting this work. 

As I was preparing to publish this newsletter, I received this email from a parent that illustrates the transformative power and joy that comes from starting to understand spelling.

I just finished Latin for Orthographers [a Real Spelling Spellinar] and I was blown away about how little I actually know. Spelling and reading was never hard for me but this quest that I am on now, learning about why words are spelled this way is just so eye opening. After 2 straight years of [….], and not getting anywhere at closing the gap, watching my daughter light up because she learned and understood the word DOES just did something inside of me that I just can’t explain. Now she can spell so many words and can read them faster too and that has made me open my eyes and in turn I am teaching educators in my daughters school to look into morphology earlier, and they are.

When whole communities of teachers and students have such experiences, the hunger for deeper understanding keeps growing.

Happy Spelling!

Peter Bowers

Comments (6)

This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

Pete--Thank you for sharing your learning.

I just finished reading your latest newsletter. There are so many good examples of structured word inquiry and how it can be used across all content areas and really change the way children think about the world.

When I first started using morphology with matrixes and word sums shortly after attending a conference you and Gina put on, I did not fully understood the power of it. I thought that the child would only understand that particular matrix with those word sums and morphemes. I realize now its broader impact. Your latest newsletter really illustrates that! Thanks for always sharing your learning with the community. It continues to inspire me. Ellen Meyer

Ellen Meyer
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All of this just reiterates the joy and productivity of the quest. I will also add that, even though spelling has always come relatively easy to me, as I get older I am finding that real spelling and SWI helps me immensely whenever I have a memory lapse.

Brett Iimura
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Hey Lisa,

So glad that this story resonated with you.

I know that being introduced to SWI resonates for some people almost immediately and others not so much. Interestingly, I find that those that have a history of spelling or reading challenges are the ones who get most excited first. I was always a terrible speller and slow reader -- so that was my story too.

A key reason I wanted to share the "snow plant" story is that it struck me that it might be a way to convey the experience of learning through SWI to people who don't always get it right away. People who just almost always spell accurately are at a disadvantage in terms of having an exciting experience of understanding that <g> in <sign>. To them it can feel like "what's the big deal?" since they never worried about it. We poor spellers are excited - not so much because we can now spell this word -- but because it is a door to an understanding of this and many other spellings. People born with minds that simply remember spellings don't need to understand a spelling to remember it. People with brains like mine do. By going to a non-spelling story like the "snow plant" story I hoped to convey this experience of suddenly noticing new structures everywhere in a context that was not spelling. Those pre-school kids getting so excited about noticing <ing>s in words everywhere is something that we can relate to in other contexts too. And it was noticing that structure that then led to the deeper understanding that there can be an <ing> that is not a suffix.

I hope, too, that these stories help people gain a sense of how effective introducing kids to structure from the beginning of school is simply the most logical thing to do. Why would we avoid pointing to suffixes like <-ing>? And once you notice suffixes, you can't help but note what they are fixed to -- as our preschoolers demonstrated.

Thanks much for the feedback!

Peter Bowers
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I completely relate to the theme in this newsletter Pete -- each Spring we go out into nature to search for the elusive Morel mushroom. Once you stumble upon one or make your eyes go buggy trying to find must stop to look around once again because all of a sudden, you find you are standing in a sea of them! They appear when your perspective changes with the lay of the land and then not only can you see them, you can't believe how you could have missed seeing and walking over them all along! Studying orthography from the lens of morphology is just like this -- your descriptions in the newsletter are spot on! I love talking to other teachers about orthography from a SWI perspective and watching their faces and eyes change as the realization unfolds bit by bit. Many are not ready for this perspective and that's just the way it is, but for those who are open-minded, the view I can watch transpire from their eyes tells a story.

Lisa Barnett
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The <bine> matrix made me curious about its relationship to <bind> which I believe derives from OE. I couldn't find a connection on Etymonline but they are so similar it does beg the question. Curious about the structure of <binocular>, as well. If it doesn't have <bine> as the base, then what? I originally thought it might be a compound but then where did the <e> go and what would be the reason for its disappearance in a compound? At the same time, if it is a compound between <bi> and <ocular> where did the <n> come from? And, letting my mind continue to wander, I thought about the possibility of oc+ule/+ar. Not enough time to fully investigate all of this right now but thought I'd let you know how many questions just one tiny part of your newsletter sparked!

Brett Iimura
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Hey Brett!

You write that "the <bine> matrix made me curious about its relationship to <bind> which I believe derives from OE. I couldn't find a connection on Etymonline but they are so similar it does beg the question." The meaning connection and similar spelling is exactly the kind of thing that should spark investigations. What makes structured word inquiry scientific inquiry is the fact that we can start such an investigation with the knowledge that the hypothesis of such a connection is falsifiable.

I think you know that there is no possible morphological relationship as there would be no way to make a word sum linking <bine> and <bind>. Even if there was a <-d> suffix, it would not replace that final non-syllabic <e>.

But is there an etymological relationship. Here too, we would have to reject the hypothesized connection if in fact your hypothesis that <bind> is of Old English origin. I just checked, and you are right about that. Thus, since <bine> for <binary> is Latin, and <bind> is Old English, the happenstance of a similar meaning and similar spelling can be proven to be just that -- happenstance. There is no evidence of a common etymological origin, and that negates the possibility of a morphological connection.

In terms of the stories in the newsletter, your provocation reminds me of the students finding the word <singing> and noticing that it has two <ing>s, but only one <-ing> suffix. It is only productive to notice "possible connections" when we have the ability to falsify connections that are not really there. If we couldn't falsify, each question would remain equally unresolved, and there would be no joy of deeper understanding. With the kids and the word <signing> I suspect that the first provocation was excitement at seeing two <ing>s with the assumption that they found the same suffix twice in a row in one word. But when they suddenly realized that the base had to be <sing>, their excitement was the result of the knowledge that they got to reject their own hypothesis. The joy of falsification is the joy of understanding that what you thought was true isn't!

I'll leave you (and others) to continue your investigation <binocular> question. I will just pass on some key information for you and others to keep in mind.

If analysis shows the base of <binocular> to be spelled <bine>, that is not sufficient to conclude it has the same base. We must always remember that elements can be homographic. There is a free base <mote> from the Old English mot for "a tiny piece of a substance," but that is unrelated to the bound base <mote> from the Latin mov(ere), mot(us) for "move". Remember to do both the structure test and the meaning test! (see link here:

Peter Bowers
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