Real Spellers

English Makes Sense!

Click HERE for this Newsletter.

Upcoming public SWI workshops/conferences in 2019

Jan 17-19: Bangkok with Pete Bowers & Fiona Hamilton (WordTorque). Details HERE

Jan 23-25: Edmonton (Details HERE)

Feb 20-23: Vancouver (Email Pete for details: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.)

March 1-2: Chicago SWI Conference with Pete Bowers, Gina Cooke, Doug Haper and more (Details HERE)

July 9-12: Melbourne (Pete deliveirng Keynote at ALEA annual Australian literacy conference.)

Click HERE for a flyer with information on all of these workshops.

Here is a screen shot of the first page of Newsletter #95

 Screen Shot 2018 11 24 at 6.35.41 PM

This Newsletter was inspired by a weekly blog post Claire Wasserman-Rogers wrote for parents of the preschoolers she and lead teacher, Carolee Fucigna teach at the Nueva School. The account of how they address morphology in the orthographic inquiry that drives their early literacy instruction is truly inspiring. It is also a topic of keen interest in the research right now. See the blog of my brother, Jeff Bowers (a cognitive psychologist at Bristol University) for more on this research debate. Click HERE to see a draft of our latest paper (Bowers & Bowers, 2018) that just came out in the journal Current Directions in Psychological Science titled, "Progress in reading instruction requires better understanding of the English spelling System."

From the introduction to the Newsletter:

Two key points we make in that series of articles include the following:

  • There is no instructional evidence supporting the hypothesis that morphological instruction should be avoided until after phonological aspects of orthography are taught (what we call the “phonology-first hypothesis”).
  • The evidence from all the meta-analyses of morphological instruction and subsequent instructional studies points in the opposite direction. It shows particular benefits for younger (and less-able) students. Also, the greatest gains of morphological instruction Goodwin & Ahn (2010, 2013) found were for phonological outcomes.

While Claire's account focuses on morphological instruction, the Newsletter provides many examples of the othroghraphic inquiry of structured word inquiry that addresses the interrelation of morphology, etymology and phonology from the beginning of instruction. In particular, I focus on examples of the interrelation of morphology and phonology. We already have research evidence telling us that ww should be teaching morphology from the start. What we lack is examples of what this can look like.

This newsletters shares stories and images of learning with young students at Nueva and also from other schools in the Bay Area (San Francisco Friends School and Athena Academy) and links to examples from other schools around the world. This offers educators and researchers some models of what structured word inquiry instruction can look like in the earliest years. 

I also include list of links many sources for proffessional development in SWI and resources.

Just after publishing this Newsletter, I read the spectacular post "Comprehending Spelling"  by Sue Hegland at one of thse resources I point to -- her blog Learning about Spelling. I'm pasting a key paragraph from that article below to encourage you to read the rest of it. 

Sue writes:

There’s a lot of debate about the best way to teach students to read and write, including how to introduce the writing system to young students. For some reason, it’s assumed that showing students the actual structures of words and the ways in which the spelling of words reveals meaningful relationships to other words is too advanced or even unnecessary. So we teach students to analyze pronunciation, which is a moving target. As prefixes and suffixes are added to words, the pronunciation of those words constantly shifts. Meanwhile, the consistently spelled structures of those words are sitting right in front of us, ready to be used to anchor those pronunciations to something that is logical and coherent. The writing system itself shows us that analyzing written words provides the best foundation for learning written English.

Excellent food for thought!







Comments (2)

This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

Wonderful Tania,

I'm so sorry that I didn't see your message before. Where in Ontario are you? Feel free to email me at <>. Perhaps I could video conference into your classroom to investigate some questions you have encountered?

If it happens to work, do consider coming to the Wolfe Island Summer Course. People are coming from far away. Would love to have an Ontario teacher! Click the link below to get info. Thanks again for your kind words.


Peter Bowers
This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

Hello Dr. Bowers. First let me say how I have found your seminars insightful and informative. I use your Book - Teaching How The Written Word Works, to engage my students in understanding the morphophonemic nature of words. I tell them that they can deduce meaning of hundreds of words, if they understood the root of some words, and are aware of the meanings of the many prefixes and suffixes.

The article by Sue Hegland is a keeper! What she said is key -“ There is no better way to launch children into literacy than allowing them to understand how those puzzling words do make sense, by framing instruction in the real context of structures and relationships from the very beginning.” She explains that teaching kids actual structure of words, helps with pronunciation of words., as pronunciation shifts when prefixes and suffixes are added. “... Analyzing written words provides the best foundation for learning written English.” It will expand all students’, including struggling students’ vocabulary understanding. She showed how not knowing the meaning of words and their units could impede one’s understanding of words like ‘bracelet’ versus ‘hamlet,’ (‘ham’ -the historical root is dwell, settle, just like the word home, and ‘let’ - a diminutive suffix meaning small. Howeve, ‘bracelet’ does not include a suffix!

I agree wholeheartedly that children as early as kindergarten should be getting explicit morphological instruction first, as this would benefit students in being phonologically aware. As an Orton-Gillingham Multisenssory Language Practitioner, and ESL teacher, instructing various students with dyslexia and autism, I have seen great gains in their understanding of the English Languge by using multisensory means of bringing words alive, through using a Word Tree -the roots are the base words and the leaves are the units(prefix, suffix). I also use your Word Matrices/Sums to let my students enquire and observe how many words can be made from one word, and to see when does suffixing cause changes at the Joins.

Schools like Nueva, as mentioned in your article, proves that if our kindergarten children start learning that the English writing system is morphophonemic - starting with those simple units-re, pre, er, ing - and using hand signals, for example to represent the base and the suffix, our students would become “real spellers.” Teaching kids words to spell and not grounding them in discovering the meaning of words through multisensory discovery, is sabotaging our students from being able to be fully functional - reading instructions, understanding the written word in all subject areas, thus, failing our kids. Where I live in Ontario, the results of the EQAO exams that government mandates all schools to do, is alarming in a negative way. We need to get back to the drawing board, and see what is working and what’s not working, so we can bring a scientific based approach which includes multisensory, sequential, morphophonemic strategies to learning our English language.

Tania Hernandez
There are no comments posted here yet