Monday, August 26, 2013

Using Big Books to investigate the structure of the English Language.

Big books are a rich resource that can be used to 
explicitly teach structured word inquiry. It is a very effective way to demonstrate the connection between the reading and writing systems. 
Big books can be used to teach many different essential concepts about how the English language works.

In this post, I specifically want to focus on how to 
embed structured word inquiry through reading, using big books (fiction/non fiction) as the starting point.

Selecting the most appropriate text for your students is an important planning step. I have chosen Mrs Wishy Washy, as this text is particularly rich in language with vocabulary that is interesting, predictable and repetitive for young children.
Dialogue is an important concept that is
consistently modelled throughout this particular text.
The word <said> is evident on most pages.
The focus is: an inquiry into understanding the word <said>.
I chose this word because it is often frequently seen in text; often used by young children for writing; and its orthographic structure demonstrates a very important understanding about how the English spelling system works.

To introduce the book to the children, after the initial readings I begin to focus on one or two elements. I would explicitly discuss the word <said> with the children, focusing on the MEANING of the word. In addition, I would also deliberately use this word when conducting a modelled writing session.

The word <said> has been 'covered' with card on some pages, as well as
some other predictable words (animal names).
The next reading session requires more active student involvement and participation. Predictable words, including <said>, are covered with post it notes and the students' task is to predict the covered words as we read along together. This ensures that MEANING and making sense of the text continues to be the focus.

In addition, during this initial investigation and introduction, the children are playing a word detective game, by searching for <said> on other pages and in other texts.

Investigating one of the puzzle pieces!
Just like a puzzle piece, you can now specifically focus on the word <said> and begin an orthographic investigation with the students.

Investigative questions, depending on the children's age and development, could possibly be: Why is <said> spelled with <ai>? Why is <said> spelled the way it is? How can we investigate the spelling of <said>?

Some ways to guide children's thinking, theories and learning:

1. Discover the word family and create the word web for the base <say> to demonstrate the connection with <said> .
(Please refer to the blog post: Can you teach morphology to young children? for some suggested word web activities particularly with young children.)

2. Investigate, to understand, the structure of the word, by creating the morphological word sum. By investigating the now non productive suffix 
<-d>, it leads to further understanding of other words in English.

say/i + d --> said

3. Discover the etymology of <say> and <said>, to demonstrate the meaning connection and the fascinating historical 'story'!

4. Students individually write and 'spell out' the word sum on whiteboards (or with pen/paper) to fix the spelling in long term memory.
Investigating the meaning of words is like "opening up a mystery box",
demonstrates that spelling has many layers to be discovered!
The word <said> clearly demonstrates how English spelling is first and foremost based on meaning and it is only through investigating its meaning that we can begin to understand the spelling...
just like so many other words we encounter!

Investigating <said> is just one example of how you can guide a structured word inquiry, through big books. There are many other significant words that young children encounter in their early reading experiences. Often they are called 'high frequency words' and children have the right to know and fully understand the spelling. 

Investigating the orthography
of <was> leads to a deep
understanding of 

many other words.

              There are rich orthographic 'stories' underlying: 
<one>      <was>      <his>      <two>    <they>

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Starting the learning journey...word families, word webs, matrixes, word sums

Essential Understandings...where to start?

Building essential orthographic understanding in the
early years.
"What are some ways to start teaching structured word inquiry 
with a group of children...?"
A frequently asked question from teachers who are embarking on the critical journey of teaching orthography (morphology, etymology and phonology).

I use the word <critical> with great emphasis, as I believe orthography, and in particular morphology (and etymology), to be the critical 'missing link' in the teaching of literacy in the early years of schooling.
Using significant words to investigate,
from a Unit of Inquiry about materials and their properties.
Although I am particularly interested in provided developmentally appropriate experiences for younger children, the following strategies and activities have been presented to different age groups, ranging from 3 year olds to Middle School students to adults. 
Learning to use resources to independently investigate the
structure, meaning and history of words.
As with all our teaching and learning, the learners' prior knowledge, understanding, age and learning needs are taken into careful consideration to plan the most appropriate and relevant experiences. Consequently these activities are consistently adapted according to the needs of the learner group.
Using significant learning tools like flowcharts, to build understanding of
essential suffixing  patterns.

Here is an example of a structured learning experience to introduce the essential understandings of English orthography.

Starter word: <healthy>

Structured Word Inquiry: A selection of learning experiences
(from 'Starting the Learning Journey' document)
1. Developing a bank of word webs, using free starter bases, to demonstrate the significance of the connectedness of meaning and spelling. 
For example (heal) is the base of (healthy), and is clearly related in meaning, even though there is a pronunciation change in the word (healthy). The spelling comes directly from the base <heal>, hence:
 heal + th + y --> healthy
A 'work in progress' word web created by a Grade 1/2 group to demonstrate the
word family for the base <heal>.

These structured word inquiry activities, such as building word webs, can be effectively embedded in your current Unit of Inquiry. For example, this group of students were investigating the following central idea for this PYP Unit of Inquiry about the human body.
(healthy) was a significant word used throughout the unit.

The students created a base 'pot' to demonstrate
the significance of the base and to teach the
difference between the meaning and spelling of
<heal> , <heel> and <hill>, which have
similar pronunciations.

...and a suffix pot too!

The students are creating morphological word sums for the
base <heal>.
The students created the word sum for <unhealthier>.
un + heal + th + i/y +er --> unhealthier
The word web for (heal), and other related activities, can be shared at an assembly or with other audiences.
The base (heal) jumped out of the base pot!
The students demonstrated the word sum for (healthy), with the base (heal) and the two suffixes (th) and (y), demonstrating the suffix change of the i/y.

These initial, introductory activities help to build a solid foundation for future learning and further exploration. For example, as a teacher you might now decide to:
  • demonstrate how the words can be arranged in the form of a matrix. 
  • write and spell the word sums.
  • focus on the suffixing pattern of i/y.
  • investigate homophones (heal) (heel).
  • investigate the different phonemes for the diagraph (ea) in (heal) and (health).  
  • do a further investigation of the etymology of (heal), looking for etymological markers as a key to the spelling.
Real Spelling has posted a very valuable video in the comments section of this post. This video gives the full story of the free base <heal>. With this information and understanding you, as the teacher, can now make better informed choices about what elements to introduce, teach and guide your students. 
As Pete Bower's states "How can we offer learners an understanding of our writing system unless the instruction is informed by an
accurate understanding in the first place?"

As indicated in the learning experience above, you can begin with a starter base already known by the students, with a prepared bank of words,  OR you can...

...start with a group of words (in a bag, pocket or mystery box) with a starter base to be discovered by the students!

starter base <paint>
Start with a bag of words and a blank word web.
In this activity the words are
<painted> <painting> <painter> <repaint>...
The children predict the base as the words are exposed, discussed
and placed on the word web.
As each word is exposed the students discuss the meaning of the word and think about the base.
The students actively participate in the learning.

When all the words have been added to the word web the students are 
asked to make a prediction about the base. Ask the students to share their ideas with a partner.
When the base has been revealed and proven it can be
 recorded on the word web.
And finally illustrated and presented by the students. The students can now create their own word web.
The completed (or maybe, not completed!) word web. 

You can find more information about these learning experiences by clicking on these links: word web collaborative activity; blog post 'Can you teach morphology to Young Children?'; article Starting the Learning Journey

Monday, August 12, 2013

The power of kinaesthetic learning to instill essential understandings...

Using kinaesthetic learning to instill the principles underlying the structure of the English writing system.

When teaching the principles of structured word inquiry one aspect that I think deeply about is how to effectively build a collaborative learning environment, where all learners are valued, actively participating and highly motivated. This is very important to me as a teacher/guide/leader as it provides the structure and environment for collaboration, inquiry based learning, active participation, differentiation and ongoing assessment.

Here is one strategy that I regularly use when working with adults and the young alike.
1. Using the motor memory to instill significant new concepts and understandings.

Use kinaesthetic hand movements, to understand the fundamental principle of English spelling, meaning is the key to spelling.

With a closed fist say, "This is the base..."

Open and cup hands, "...which holds the meaning..."

Hold or dangle a key, "...and the meaning is the key to the spelling." 

Learning process:
Learners stand in a circle and watch the teacher model the movements, demonstrating the two actions of movement and voice.

Learners shadow the teacher, simultaneously using the hand movements and speaking the statement.

     Learners practise independently whilst moving around a designated space. 

     Learners show a partner, sharing the hand movements and the voiced       statement. Partners give feedback to each other.

     Move on and share with a few partners. Teacher circulates and guides       learners, assessing understanding.

     Return together as a group and whisper statement to       self. Hide "key' in pocket for later reference.
Practice these hand movements intermittently throughout the lesson to remind learners about the significance of meaning when spelling.
              "Tell the person closest to you what is the key to spelling."

"Most scientists agree that movement and cognition 
are powerfully connected..."
Eric Jensen, Teaching with the Brain in Mind

Use the same process to learn and understand the 6 most important letters of the English alphabet: the vowel letters.
a e i o u
                       and sometimes the       y

Using the same kinaesthetic strategies with middle school students...
The act of moving within a designated space allows for greater commitment and concentration and provides opportunities for immediate feedback from peers and teachers.


...and with three year olds! 

  Initially the learning is purely kinaesthetic and oral. For this reason I don't recommend directly writing the vowel letters on the fingers (with marker or pen) but model the correct formation of each vowel letter on the palm of the hand with the pointer finger. Learners can then practise the formation of the letters on small whiteboards or with pen and paper, as indicated in these photos.