Spring has really sprung (though King Winter seems to be raging again today). I’ve been terribly slow to get a new post up, both because there has been a lot going on that has kept me from sitting down to write, and because there has been so much going on that I wasn’t sure what to write. Now I have a bunch of stuff I want to share! Here’s a start…
Here is a picture from a recent activity, reflective of the process of making collections in our word study. I’ve referred to this process before, but lately I’ve been reflecting upon the practice: what it does for us as a learning tool; whether it is equally effective for everyone (hardly anything is); and whether I am overly reliant upon this approach. (In other words, maybe I need some other ideas). This is investigative learning, and as such open-ended: though as the teacher I may have a particular learning goal in mind, the route we take and the learning that occurs can often have surprises. I like to think we are engaging in word science–while learning how to learn in a broader sense also.
Gather the Data: In the last couple of weeks, I’ve been feeling the need to assess and perhaps reinforce our understanding of some of the phonology we’ve explored this year. We have covered a lot–including the many graphemes that can represent the vowel phonemes. But assessment suggested that we needed to solidify our grasp of the “long <e>” phoneme. So, I asked the students to collect words that had this phoneme. (I try to let these “collecting” periods simmer for some time, as I generally don’t want the act of collecting to completely take over the central point of reading: that is, comprehension. Also, it gives everyone a chance to participate in their own time and capacity. In this case, though, we had an intense period of collecting from books the children had already read that day or week).
Sort the Data: Next day, we sorted our words, creating categories according to what graphemes seemed to represent the “long <e>”. Several surprises: <ey>, <ie> and <i> were all discovered, though some questions exist. New categories had to be created
Analyze the Data: An open question to the students: what can we observe about our chart (which now also had the appearance of a graph)? Here is some of what they shared:
- <ee> and <ea> were by far the most common graphemes.
- <e> was almost exclusively limited to small function words like <be> and <we>. The words <behind> and <because> raised questions about whether these were in fact compounds, or whether these words had a <be-> prefix. Someone noted the word <idea> and wondered about its structure. (Still thinking about that one).
- <y> seems to only occur in the final position of words, and is the most likely candidate in this position. All examples had more than one syllable. In many but not all cases it is the suffixes <-y> or <-ly>. The accidental inclusion of the word <why> reminded us that this grapheme can represent another phoneme as well. This got us thinking about whether one-syllable words ending in <y> always represented the long <i>.
- <ey> appeared in words like <key> and <hockey>. (As well as, repeatedly, in Reyad’s name).
- <ie> appears to be a suffix in the word <nightie> and so we tried to think of others and came up with <movie> and <cookie>. Still thinking about that one as well, keeping our eyes open.
- Noting that some of our data came in the form of names—Darcy, Ethan, Oresti, Sophie, and Reyad–we were reminded that names don’t always follow English rules or conventions. This is especially true when we have children from non-English speaking countries like Greece or Egypt. So, another open question: Can <i> represent the long <e> in an English word? We’re keeping our eyes open for this one also. Update, May 15th: Today, Ethan found the word <police>, so there does seem to be evidence that this <i> grapheme can represent the long /e/ sound. Clearly it isn’t common. We’ll be watching for more. And, we just completed our investigation of <c>, allowing us to understand why there needs to be a final silent <e> in <police>.
- I note to myself that we did not find a single example of a word with initial or medial <ie> or <ei>. Weird.
What does this process do for us? I think it makes the children more attentive to the structures of the words. I have to believe that this kind of focus will ultimately help them learn these words. Also, they seem to appreciate the ownership they have over this process: all of these words are their words; not just some list I handed them. This process of analysis will hopefully reinforce as well as reveal concepts that will support their reading and their writing: when attempting to write a word—<dream> or <monkey> for instance—they are now able to consider which grapheme is most likely in that particular position in the word. Such a process does seem to afford children an opportunity to be engaged at a variety of levels: for some, this was an opportunity to be re-introduced to some basic graphemes and words; others were able to stretch into new areas of inquiry. And what I really like is that these investigations generate new investigations!
The teacher challenge with activities such as this is to ensure that I can assess individual as well as group understanding. Thus, follow-up is required.
Current collections on the go:
- We’ve been collecting words with <c> in them, and sorting them according to whether they represent /s/ or /k/. This week, we will analyze this data, to discover a useful pattern. (Happily, children have also discovered at least two words that don’t fit: <special> and <ferocious>).
- We’re collecting words that end with a <k> or with a <ck>, and will soon analyze these to see if we can find a pattern. (As usual, there is one).
- [Note: this is an edit, as I forgot to include this at first] We’ve been collecting verbs that do not follow the suffixing pattern of adding <-ed> when creating a past tense, and finding this quite a bit more common than expected. Examples include run/ran, swim/swam, and so on.
Many years ago, I had a spring job at an outdoor education centre for which I considered myself wholly unqualified. I couldn’t reliably name a bird or a tree. My friend (who got me the job) helped me to see that our main purpose was to open the children’s eyes: help them to see, and to wonder. She was right, and lots of delightful, shared learning followed. I think this is still what I am trying to do.
Finally, there are a couple of links below to other class blogs of teachers and classes whose work I admire. A recent post (and all her others, actually) by Ann Whiting about her Grade 7 class in Kuala Lumpur provides an “inspiring” glimpse of where an attentiveness to the science of words can lead!