I want my students to use matrices soon and therefore able to understand the impact of suffixes on a base element or another suffix. Rather than launch into a lecture on the role of vowel suffixes on the final non- syllabic, <e>, I challenged students to solve ‘The mystery of the disappearing <e>’ .

Students examined data assembled in two columns: a list of words in one column where the final <e> either as a base or suffix was apparent and then in the second column where the words had an additional vowel suffix affixed with the result that the final single non syllabic <e> had been removed. Students were asked: if  the <e> appears in the first column, why has this letter disappeared in the second? They were asked to examine the data I had given them carefully, then to account for any changes or lack of change. This meant analyzing the words in the second column into the constituent elements in order to account for any change. Students were encouraged to use the resources in the room- every table has a prefix chart and a suffix chart (far from exhaustive) but helpful for students while they analyse the words. Students worked in collaborative groups to puzzle their way through the evidence bank of words. They were encouraged to write a coherent hypothesis citing evidence from their research.

Data to analyse: bone – bony, operate- operation, fame- famous, sneeze- sneezing, laze -lazy, be- being, extreme- extremity, inspire-inspiration, determine-determination, fierce- fierceness, flee-fleeing, fine-final, excuse-excusable, time-timely, see-seeing

I anticipated that this research would give practice in and consolidate knowledge of morphology, as well consolidate understandings of much of the terminology we have been using in class. I also wanted students to recognize that a theory needs evidence and refinement and importantly that English orthography is a highly ordered and regular system, that there are relatively few exceptions to rules and patterns. When students speculate and sift through data to find patterns and develop theories, test these theories, work collaboratively with others, their engagement is heightened and when a theory or a pattern is fully explained, they will be in a far better position to understand this and comprehend new learning rather than passive absorbers.

The following are small snapshots of the thinking and discussion as the students examined the data before them. All students were highly engaged by the challenge. All students examined the words carefully proposing theories. They challenged each other and I roved from group to group, possibly annoying with camera in hand (!), trying not to lead them to a ‘right answer’ but to push their thinking a little further. and support their ideas. They continued to think about their theories overnight then we shared their findings the next day. I was particularly interested in one student’s reaction that the activity was challenging previously uncontested ideas about words and word structure and thereby pushing her into that uncomfortable zone of learning- where, as learners we need to weather the confusion, and persist on the basis of evidence, to confront and challenge our assumptions.

Initial observations:

A group’s final theory after a night of contemplation:

And in the words of another group:

Our theory for why the ‘e’ remains in some words but disappears in others depends on the suffix. If it is a vowel suffix, the ‘e’` disappears (as in <bony>) but if it is a consonant suffix, the <e> stays (as in <timely>). Although, in some words, this doesn’t apply as in  <be → being>. This is because of the pronunciation of the word. If <being>, <seeing> and <fleeing> was without the <e>, it would be *<bing>, *<seing> and *<fleing> and that is a completely different word.

We finished the lesson watching a Real Spelling tutorial concerning the single final, non-syllabic <e> and discussing ‘determination‘ which I had observed in abundance as they wrestled with data and theories. On Monday we will return to the morphemic analysis of ‘determination’ and explore this word’s etymological connection to none other than Lord Terminus which Mary alerted us to in her comment on the previous post.