A chart of prisoner markings used in German concentration camps. Dachau, Germany, ca. 1938-1942.

Three events have merged leading to this post today : a sense of desperation about where to begin in an all to brief workshop for teachers on word study, a colleague from Australia’s request for help in analyzing the morphemes in the word ‘differentiation’ and a student’s concern about my workshop presentation about their word investigations. Upamanyu, tech. wizard of my humanities class, had remarked a few days ago that he had a new way for me to try when recording their process in investigating words. “When you record with the camera, the screen is often blurry… it might be more helpful for the teachers to see  our screen”. He came in yesterday in the last ten minutes of lunchtime with a group of friends and I threw the word ‘differentiation’ at them to analyze.



Apologies for my ‘sticky’ notes list of books I want to read and the BBC versions of these that I want to watch!

I had thought it would take a while for the students to recognize the connecting vowel, they have now had several encounters with this in various explorations but not any formal lessons as such. Again by not imposing a ‘map’ or ‘template’ on their thinking, by allowing students to find their own way into a word, even though it is not necessarily in the order that I would work through, I learn so much about how they think. There is instant recognition of ‘-ion’ as a suffix and Upamanyu shows his immediate awareness of  connecting vowels. The connecting vowels are another kind of affix: ‘ i’, ‘e’ and ‘u’ indicative of Latin roots and ‘o’  indicative of Greek roots occur after a base element  or  after another suffix – literally connecting an element to another. They can connect a base element to another base element as in the word ‘morphology’ ‘ morph+o+log+y ‘ or ‘justify’ ‘just+i+fy’, both examples of compound words where the connector links to bound base elements.

Students test their hypothesis, use several resources, question each other, refine previous ideas, confirm and justify their thinking. I have often heard teacher’s concerns that this is too hard for students or too complex with doubts about students’ ability to stick with this work. I too have often underestimated students’ abilities and just given students the root but by allowing students’ to explore resources and authentically investigate, I am consistently impressed by their persistence, their increasing ability to tolerate ambiguity, and their insight. I had thought this example was divorced from the context of our humanities unit but again I was amazed by the way that students when not given definitions and told answers, when students investigate, the way is open for insightful connections. Alexis drew the groups’ attention to the negative connotations of the word ‘differentiation’ stating that this is not always a good thing. Alexis indicted later that this can be discrimination and part of the build up to genocide all too clearly seen in our current work on the rise of Hitler.

Resources used:

Neil Ramsden’s Word Searcher

Online Etymology Dictionary