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The wily observer of all things connected with school- Nigel Molesworth pictured here with young Fotherington-Thomas skipping around in a moment of joie de vivre greeting the clouds and the sky.

Yes there will a test. End of year. All the words! Gasps around the room – the usual panic. I hope my students once they get over the word ‘test’ will realize they know more than they think they know. This assessment is a way of wrapping up, consolidating what has been learned. I want my students to leave Grade 7 able to:

Recognize morphemes for the words we have studied and indicate this in the form of a word sum.

  • Insert or remove a final, non-syllabic ‘e’ in word sums (analytic word sums where a complete word is analyzed into it’s elements or resolved from it’s elements into a complete word and account for any changes)
  • Identify several words from a matrix as well as create a matrix to represent the related words.
  • Recognize base elements and understand the difference between free and bound bases in the words that have been our focus all year.
  • Identify related words- words sharing the same base and therefore the same root.
  • Identify affixes- be able to recognize many.
  • Know something of the role of suffixes. That is, know suffixes can indicate person, number, tense and give the grammatical clues of how a word will be slotted into the sentence-indicate whether it can be a noun, a verb, an adjective, an adverb as well as be aware that through affixation many new words or ‘lexical items’ can be formed.
  • Locate and search through resources to identify roots.
  • Be aware that one root can sometimes lead to many bases in Present Day English.
  • Be aware that a word’s meaning can change over time.
  • Use and understand the term ‘root’ and ‘stem’- how to locate roots and  be able to give the denotation  of the particular roots we have studied. To know roots and be able to recognize the bases that spring from these when encountering an unknown word is a gift- ie. to be able to peel back the morphemes to locate the base then recognize related words and hopefully be able to say  when looking at ‘reclusive’ for example, ‘Yes from L. claudere to shut to close!!’
  • Recognize the spread of synonyms and appreciate some subtle nuances of meaning as we did with ‘stranger’

Mention the word quiz, test, exam and the response is audible.  ‘Quiz’ , my students, interpret as less intense than ‘test’. ‘Test’ draws always a loud sucked in gasp and ‘exam’… well, in Middle School we never mention this- apparently this is too intense a word for an adolescent until you reach High School and even then exams can be talked about as ‘finals’ . Interesting concept applying ‘finals’ to an assessment -when does learning stop? Is that ‘ it’  for the particular body of knowledge when the last ‘quiz’/’test’/’exam’/’assessment’ of the year is completed? Do these concepts not get thought about or discussed or just plain wondered about ever again?  This had me wondering about the difference in meanings of the words ‘quizzes’, ‘tests’ and ‘exams’.

When ‘quizzing’ I had no idea that etymologically one is asking about the essence of self. When ‘testing’ in the 14th century I would have been assaying precious metals … a test was the vessel used to deem the worth of the metals and note the connection to weaving! ‘ Exam’, which only appeared in English around 1848, is a clip of much earlier ‘examination’ and initially referred to ‘judicial inquiry’ (14th century) and as test of knowledge from 1610. ‘Examine’ however in the 13th century meant ‘interrogate, question and torture’ which students would claim to still be true! ‘Assess’ in the 15th century had a sense of fixing the amount of a tax or a fine and shifted somewhat from property in 1934 to ‘judging the value of a person or idea’.

Sadly saying ‘test’ makes my students take all this seriously!  So a ‘test’ or ‘ exam’,  not I hope mindless regurgitation. It’s the process before the test in class that really counts. See below brief clips of our study guides. It’s an interesting review process… two words a day, then the kinesthetic process of making the guides helps I hope to consolidate morphemes particularly for those who are shakier in their ability to do this. I hope it is also consolidating affixes. When I have done this before, it has become quite a social and bonding event for several weeks.  Students test one another on the ‘foldables’ and gain enormous pleasure in ‘getting it right’. I always have a flood of kids coming in before school (!!) with their foldables wanting me to test them . They scrawl all over the white board reviewing and quizzing one another. It’s a great way too for me to listen to them, observe their understandings and where necessary give more explanation.

We prepare with morphemic analysis, ensuring we are all in agreement. We apply the skills and information students have gathered all year. As always with word study and this too is true for any ‘assessment/test’- my aim is to make connections to literature, history, art, movies, current events. Words do not exist in a vacuum waiting for us to dish them up to students to analyze. I want students to develop a love of and joyousness in reading, writing and uttering words.

The final word for musing and philosophical rumination on the examination process is left to the one and only Nigel Molesworth. Student subversive, irreverent yet philosophizing and silver-tongued Nigel is an unparalleled observer of the quirks and foibles of school life. Below he recounts an exam question given at his school, the ineffable St Custard’s in a chapter entitled The Cruel Hard World:

 ‘5 rats eat 6 seed cakes in 43 mins, 9secs. They pause for twenty minutes. Then they eat 29 rock cakes in 15 secs. (dead). They pause for one minute,13secs. Then they eat a cheese in 33 minutes.

How long do the rats take to eat the seed cakes, the rock cakes and the cheese?”

 Wot a question, eh, to ask a boy! But that’s the sort of thing you get faced with in exams and if you don’t pass exams in this brave age you DON’T GET ON.chiz. …But wot occasionally depress me in my few leisure moments, my dear, is that you have to go on taking exams all through your life chiz chiz chiz chiz.’ (from Whizz for Atomms from the Molesworth teratology by Geoffrey Willans and illustrated by Ronald Searle)

‘The Molesworth tetralogy is one of those works of sublime genius which no reader will ever forget; more than that, it gives one a prism through which to view the world.’(Philip Hensher) Or watch the Youtube clip below to get a flavor of these books and the educational trials of young Nigel and the school and his masters.