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Fred Williams: ‘Tree Loppers’: Richmond, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia 1927 – Hawthorn, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia 1982.

Yes chainsaws were heard ripping through the ‘Forest of Words’ as one branch ‘bites the dust’. The class spent five minutes today deciding whether <-it> was a suffix or in fact part of the base element of <spirit>. They made the video to share with my other humanities class, the discovery that they had not ‘pruned’ far enough in their initial analysis of this word. They came to realize that ‘spirit’ was in fact a stem, not another base and a metaphorical branch on their ‘spirare’ tree. Each table group used Word Searcher to gather data in order to determine whether <-it> was a suffix.

I initiated today’s discussion sharing my uncertainity about ‘spirit’. Was <spirit>  another base element from Latin spirare? Could <-it> be a suffix? How could we be sure? Word searcher and data! ‘Vomit’, ‘audit’ and ‘plaudit’ would be all that it took to lop a branch from the ‘spirare’ tree!

One group looked up <vomit> – and that was an interesting discovery! This word came from Latin vomere: ‘to spew forth, discharge’ (students loved this description!) and they were able to find an example of another word , the marvelous compound ‘ignivomous’. In this word, analyzed as <ign+i+vom(e)+ous>,  we saw not only another base element, <ign> from Latin root  ignis “fire”but realized that <-it> can be substituted by <-ous> when the other bound base base element ‘ign’ was added. This compound word coined in 1600 and built from two bound base elements, means vomiting fire. The OED uses an example from 1603: ‘What a Monstrous Coyle would Six or Seaven Ignivomous priests keepe in hell. (S. Harsnet Declar. Popish Impostures 70) .One student wondered whether dragons could be described as ignivomous, while others thought this described the actions of volcanoes.

Watch Luciana present the class findings confirming <-it> as a suffix and the inevitable result for the branch.

So what have the students learned from this?

  • That knowledge can be refined based on new evidence.
  • That there is no quick definitive ” answer’ more a “for the moment and based on current evidence, this is a reasonable hypothesis”.
  • That you continue to question, to reflect.
  • That time and a little distance often allows a new perspective  in which to see ‘the wood from the trees.’

What have I learned from this?

  • Never to fear making a mistake. Students are willing to adjust their thinking based on reasonable evidence.
  • That students now are competent and swift in using resources such as word searcher and Etymology Online.
  • That this type of investigation now only takes 5-10 minutes. Word study can be embedded in a lesson every day- sometimes  longer periods are necessary, sometimes only a few minutes, but the skills and regularity build competence in research and familiarity and knowledge of morphemes.
  • That these skills of gathering evidence, analyzing, reflecting on the data are the same process of investigation seen in Grade 1 (see Skot Caldwell’s latest post), Grade 5 ( See Dan Allen and Mary-Beth Stevens classrooms) and Grade 7.These are the processes that promote a disposition for inquiry and develop persistence.

I recently read this statement about the philosophical nature of science by Dorion Sagan via Brain Pickings. It seems to embrace the ‘spirit’ of word inquiry:

‘Science’s spirit is philosophical. It is the spirit of questioning, of curiosity, of critical inquiry combined with fact-checking. It is the spirit of being able to admit you’re wrong, of appealing to data, not authority, which does not like to admit it is wrong.’

Watch below an overview of the inspirational art of Fred Williams, particularly well known for his  paintings of Australian landscapes. He captures the dead straight horizon line, the starkness and the light that is quintessentially Australian. Perhaps it’s as the school year end approaches, but Fred William’s trees evoke a nostalgic longing for my “roots” in this lanscape.

And surely Dear Readers, you knew by the title this was coming of course (and who wants to live forever?) Yes, another fabulous Freddie with “Another One Bites the Dust”:

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