‘Molesworth Sooliloquy’ drawn by Ronald Searle: Molesworth in a ruminating moment, considers the absurdity and fleeting aspect of school life’

Why test? (And I do not refer to the boiling of frog’s intestines which to my mind, although perhaps not shared by the students, is more cruel than this review of a year’s investigations of words! See post The Cruel Hard World)  It certainly led to a flurry of excitement, panic and heightened interest and purpose. Students knew there was to be a reckoning of sorts, they have come to expect this from Middle School classes but I too hope that they are able to see a purpose to ‘so much toil so much effort.’

I am ambivalent about this test- the grading on the one hand drives some students, pushes them to focus and study and ask questions. I worry that this kills off intrinsic motivation. I worry about grading or giving a score for something that shows us ( me and the student) what the student knows and where confusion still remains. This information is for both of us. Certainly it helps me see where I need to clarify misconceptions, misunderstandings, provide more experiences, work individually or work with the entire group. To sum this up in a letter or number is often absurd. And yet…

I have to admit that by saying ‘final test’ many students have leapt, have risen to the challenge and some even bizarrely enjoyed it. I confessed to students my doubts about grades and testing- this was in response to one student’s question and comment, “What will you do after the test?” He explained with wry perceptive humour  that I appeared to be “milking this situation (the test) for all that it’s worth’! How true! I am open in my bribing and cajoling and holding the ‘test bar’ high above them and am certainly guilty of exploiting the student preoccupation with tests and grades. I console myself thinking of it as the presentation of a challenge. However, I do believe that this information that they take to the test is valuable and worth knowing ten, twenty, fifty years from now. It is the process of preparing for this test, of internalizing, taking deeper within and to heart many words, base elements and roots so they can apply this to other encounters with words, other musings about these concepts.

So what does the test indicate that the students have learned? 

  • They can match a root to a word. They recognize elements present in the root that have persevered into PDE.
  • They understand that words are built from morphemes, the elements of meaning,
  • They can recognize many prefixes and suffixes and the vast majority state they can analyze a word into morphemes- perhaps some are over confident here!
  • They understand that words have a history and story.
  • They understand that words are connected in meaning by a common base element
  • They understand that a base element is related to other base elements through a common root.
  • That many students feel proud of their ability to analyze words.
  • They, many (not all) feel they have valuable knowledge.
  • They can see a link between reading and writing and speaking and thinking and this newly found ability to reflect on words and to consider the relatives, close and distant.
  • That many have enjoyed the challenge.
  • That they can all see growth and feel their understanding of the nature of words has deepened.
  • They know that if they bother, they can find the back stories, the history and connotations, the changes over time in their resources.
  • They can make connections between the word and our units, can connect to literature we have read this year, historical and present day.

Below are some responses on the test after the usual questions of related bases, matching of roots to words and determining free and bound bases, to the question:

What have you learned about words? Why is word study important? 

“Word study is very important because not only do we learn new and interesting things, we also understand words better. I have learned so much from the beginning of the year to now. I have learned to determine roots better. I also find determining morphemes easier. I can never look at words in the same way again, all I see words now as bases, morphemes and I wonder about the roots. Whenever people say words like “compassion” I suddenly think: Latin pati “to suffer”. ( Manya)

‘I have learned a multitude of things in word study over the course of a year. At first I barely knew anything about word study or roots. Now I can tell you the roots, morphemes, related words and bases for all the words on our list. I can tell you off the top of my head the denotation for courage. I can say for sure that I have learned a lot this year. I think word study is important because it can help us understand our language. It can help us spell a word that we forget and can help us when we do the SAT test. Also when we don’t know the meaning of a word, we can divide it into morphemes and identify the base. If we can recognize its root, we can then know what the word means since a root often isn’t that different from a present word’s definition. Word study is very valuable to us in many different ways, and can help us in our own daily life.’ ( Alexis.)

‘Learning about words is like torture because its really hard. But I think learning about words it helps me more on my understanding of some of its related words. I think learning about words are important because we need to know how some words can be strong words.’ ( Januar)

‘I have learned a lot about words especially how to find a root, similar bases, divide words into morphemes and more. I have learned a lot since the beginning and now I am better. They ( words) can be very powerful and they contain lots of different meaning. Word study is very important because when we understandabout words we can use them in a way that’s effective. Example in the word dissent . Its meaning is offering and opposite opinion.We can understand it as to feel and think differently. Words can be more powerful and effective if you learn about them. (Huy)

About words, I have learned that each word has a story behind it. All words are somehow rooted back to a specific origin and meaning. Words have unimaginable amounts of power; the power to make people joyful, depressed  angry , and any other emotion felt by man. Words can make a difference between someone’s life and their death. Words entertain, are a source of information and a way to communicate. Word study is one of the most important things to study in my opinion( after you get past the boring and tortuous parts of it) because it teaches the true value and original meaning. It shows the word’s base form from a very long time ago. After I got used to word study, it has become one of my most favorite parts of class because of how interesting ( I can’t believe I am saying this, but) fun it is. Word study is crucial for a child’s education in my opinion.  (Hale)

I have a tendency to jump to an assumption and stick with that no matter what. When I came in to 7th grade I had a way of looking at things and I would always stand my ground. This way of defending my initial idea is now starting to change. It started with when we looked at Odysseus and his journey, even more so as we looked at the Holocaust and the Third Riech, even more surprisingly  when we looked at words and word study.  One would think that words have the same set of rules but as we looked into the English language, I realized that these words are always changing and strangely enough some of our word debates have been some of the most lively in our class. This is because the words are not just black and white but often have particular connotations and over time they can change.(Liam)

‘ I have learned that word study is important because we are able to have a deeper feeling for a word: it’s like knowing the name of someone but then actually getting to know him or her, because with a word when you start searching for its roots, you get a connection with it.” ( Shamir)

 Listen to what the students themselves felt about the test, word study and what they feel they have learned:






What have I learned ?

  • That students are capable of great persistence, of curiosity and of working with determination and rigour when it is expected of them.

I know that this year long focus on words has encouraged deep thinking around important ideas: What is courage? How do our values shapes our identity? Can we be courageous without fear? Why do people oppress others? What is it to be belong?  What is it to be an upstander?  When does difference make a difference? What is power: who has it? How are power and control interrelated? What is justice? What is the right thing to do?

Today I chanced upon Virginia Woolf’s The Death of Moth and Other Essays and stumbled into and was entranced by her essay entitled, Craftsmanship. Below are samples that I hope will entice you to read the full essay.

 “At the first reading the useful meaning, the surface meaning, is conveyed; but soon, as we sit looking at the words, they shuffle, they change;…

Words, English words, are full of echoes, of memories, of associations — naturally. They have been out and about, on people’s lips, in their houses, in the streets, in the fields, for so many centuries. And that is one of the chief difficulties in writing them today — that they are so stored with meanings, with memories, that they have contracted so many famous marriages …

It is only a question of finding the right words and putting them in the right order.  But we cannot do it because they do not live in dictionaries; they live in the mind. And how do they live in the mind? Variously and strangely, much as human beings live, by ranging hither and thither, by falling in love, and mating together. “ Virginia Woolf

And this is precisely what I wish for my students, after this heightened franticness in assimilating the words that have been the fabric of our journey this year, I want them to find that by the end of the year that:

 “Words do not live in dictionaries: they live in the mind … variously and strangely”

I close my rambling ‘sooliloquy’ echoing the philosophizing  Molesworth’s statement: ‘Ah me.. so much toil, so much effort.’. but so much  gained.