The investigations of Word Nerds 2012- 2013 is staying open here but please visit my new site Word Nerdery for further forays and frolicking in morphology and etymology with my new grade 7 classes.
I had intended to exhume ‘humiliation’ and continue the forensic operations on the corpse of L. ‘humus’ today! However, this morning as I came to school, and after several days of contemplating the state word study in schools in general and ours in particular, I wondered what I’d say to someone who asked why study words ?
I could state that I believe that word study skills are vital in developing reading and writing, that through word study you deal with history, philosophy, literature and science. I could argue that it is in discerning morphemes and justifying these, students discover other related words and a vital strategy to understand unfamiliar words encountered in reading. I could argue that this investigative approach promotes a scholarly use of resources as students follow leads down the byways and highways of time to identify the roots and the other base elements that spring from these roots to unearth a connection to hundreds of words connected in meaning. I too could argue that this investigative approach to word study is rigorous and develops an understanding of the subtle shades of meaning between synonyms, or that this approach develops authentic learning partnerships where critical thinking is intrinsic. I could argue that in studying one word you study hundreds of words. I could go down the ‘Common Core’ route and show that open ended investigative word study addresses the standards and benchmarks such as ‘Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including figurative and connotative meanings’. Ultimately however, I believe word study develops a love of words where students begin to feel the power of words and begin to use words well . It was from rambling musings such as this that I remembered Robert Pirosh’s job application! Go immediately to Inky Fool!
So today a pause in ‘humiliation’. Inspired by Pirosh, we deconstructed his writing to shamelessly steal, plunder and plagiarize, to follow his pattern and develop our own homage to words and word- play , to wallow in the sheer exuberance and sound of words. A 15 minute romp through the thesaurus unearthed this treasure trove as students tasted and played around with the words they found there. Below are our first two line drafts…to be finished later and in a different format.
And from my other humanities class:
And why the painted faces? Our school is host to an inter-school tournament for the noble game of rugby! Wahoo! We have gone rugby mad.. and yet our Nerds, despite their clamouring to watch the game, did not know the origins of this word, nor the term ‘toponym’, – so Liam, an avid rugby fan to the rescue!
Below read Billy Collins’s homage to words and plea for their release from confinement in thesauri! I would go further and say in our classrooms set the words free from martialling and trammelling by spurious categorization such as frequency, letter strings, ‘look-cover-write-check’ lists, tricky word brandings, and rhyme.
It could be the name of a prehistoric beast
that roamed the Paleozoic earth, rising up
on its hind legs to show off its large vocabulary,
or some lover in a myth who is metamorphosed into a book.
It means treasury, but it is just a place
where words congregate with their relatives,
a big park where hundreds of family reunions
are always being held,
house, home, abode, dwelling, lodgings, and digs,
all sharing the same picnic basket and thermos;
hairy, hirsute, woolly, furry, fleecy, and shaggy
all running a sack race or throwing horseshoes,
inert, static, motionless, fixed and immobile
standing and kneeling in rows for a group photograph.
Here father is next to sire and brother close
to sibling, separated only by fine shades of meaning.
And every group has its odd cousin, the one
who traveled the farthest to be here:
astereognosis, polydipsia, or some eleven
syllable, unpronounceable substitute for the word tool.
Even their own relatives have to squint at their name tags.
I can see my own copy up on a high shelf.
I rarely open it, because I know there is no
such thing as a synonym and because I get nervous
around people who always assemble with their own kind,
forming clubs and nailing signs to closed front doors
while others huddle alone in the dark streets.
I would rather see words out on their own, away
from their families and the warehouse of Roget,
wandering the world where they sometimes fall
in love with a completely different word.
Surely, you have seen pairs of them standing forever
next to each other on the same line inside a poem,
a small chapel where weddings like these,
between perfect strangers, can take place.
Listent to the audio of Billy Collins reading this poem here:
Image: Mystery book art where words were freed from the page that had Edinburgh in a flutter. Read more here at The Guardian
Students in considering The Odyssey examined 15 words that they felt could be applied to the story. They have looked at the denotation, identified the roots and then divided the words into the morphemic elements. In doing so they are reconsidering characters and events -where and to whom these words and ideas might apply:
determination, regretful, tormented, malicious, impulsivity, pride/proud, courageous, loyal, rebellious, arrogant, desperate, victimized, persecuted, harassed.
Today students worked in pairs to arrange characters and words on the paper to indicate relationships and connections. They gave examples and justified various connections to a character trait. Often the examination of a spectrum of words with justification of why or why not the word may be applicable provides alternative views and a re-examination of characters and events and even theme. This activity involves a deep understanding of the words with students frequently referring to morphology, etymology, and a word’s synonyms. Students continuously cited evidence from the text in support of a word choice. These words will continue to resurface throughout the year in regard to other units and texts.
Two students Nina and Oluwadaru work with the resources to understand the words impulsive and harassment.
What are students gaining from this investigation?
Firstly, it’s an ongoing process rather than a one-off activity. Word study is at the heart of humanities, at the heart of reading and writing. It is integrated into every reading and writing experience not just separated out into a one-off or isolated ‘vocabulary lesson’ or ‘word study’ lesson. My classes and I regard word-study as a a body of knowledge and a set of skills that is embedded into almost every lesson. What we learn from one word applies to hundreds of words. Whenever we read literature, and I’m talking about second or third draft readings, where we annotate, go beyond plot essentials to think about how character, setting, theme are built, about how meaning changes depending on the theoretical perspective from which the text is read, we consider words – their elements, related words (sharing the same base) the etymology and synonyms. These words continue to recur in all our units. Is this what the Common Core State Standards refers to as ‘repeated exposure’?(p.32 AppendixA)
This document(CCS) claims that ‘whenever students make multiple connections between a new word and their own experiences, they develop a nuanced and flexible understanding of the word they are learning’. Perhaps. The students at work today are not necessarily connecting to their own experiences at this point but certainly to the experiences Odysseus endured. I would say that understanding the morphology and etymology of these words is leading to ‘lexical dexterity’ (p.32) if we take that to mean:
- understanding a word’s denotation
- being able to justify the connection of a word ( in this case the character trait or a concept-courage, loyalty)with a character
- being able to identify the elements( affixes and the base)
- using sources to identify the root ( dictionaries and Online Etymology Dictionary)
- connecting the root meaning to any base elements sharing the root to see how this echoes through into the current usage and other words sharing the same base element.)
Students are developing their language and critical thinking abilities. I am confident as we embed word study into humanities that students will be reading carefully, and become articulate in their written and oral justifications for a particular point of view. Students in this integrated approach are not passive and the words for investigation not decontextualized, packaged neatly or come in scripted lessons. These students are not developing an ‘awareness of word parts’ (a vague misguided term used CCS p32 ) but are knowledgeable and intellectually curious about morphology and morphological and etymological relationships, about character, conflict, theme and how writers weave, which is in fact the root meaning of text, words to develop these aspects in telling a tale.
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.
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.