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Word Study for Adult Learners Full Discussion - Reading and Writing Skills

Guest Facilitator- Donita Massengill Shaw

"How Word Study Works in Adult Education Settings"

From April 5th to 9th, Dr. Donita Massengill Shaw hosted a discussion on the Read & Writing Skills Discussion List. The focus of her discussion was how the intervention, Word Study, (Bear, Invernizzi, Templeton & Johnston, 2008), works in adult education settings. Word Study is an approach which encourages learners to examine, discriminate and make judgments about word structures, spellings and meanings.

Thanks to Chris Miller, a graduate student at Georgia State University, the following represents a compilation of the various topics discussed by listserv members while Dr. Donita Massengill Shaw facilitated the discussion on Word Study. Each topic contains one or more discussion threads arranged by questions and answers. All of Donita's questions and comments are labeled with her name, while questions and comments from listserv members are labeled with first and last initials. Most of the postings were copied and pasted verbatim, with a few words edited here and there to facilitate reading. For complete postings, along with author information, go to the Reading & Writing Skills Archives and look at postings submitted April 5th through 9th, 2010.


1. Introduction

DONITA: I look forward to spending this week in dialogue with you. In my early work with adult education students, I noticed their reading/decoding and writing/encoding challenges. When I heard about Words Their Way (Bear, Invernizzi, Templeton, & Johnston, 2008) I was excited to try Word Study with adults. Thus my intervention research began in 2002 and I look forward to sharing information with you. I will start by telling you about Word Study.

Word Study allows students to work in their developmental level (zone of proximal development) to analyze and compare and contrast words/word patterns in order to discover, internalize, and transfer that knowledge to words they need to read and write.

A developmental example: If an adult is a beginning reader, s/he will learn consonants, blends, digraphs and short vowels in words like bed, ship, when, lump, crash. In contrast, if an adult is an intermediate reader, s/he will learn prefixes and suffixes (pre-, un-, -ly, -ed) and review long and ambiguous vowels in two-syllable words.

Word Study supports decoding/phonics, pronunciation, vocabulary and spelling. It is an active approach because students examine and think critically about words and how English words work. It is systematic in scope and sequence and builds students’ confidence.

An active approach example: Students receive between 10-20 words on little slips of paper that focus on one concept. The words are read/pronounced, and then the students move the papers around into categories. The students must think critically about the word features (part of word that is a focus of the lesson). Students compare and contrast words/patterns and verbalize what they notice. Teaching is not telling students. They may need assistance, but they do the thinking!

A systematic example: A beginning reader may contrast sh/ch for several days and then the next week’s lesson will review sh/ch while simultaneously adding add two more digraphs th/wh for a total of four feature comparisons the second week.

An intermediate reader may learn that when adding a suffix with a vowel (-ing) the base word may need a double letter (after a short vowel – shipping), may need an e dropped (living), or may not need any changes (floating). The following week this same generalization may be learned with the suffix –ed (shipped, lived, floated).


2. How do you use Word Study?

DONITA: Do you know anything about Word Study specific to adult education settings? If yes, what? If no, what would you like to know more about? I also have a request of you. If you have used Word Study in your adult education class, please share your experiences with us!

CK: I am not familiar with the Word Study for adult education, but I want to learn more. Currently I have my students make vocabulary cards, and we work with them for the week. I don"t use systematic lists though, so my question is this: Is it possible to use the theory of Word Study with any word list?

DONITA: You asked a very good question. The principles of Word Study may be applied directly to vocabulary instruction and may be adaptable to different word lists. I am attaching a 2-slide power point highlighting the principles. http://lincs.ed.gov/pipermail/readwrite/attachments/20100405/a6285327/attachment-0001.ppt

The authors of Word Study have organized their approach based on features of words connected to phonics/decoding/word attack/spelling. As they say, 'spelling and writing are production tasks that are also windows into students" reading. Students" knowledge of how words are spelled draws on the same knowledge base they use when reading words. There is a strong relationship between what [secondary/adult] students can spell and what they can read." So Word Study has a number of packaged teacher-friendly materials. At higher levels they focus on affixes and roots. For example, one lesson may compare hypo- hyper- and hypno- through a word sort (each word on one paper). Then students discover what each prefix means and what the words mean.  At higher levels they focus on affixes and roots. For example, one lesson may compare hypo- hyper- and hypno- through a word sort (each word on one paper). Then students discover what each prefix means and what the words mean.

hypodermis hyperactive hynotic

hypochondria hypercritical hypnosis

hypoglycemic hyperventilate hypnotist

hypothermal hypersensitive hypnotism

Just this past week I"ve been reading a new book they published entitled,
Vocabulary Their Way (Templeton, Bear, Invernizzi, & Johnston, 2010). This
may be a good resource you wish to see.

One of the challenges of vocabulary is determining what words to teach:
words for the stories being read, vocabulary for content area, and then the
spelling aspect of lessons. What I have found is that the systematic scope and
sequence of Words Their Way, provides students with a tool they"ve never had
before. It breaks the code and builds their confidence and initiates curiosity about words. This 15-minute a day lesson can be supplemented with other vocabulary words and meaningful activities.

TPS: Could someone give examples of how they do #1 [on the first slide], which says: Look for what the students use, but confuse.

DONITA:  You asked to clarify "use but confuse." This phrase indicates that
students possess some knowledge about word features and attempt to use that
knowledge, but they don"t have complete mastery. Let me illustrate.

Student A spells the following words incorrectly (correct spelling in parentheses) trane (train), bote (boat), brite (bright), tray (tray) - Student A "uses but confuses" how to spell long vowels. Student A shows s/he knows it takes two vowels to make the long sound, but does not know the correct spelling of the vowels in most of the words.

Student B spells the following words incorrectly (correct spelling in parentheses)
dependible (dependable), legable (legible), confidance (confidence), fragrence (fragrance) - Student B "uses" but confuses" the suffixes able/ible and ence/ance. Student B needs lessons in often-confused suffixes.

By finding what students "use but confuse", the word sort we give them is just right - it's not too easy, neither is it too hard. If we teach concepts above students "use but confuse" level they will not master the work and make as much progress as they could if we find that zone of proximal development - the just right area. For example, teaching often-confused suffixes to Student A will not yield much growth or learning. Student A needs to learn about long vowel spellings before proceeding onto other concepts.

The authors of Words Their Way provide assessments to help teachers find the
"use but confuse" area. I plan to talk about these assessments before the week is done.

VL: Are the students confused, or are we speaking with muddied diction? How many of us slip into yeah for yes, or gonna for going to. This kind of unclear speech extends to Student B.

KM: Thank you so much for the explanation and description of Word Study. I am at Teachers College and we have read about the technique. I currently teach two adult classes. One is for young adults and it only meets for 12 hours per week for 12 weeks. The goal is that students go up at least two grade equivalency levels on the TABE. Do you think that incorporating Word Study would be effective? 

DONITA: You teach adult classes over a short course of time (12 weeks). You are expected to raise TABE scores by two grade levels. I do believe that spending 15-20 minutes a day on word knowledge will greatly benefit students and have a direct impact on increased TABE scores. I have previously conducted research on short-term interventions (12 weeks or less) and we have seen a positive difference in student word knowledge that transfers to other areas of reading. I have not directly tested TABE in my published studies but based on what I know and have experienced makes me confident there is a benefit, even on TABE. Perhaps you could approach your supervisor and ask for a 12-week trial to see Word Study's impact. I am also willing to stay in touch past this week's discussion. I currently am collecting data this spring semester and it does include TABE scores. I recognize TABE does not directly test spelling, but as MC said, Word Study is much more than spelling and goes a long way!

TH: I am so glad to see Word Study addressed in Adult Education. I have used it with elementary school children and took a course under Marcia Invernizzi at UVA. I also took a workshop with Francine Johnston. I appreciate the method created within Word Study because it emphasizes comparison between two or more patterns. Therefore, students must pronounce the words and sort by sound patterns. Later, they will sort by sound and spelling (same sound, different letter combinations: -ane, -ain). At first, students are taught using key words which contain the pattern. I use this same method with adults, pulling words from the reading with patterns that are different in sound. I am not following the progression in the book at this time, although I do think that it is very important for beginning literacy. I also like using the Word Study books from Kathy Ganske: In Other Words and Word Journeys. In Other Words lists the spelling patterns for the four stages of spelling development (letter name, within-word, syllable juncture, and derivational constancy which are determined by a spelling assessment) and the lists for each stage. Word Journeys goes into more detail, more theory, and more lists. I have found that this is a good way to introduce vocabulary, also. The spelling pattern is easier because there are only two different sounds and this allows new vocabulary to come into play. Limiting the number of words is also important. Thanks for helping me learn more about using this method with adults!


3. Word Meanings

MG: I wonder whether there might be a closer relationship than some perhaps believe between integrated reading vocabulary (especially given the lively discussion that is underway about the value of making English spelling more transparent) and the ability to spell. By "integrated" I mean not only a recollection of what words mean, but repeated interactions with those words in the course of reading or oral interactions. Further, I wonder whether such a relationship would be even closer when there is comprehension of key etymological origins of prefixes, suffixes, and root words, parts of speech, and so forth. On the surface, the answer would presumably be "yes". However, if that's the case, might struggling spellers be faced with a more superficial knowledge of the words that pose a spelling challenge? I think of the three words, “their, there, and they"re”. On the surface, they"re quite simple; however, might insufficient attention have been paid to their respective semantic properties?

DONITA: I agree there is a close relationship between vocabulary and spelling and I am sure it is supported by literature. You asked if struggling readers might have superficial knowledge and that may be true. I have seen Word Study impact students who report having weak visual or auditory memory. The approach teaches for depth and mastery using multiple modalities and would help students who seem to have superficial knowledge.

KN: I do focus on the meaning of their, there, and they"re. How else could you distinguish those words? And I ask learners to "test" a sentence by substituting words with related meanings. For example:

Our are some books to look at. (test for their)

Here are some books to look at. (test for there)

They are are some books to look at. (test for they are)

If you are a good reader, only the second sentence makes any sense, so the appropriate spelling must be there. However, many of our learners do not expect what they read to make sense. They may get an overall idea of the meaning of a paragraph or sentence, but the fine distinctions of those three sentences above are lost. So before they can reliably choose the right spelling, they have to come to expect every part of a sentence to make sense. And they have to have enough confidence in their own abilities to realize that if something doesn"t make sense, it is caused by an error in spelling, not by their own weak ability to read.

MG: What you write may just suggest that inattentiveness to meaning (which usually resides in the context of text or discourse) could be a cause, even a major cause possibly, of poor spelling. If readers do not expect what they read is...Should readings in language awareness (the writings of Leo van Lier would make for a good start) be required in teacher training programs?

KN: MG, you say, "If readers do not expect what they read to make sense (to them), I have to wonder what the purpose of reading is..." I agree with you, for myself as a good reader. If what I"m reading does not make sense, I"m confident enough to think that it may not be my error that is causing me confusion, or that I may be missing some piece of information that would make the text make sense. All my life, text has made sense to me. If it did not, I would ask, like you, what is the point of reading? Which is a question many adult literacy/ABE learners ask themselves. When they first return to school, usually their purpose is not to become better readers. They come back because we say they have to read better before we will let them into further training, or get their GED or get a better job. They are focused on those goals. I think that one of the major things we have to teach them is to expect what they read to make sense, but it is not a thing learned in a day, since they have many years of quite opposite experience to overcome. So specific teaching of the I remember being shocked early in my teaching career that I had to teach someone who was copying phrases from a text to keep a finger of one hand on the text while using the other to write with.
My limited experience with second language learners who are literate in their own language tells me that their engagement with English text is quite different. They expect text to make sense, and work to make it so.

DONITA: KN, you spoke about the homophones: their, there, they"re. You are
correct in realizing "meaning" should come before spelling. Meaning is the reason for literacy.

MG: We are certainly on the same page. As for ESL learners, you are also correct. Their respective (cognitive) proficiency levels underlie language both their native language as well as other ones they may learn.

It seems we may need to work on goal-setting and what it means. To say that one wants to get a GED, for example, without a supporting and informed setting making clear what that goal attainment means and entails, is tantamount to considering a half-baked pie to be fully baked.

MC:  I work with individuals with learning issues in a private practice now after many years in K-12 and adult education, and have been a firm believer in word analysis. I currently have a fourth grade client that I work with two hours per week. This year, he began to bring his 'spelling" assignment to me. The teacher sends a packet of activities for the class to accomplish during the week and be tested on Friday. I have been telling him that I really like the way his teacher is doing spelling this year, and recognize that it consists of some of activities you describe, and similar to the way I have been teaching for years.

My student tells me that they are given a list of words (on pieces of paper) in school and in groups, they sort them. This past week, for example, his list consisted of various V-r spellings, which has been building over time. First,"er/ere" "or/ore"oar", then "ir/ur", etc. The patterns are phonetic for the most part with different orthography. Sometimes there are “out-liers” from a past lesson. This past week, he had several groups that included some from the previous few weeks.

There is a 'standard question" to answer which is "Write what you learned this week. Be very specific". In addition, the class is working on compound and complex sentences, and the students are to use "their most challenging words" to write "good fourth grade sentences": two compound, two complex, and a sentence with dialogue. Sometimes the assignment has some grammar activities as well.

While I love what this teacher is doing, I find that "my little guy" originally came to me nearly clueless. This is a bright boy, with some language issues, mostly having to do with slow processing, both visual and auditory. The material was really eluding him in the classroom, but as we have worked through the assignments this school year in our sessions, he is gradually able to do most of the work himself now. My point being that he really needed more "direct instruction" than was happening in the classroom. Once he has a clear focus on how to go about all this, he gets it, but it has taken a while. He now gets how the assignment goes together, and will be equipped with a fabulous study strategy, focus, and attention, that will last a lifetime! He needed guidance and explicit instruction for that to happen.

While this seems to be a "discovery method" for some learners, others will need some more direct instruction in the strategy itself. In our session, I usually have my student sort the words again by writing them into columns, (this teacher also requires the kids to write assignments in cursive, so it gives him extra handwriting practice to re-write the words), notice the spellings, which ones seem to be "more popular" than others etc., help him develop an answer to the "what he learned" question (because he was not always "on point" when left to his own devices here). For the sentences, I have him say his sentence aloud, and I write it down (because his slow processing gets in the way of him remembering what he has composed) and then dictate it back to him in "chunks", and have him state aloud the phrases as he writes along with the punctuation required (i.e., "comma and" for his compound sentence, or "comma" after an introductory phrase in a complex sentence). When I dictate back, for at least one sentence, I say, "Your subject comes first in this sentence, lets write that part first", or "You started with a "when phrase/clause", lets write that with the punctuation you need". We then edit each sentence using "COPS" (capitals, omissions, punctuation, and spelling). It is a "bonus" if he can get more than one of his words into a sentence (and still have it make sense). He comes up with very creative sentences! Also, in writing the sentences, the part of speech might change, or the sentence might require adding "-ing", "-ed" and possibly applying a suffix rule. Of course, I am aware that the things I ask him to do are things I have covered in my sessions, or that I know he has mastered in school. This student needs scaffolding! Without it, he would not be getting it.

I absolutely think this method can incorporate much more than spelling! With other students I work with, I often concentrate on a "ct" root, for example, (duct, struct, lect) which are of Latin origin. The / "ct" / is often difficult for my students to perceive, and when they learn them as roots, with their meanings, it certainly helps both vocabulary and spelling. We "mix and match" with "word part" cards and see how many words we can make with affixes that we know and a given root. Then we write them and use them in sentences that show their meaning. I look for reading passages in textbooks and ask them to highlight the words with "ct" roots. Often there are new ones to discuss. Lots can be done, and it goes a long way!

DONITA: I appreciate all you shared about your experience with Word Study, its worthiness, and your work with the student. I fully agree that students need explicit and direct instruction! I have conducted sorts in two ways - open (students make discoveries) and closed (teacher provides direction). I can prepare the same sort and teach it two different ways based on the students. Thanks for clarifying an important point:   Word Study does need to be taught.


4. THE BABL GAME

VY: A much quicker way to learn affixes and roots does not require a word sort with one word on each paper. That introduces the possibility of error which leads to future confusion, and takes more time. The BABL game is much quicker, and as well as getting the lists of words that others have, can introduce more words. The students would be given the three lists already made up, are told what each prefix means, and then together find out what the words mean.

See http://home.vicnet.net.au/~ozideas/v15babl.htm gives one way to play with these cards, but different games can be according to students" level.

AH: I learn a lot from your posts. The BABL game sounds very useful. My adult students are not always quick to get new ideas about how to go about something. I could be wrong, but if I introduce BABL, I would expect to have to walk each person through the whole process (each step of his or her turn) at least once, and perhaps again the next time it is his/her turn. Do you see that as a problem? I don"t mind spending the time they need, but it wouldn"t be as much a "game" as an experience of following instructions ('select one of these cards with suffixes. Now turn it over. That is the prefix. Read what the prefix means. Your word needs to start with that prefix, in other words, those letters. Can you think of a word that starts with this? Would you like to use a dictionary to find one? Write the rest of the letters of the word on this card. Place the cards together, and you can see how the prefix and the rest of the letters form the word. Let's review how to say it and what it means." etc.) I can"t even think how I would explain the next concept, that the word could also include one of the suffixes still on the table. Maybe if we play it enough that they can do the prefix part, I could add that. Anyway, is it still worth trying?

VY:Your students are not up to the level of playing the game as set out.
They might be up to looking at the page of cards - not separate cards

"These are all prefixes - PRE means before, so PRE-FIXES are fixed in front of words."

"Anyone know a word beginning with any of these? "
Then take that prefix and add all the words that YOU and others can think of beginning with that prefix.

Then look at a dictionary and find more. Write the words on the board.
Then see if anyone can say what each word means, or put it in a sentence.
If nobody comes up with something quickly, YOU give the answer and put it in a sentence, or just leave them as words that they may know later.

They will probably start with the easy prefixes, like SUB and ANTI or PRE
This is very useful for helping them to decode words in notices, etc.

If they like this way of working, then do it with another prefix in the list another time. Put the list on the wall, or give them the list to put in their books, and to mark the prefixes that they have done. Some of them will cotton on to the other prefixes without you teaching them. Doing this as a group means the slower ones can get the idea.

KN: BABL sounds like another good resource. I know some teachers don"t have their students sort the small slips of papers, especially at the higher levels (they only use pencil/paper). But I"ve also seen where the word cards/slips are very helpful to some

VY:  It is a good idea to have a master sheet with all the cards on it - one for the wall, and a copy for each student.

MG: Students learn a lot incidentally while you are teaching just the one card.
I don"t believe diction is at issue here. There simply is no transparent phonemic- graphemic correspondence between the words Donita sites and their spelling. Regional language variations further confound matters, and there is no rule governing the precise articulation of words. Given that language is alive and subject to variation and demise, we wouldn"t expect anything else.

With respect to the suffix "-able," it seems we add it to "complete" words, i.e., complete contemporary morphological units, e.g. read...able, sustain...able, manage...[-e]able, etc.

On the other hand, a word like legible is comprised of incomplete morphological root, leg (as measured by current usage). If, on the other hand we used the word legere today, we would likely spell it as legerable, (legere meaning to read and legerable meaning to be able to be read). We study history (I hope), so why not study the history of language?

MG: Now, I realize I should have used the word "cite" instead of 'site" in my post. It was only when I put my mind to morphological properties (I reread my message after it was posted) that I realized the difference between "citation" and 'situation." How else do you account for the spelling difference? Oh the wonders of language!

VY: Language is wondrus but spelling can be ridiculus. Most pepl will not hav noticed yr mistake - altho pepl in our group will. We hav plenty of homofones without spelling distinctions. Only their/there/they"re letter/letter and a few other sets need distinctions. Roll on the day when students wont hav to lern accidents of history. (homofones above ar can will distinction set roll )

MC:  With regard to "ible" and "able", MG cites exactly the "generalization" I point out to students for these two affixes: i.e., "able" is usually affixed to root words (the complete words that are often from Celtic/ Anglo/ French origins). "ible" is usually affixed to "roots" ( incomplete morphological units usually of Latin origin).

The ance/ence, ant/ent suffixes are what I, myself, still struggle with! My personal way of coping with this is to exaggerate the vowel sound in my "inner auditory/ mind voice" for words I need to generally write! Spell check and/or dictionary helps with the rest! I have come across some "generalizations" for these, but found them too complicated to be useful in my opinion.

I agree we should study the history of language as it is quite fascinating!

VY: The history of spelling is not so fascinating when it comes to struggling with muddles like ance/ence/ ant/ent ible/able. Surely today with all out scientific marvels in other areas we can fix on better suffixes. Why independent and dependant for example - you can’t find any reason that will be reasonable for low-ability students. "able" should apply to all words which imply the ability to. That would make some sense! It is problems like these which cause most difficulty to most people. Solutions are truly what we need.

DONITA: VY raises a good point - there are many ways to teach word knowledge and students because they don"t have to initially focus on writing words (erasing misspellings, reversals, etc.). So the style and presentation of the lesson falls on the teacher and what s/he knows about his/her students. To me, the most important aspect is to provide our students with a systematic tool for word knowledge based on what they need.

If you are interested in further information, Word Study has decades of research supporting its development. TH mentioned Kathy Ganske's books as other resources and I agree they are wonderful (I use them all the time!). I will list some of them below if you wish to review them. (I am not here to sell materials and I have no financial benefit from recommending them).

Within the books the authors provide an assessment tool also known as a spelling inventory. I"ve discovered teachers love this assessment because it is easy to administer (whole class, takes 10-20 minutes) and yet it provides a wealth of information for instructional purposes. In response to TPS's comment, with this test it becomes clear to determine what students "use but confuse". The authors of Word Study address issues of dialect/dictation in their books.


5. Comprehension

DONITA: For the past several days we have dialogued about an intervention to teach
word knowledge. Now I"d like to pose another question or two.

I wonder to what extent should adult educators teach word knowledge to adult
learners when the purpose of reading is comprehension? And how much should
adult instructors teach word knowledge when writing should focus on communication?

MC: Reading: To have good reading comprehension, one needs decoding skills, fluency, and vocabulary knowledge. To me, word study can improve all three. When students are able to make correct phoneme/grapheme correspondences, they are able to read words accurately and fluently. In the case of long vowel sounds, there are numerous spellings for each sound that need to be recognized. Word study focuses attention to this. In the case of long vowel sounds from the Anglo words.... homophones need to be addressed for meaning. When teaching words from Latin, roots that are consistent in meaning and spelling are noticed and categorized. Categorization is an important comprehension skill and word study helps to develop this by sorting words by some given attribute. Comprehension happens when all these (and more) come together.

Writing: If writing is for the purpose of communication, then words need to be spelled accurately to convey the intended meaning to the reader. While "texting" can get cursory messages communicated quickly and informally among peers, adults who are entering the job market, or need to communicate with teachers/school or personnel as parents, need knowledge of more formal written conventions. Word study provides the same information about word structure that is used in reading and writing.

SM: It's hugely helpful when I have a consistent group of Ss so that we can review enough words that contain a similar pattern-the Ss can really begin to put some prefixes and roots into long-term storage if they hear the pattern often enough. I put up a root or prefix every week for us to play around with, and we come up with a visual image to help the word/part stick better-ambi-both, so we air write with both hands for ambidextrous; ambivalent-Ss use both hands to cock their heads on both sides to show their conflicting thoughts/feelings-    creating images to go with word parts/words really seems to ground the word mentally for some students.

VY:  I think that people need to understand the words" meaning if they are to comprehend the sentence. They need to understand the words they use to communicate, and to communicate themselves. That is an argument for teaching word knowledge in context.

MG: I"d like to state - I"m almost inclined to say categorically - that learning and literacy do not occur in the absence of personal meaningfulness. Any of the multitudinous literacies might be defined as a state of knowing or understanding and "knowing how." Reading without comprehension is not, in my opinion, reading. Negotiating meaning from text relies on many variables (with the background knowledge we bring to text being a fundamental one).

My students, almost all non-native speakers of English (NNES), are often confronted with "culturally-removed" (or call it what you wish) reading passages. When that is the case, I employ what George Demetrion so endearingly refers to as "empathetic scaffolding." That said, in addition to the accurate decoding of written words, of course, the single most important area I work on is vocabulary development (sometimes along with the grammatical structures that carry them). What's the point of being able to decode if we are unable to encode?

For vocabulary to grow, learning how to be attentive is key. I have students who need considerable time to acquire the study skill of attentive reading - so that they notice what it is they cannot derive meaning from.

Until just recently, there have been vigorous and expansive discussions on LINCS Learning Disabilities List (LD) about the brain, the conscious and unconscious mind and how it creates meaningfulness (and needs to for learning to occur), dyslexia (some doubting its existence), ADD, ADHD, brain scans (fMRIs) and what they may or may not reveal, as well as the (critically important) role of affect in learning.

I mention this because those discussions may be very pertinent to the one underway on this list now, especially as we delve into word study and its relation to comprehension. I hope the subscribers of the LD list are witnessing the interactions here.

DDK: Hello. I am new to this listserv. I currently live in Washington State, and my career has been in adult learning. I make it a point to teach reduced speech (gonna, wanna, etc) at all levels, but I increase it as students progress into the intermediate level and even more as they pass into the advanced level. I love the book Whaddaya Say?, and use it extensively. Rather than treating reduced speech as sloppiness, I present it as the way Americans really speak English, and I am careful to compare it with written forms. No language cleanly segments its words (except when emphasizing for clarity, and when speaking to those auditory issues), but all of them run their words together. Email and texting are quickly changing the way we write to each other, so I have begun to introduce those innovative forms in classes.


6. The Issue of Spelling

MB: I agree with MC that in order to have good reading comprehension, one needs decoding skills, fluency, and vocabulary knowledge. To me, word study can improve all three. When students are able to make correct phoneme/grapheme correspondences, they are able to read words accurately and fluently. But if it wasn’t for English phoneme-grapheme and grapheme-correspondences being so tenuous, we would have far fewer children having difficulty acquiring decoding skills and hardly any adults with literacy problems. It is because English uses 185 spellings for its 44 sounds, and because 69 of them have more than one sound, such as ‘won, woman, women, wombat, womb’ (as shown in my Nov/Dec 09 blogs at http://englishspellingproblems.blogspot.com, that so many English speaking children never learn to read properly and end up in adult literacy classes.

For spelling, the core difficulty is different spellings for identical sounds (blue shoe flew through too; allowable, permissible; despite/dispute). Whole words with different spellings (its/it’s, there/their, two/too/to) are the hardest of all. Their identical sounds for different meanings don’t cause any problems in speech, any more than ones with just one spelling do in speech or writing (mean, lean, post, ground, sound). Their different spellings just make learning to write harder. I am not dissing this discussion. I understand why teachers spend time and energy on finding better ways of helping pupils cope with the difficulties created by the inconsistency of English spelling, but addressing the root cause of the problem, i.e. making English spelling more sensible, would reduce the need for it on a permanent basis. It is a bit like learning how to deal with the effects of a noxious water-supply rather than fixing the water supply problem. It would be much better to deal with the source of the problem. I can"t help wishing that discussions like the current were about how we can improve English spelling, instead of endlessly looking for better ways help learners deal with its imperfections.

AU:  But perhaps I am dissing the conversation-somewhat, with respect and brashly: it has been really educational to read what everyone is contributing to the discussion on spelling and its wayward/warped avenues and real challenges (for English language students of all kinds). A couple of points, however:

1. I think the passages following clearly and visually set out the great obstacle to spelling "reform" (as one post pointed out Truespel has been out for over twenty years with little impact, just like other spelling reform attempts like George Bernard Shaw's Esperanto): inertia, established education practice, curriculum, entrenched professions, publishing practice, and the masses who didn"t enjoy English class in school then and aren"t ready to go back now to learn it all over new. Would a Survey Monkey of English speakers show that very many are willing???? Even just among English teachers or even just those on this list?

I am not dissing this discussion. - I understand why teachers spend time and energy on finding better ways of helping pupils cope with the difficulties created by the inconsistency of English spelling, but addressing the root cause of the problem - i.e. making English spelling more sensible - would reduce the need for it on a permanent basis. - It's a bit like to keep having to deal with the effects of a noxious water-supply, when it would be much better to deal with the source of the problems.

Truespel conversion: Ie am naat dissing this diskkushin.- Ie understtand wie teecherz spend tiem and enerjee aan fiendeeng beter waez uv helpeeng pyuepoolz koep withh thu difikulteez kreeyyaetid bie thu inconsistency uv Eenglish speleeng, but udrreseeng thu ruet kauz uv thu praablim Ie.e. maekeeng Eenglish speleeng mor sentsibool wood riddues thu need fer it aan u permunint baesis.- Its u bit liek tue keep haveeng tue deel withh thu effeks uv u naakshis wauter-supllie, wen it wood bee much beter tue deel withh thu sors uv thu praablimz.

2. Is the level of "mis-spelling" in any given email or communication from those who use English so serious that the message is incomprehensible or that so many messages just do not communicate? Just how serious is the result of poor spelling for the majority of written communications in daily life? So, yes, do keep teaching spelling as best we can, but maybe develop greater tolerance and acceptance? Resist the rush to judgment of person based on spelling, resist the need to disrespect the messenger who hasn"t fully got it all? Is it fully impossible to glean the meaning from the following passage in spite of how much English spelling in relation to sound fossilized as printing and the Great Vowel Shift went on simultaneously? Poor Spenser, the once much respected poet.

LO I the man, whose Muse whilome did maske,
As time her taught, in lowly Shepheards weeds,
Am now enforst a far vnfitter taske,
For trumpets sterne to chaunge mine Oaten reeds,
And sing of Knights and Ladies gentle deeds;
Whose prayses hauing slept in silence long,
Me, all too meane, the sacred Muse areeds
To blazon broad emongst her learned throng:
Fierce warres and faithfull loues shall moralize my song.

So Edmund Spenser's opens The Faerie Queene (1590)-is it that so hard to get through, even though it hardly conforms to modern American English spelling or fonetics or phonetics? But is any letter you see or email (may be a tweet is) as different as this from contemporary spellings? Most do get enough in spite of the cumbersome and frustrating set of spellings we now make do with.

3. I wonder whether we shouldn"t start paying more attention to developing tools to teach Chinese 'spelling"-just how much longer will English remain the language of most concern? China and India are on the road to becoming not only the centers of manufacture and production and computer tech. and finance, how long before innovation follows-doesn"t innovation come out of the region where the work is being done? Isn"t this a "natural" progression resulting from "outsourcing", at least over time? Is the future of English to be seen in the earlier shift from Latin (we don"t much care about Latin spelling today).

VY: In my opinion, the phonetic schemes in English have been going the wrong way. Spanish, Portuguese, French, Dutch, German etc spelling reforms have simply been reforming the existing spelling. For exampl, if dictionaries allowed peple to omit letters that made no difrence to spelling or pronunciation, "relerning" would be not requird. This has been happening to spelling over the years, but very slowly. It could be faster.

My recommendations:

1. Say explicitly that the 35 most common irregular words are kept, and list them. They make up 12% of most running text, and so help to keep its appearance. They ar: all almost always among as come some could should would half know of off one only once other pull push put they their two as was what want who why, and international word endings -ion/-tion/-sion/zion

2. Try cutting surplus letters, that make no difrence to meaning or pronunciation if they ar dropd. They cause a lot of trubl, and ar a major reason for 'spelling demons". My experiments find that removing them helps children, poor readers, and ESL learners to read mor than they could. The trend is to cut surplus letters over time anyway. For exampl, demon, omelet, economy, error, ether, exotic, horror, medieval, music, program, develop, salad and satin insted of daemon, omelette, oeconomy, errour, aether, exotick, horrour, mediaeval, musick, programme, develope, sallad and sattin.

When the tricky spellings ar omitted, then regular spellings ar no longer unpredictabl.

The French Academy protects the French language by leading in this sort of spelling reform in its dictionary. And we can do so much in space tecnology, nanotecnology and IT tecnology - exept for spelling!

MG:  Perhaps especially because English is my third language, I find cutting surplus (unarticulated) letters immeasurably easier than following Truespel, which for me would entail relearning spelling. I am not convinced that it would result in transparent graphemic-phonemic correspondences, all the more for non-native English speakers. For example, “ie” immediately evokes a long “e” sound, because that's what it is in German.

VY: I think cutting surplus letters is so much easier for everyone. (note:  the silent e convention for long vowels is not articulated but it is not surplus - e.g. the difrence between minute (small) and minute (time) and fiddling round with who and whom alters the meanins, so the letters in them are not surplus.) And cutting surplus has been the trend - since Webster to today's text messaging and advertising spellings.

TZ: Remember that truespel is strictly a phonetic spelling, that's all. Once one knows the sound-spellings they can run their fingers over the words and say the sounds like a needle in a groove (remember records). Decoding is simple. The accent is standard USA from the spoken words of "talking" dictionaries (like thefreedictionary.com). Truespel makes phonetics available to kids for the first time. There is no other system designed to do this. There is interest in the ESL community as well. Note that a key correlate to reading success is phonemic awareness. Truespel is meant to be free. The free converter is at truespel.com

Learn truespel in 15 minutes at http://tinyurl.com/yh46rgc

Tom Zurinskas, creator of truespel

SM: I like AU’s idea of lightening up when it comes to spelling, which I
certainly have with my GED classes and in Dev classes where we are studying
word parts, families, and spelling in general. That said, when I receive a
paper full of misspellings, I find that distracting and it takes away from
my ability to focus on the paper's meaning, and THAT point is my main
criterion for gauging the level of misspelling that can be/should be
tolerated in academic writing (at least at the college level). On an
anecdotal note, none of the engineers on both sides of my family can spell
worth a tinker's damn, but they all make way more money than I do and have
hired secretaries/admin asst. who do know how to spell-problem solved.

VY: I thought at first you meant color-coding spelling, SM. That is quite fun to do - coloring what is predictable and regular - the rest is tricky.

KN: I"ve been enjoying this discussion about spelling and word study. Thanks to everyone for interesting ideas and suggestions. I wrote to this list a while ago about a technique I developed that I call "pattern spelling," and I"d like to add that we have just finished a video about it, for the practitioner training program we are developing for Literacy Nova Scotia. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sDuePtrZ6U0

What is different about this technique is that it focuses on writing words learners can spell (at least in the moment), instead of words they got wrong on a pre-       test. It provides a regular activity that students love because it has them practicing and getting automatic about spelling word families, along with all the prefixes and suffixes imaginable. I think the repetition of affixes and word family patterns improves their ability to decode words. The project has financial support from the Office of Literacy and Essential Skills, HRSDC (Canada).


7. Word Study Concerns

DONITA: All the ideas that have come in the past day have been great! I enjoyed
hearing how some of you teach patterns and roots/affixes like KN and SM. Thank you MC for helping us see how word study can influence decoding, fluency, and vocabulary, which positively impacts comprehension and writing. We owe our students the opportunity to understand and apply English in systematic, meaningful ways. As students" confidence builds and knowledge increases, their literacy improves.

As a teacher educator, I"ve realized that learning and applying new instructional methods can be overwhelming. Sometimes change is hard to embrace because it's scary to take a risk and attempt something new. So I"d like to ask, does anyone have concerns or fears about implementing Word Study as an approach in adult education settings? Please feel free to be honest and share them.

MC: Since I work with students mostly identified through evaluation with learning issues, I would say that for my "dyslexic" students that I introduce the long vowel spellings, for example, one at a time, with the most frequently used patterns first. We work only with words with one spelling, e.g. ai. Perhaps we have already covered v-e patterns and they know "a-e" already. I introduce long vowel spelled "air". This will lead us to some homophones which we address along the way. Since most of these "long a " spellings are in short single syllable words, we notice where the vowel sound occurs. In the "ai" it usually occurs in the middle of the word (as it does in a-e). After working with some of these, we begin to sort "ai" and "a-e". Since "long-a" occurs in the middle sound for both patterns, they need to use meaning and visual memory and they know that. I choose these first because they require the most practice (in visual/auditory memory). Then I might introduce "ay" and note that the "long a" sound usually occurs as the ending sound in the root word. We practice some of these, and then sort the three sounds we already know for long-a. After doing a visual sort and study, I then do an "auditory sort", in other words, I dictate the words and the student writes into a previously headed column (a-e, ai, ay). Since these are the three most common spellings, we then start to add affixes, and introduce some multi- syllable words with these spellings. The remaining spellings for long- a ( ei, and eigh) are rare, and we cover them last.

Depending on the severity of the dyslexia, the idea is to move as fast as possible, and as slowly as necessary, but for some students with visual/auditory/ memory issues introducing too many patterns at a time does not work. Most adults, unless severely dyslexic, can move fairly quickly through these exercises. These word sorts can be incorporated into a structured multi-sensory program like Wilson when teaching the steps of certain lessons that deal with multiple orthographic patterns. Once the patterns have been introduced with the sound cards they can be 'sorted".

If the dyslexic students are at a higher level, i.e., I am working with roots and affixes, then the same applies. We study a few roots, prefixes, and affixes at a time, including the chameleon prefixes. We do come to the discovery that most Latin roots are closed syllables (short vowel sounds), and that the spelling ambiguity occurs when accenting shifts as various suffixes are applied. We also discover that Latin roots use three syllable types, closed, v-e, and vr, no "di-graphs" (ck, sh, wh, wr), and some prefixes are open syllables.

All this, of course, is because I do use multi-sensory Orton-Gillingham methodologies when working with these individuals and their word knowledge builds to apply in the word sorts.

HG: What I gained from the posts related to Word Study, is that it uses a very common study tactic in ESL classes, card sorts. I understood that card sorts could be a useful way for students to work alone, in pairs, or small groups to reinforce spelling or pronunciation lessons (although I believe that in elementary education, students mainly work on their own). For example, I might create a set of flashcards of words with short a sounds and long “a” sounds and ask students to see if they could put similar-sounding words together. This activity would add a kinesthetic and visual level of learning to a pronunciation exercise, while allowing learners to take responsibility for their own learning. I think there were other elements of Word Study, such as individualized assessment, that I would be less inclined to apply immediately without more training, books, or resources. One of the main concerns for the adult education classroom is simply enough time to get to everything that learners need. So I would be interested in some final posts about how much time learners might spend on Word Study in an adult ESOL classroom, given a typical class that meets 12 hours weekly, for example.

DONITA: Time is always the greatest challenge! I fully understand your concern. When I think of everything I have to teach, I sometimes imagine a pie graph and all the concepts/skills (for ESOL - pronunciation, conversation, comprehension, writing, word knowledge, etc.) are in it. I must weigh each aspect and give the concept/skill the approximate proportion I think it needs within my time frame (12 hours a week or perhaps 3 hours a day). The graph will change based on level of students and other contexts. You may spend 40% on comprehension, 20% on listening, etc. for one level, but 30% on comprehension and 30% on listening for a different level (or perhaps a different time of the semester). If I find myself spending all day or too much time on comprehension per say and neglecting writing, then I realize I haven"t balanced everything appropriately and the pie graph image assists me in realizing I need 'slices" (or percentages) of time for each aspect.

When I envision Word Study, I estimate approximately 15-20 minutes a day out of a 3-hour block of time. That would mean approximately 1 to 1 1/2 hours total for a 12-hour week. This would only be about 10% of the total pie graph. That does not seem like much. But when Word Study is taught consistently, that 10% can make a huge difference in student improvement, confidence, and transfer to other areas such as pronunciation, writing, and vocabulary/comprehension.

That is my thinking and rationale. Hopefully it might assist you in finding that balance of everything.


8. Conclusion

DONITA: Thank you all for a wonderful week! I appreciate Daphne Greenberg allowing me this opportunity to be a part of the list serve. It has been a great experience to dialogue with you! To summarize our interactions this week, we"ve discussed:

  • Word Study as a potential method for use in adult education settings.
  • The importance of systematic and explicit instruction when teaching about words.
  • Assessment (finding what students use/but confuse) can be a tool guiding teachers to  the appropriate level of instruction.
  • The close relationship between vocabulary and spelling.
  • A little bit of time each day for Word Study goes a long way towards providing great dividends.
  • Many of the principles of Word Study can be cross-applied to other teaching resources.
  • English spelling is systemically challenging.
  • Meaning is at the heart of teaching all aspects of literacy.

Let us all continue on our discovery about the English language. As some of you said it best, the history and study of language is fascinating! May we all share our inquiry and love of learning with our students.


9. Thank you from Daphne

A very BIG thank you to Donita, and to all of our subscribers who participated in our list's very FIRST guest discussion! I know that I learned a lot from this discussion, and I hope that all of you did as well.


10. Resources

Bear, D.R., Invernizzi, M., Templeton, S., & Johnston, F. (2008). Words
Their Way. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Bear, D.R., Helman, L., Templeton, S., Invernizzi, M., & Johnston, R.
(2007). Words Their Way with English Learners: Word Study for Spelling,
Phonics and Vocabulary Instruction. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Invernizzi, M., Johnston, R., Bear, D.R., & Templeton, S. (2009). Words
Their Way: Word Sorts for Within Word Spellers. Upper Saddle River, NJ:
Prentice Hall. (There is one of these for each stage of development. Just
change the words "within word" to the stage name).

Templeton, S., Bear, D.R., Invernizzi, M., & Johnston, F. (2010). Vocabulary
Their Way: Word Study with Middle and Secondary Students. Upper Saddle
River, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Ganske, K. (2000). Word Journeys: Assessment Guided Phonics, Spelling, and
Vocabulary Instruction. New York, NY: Guilford Publications.

Ganske, K. (2008). Mindful of Words: Spelling and Vocabulary Explorations
4-8. New York, NY: Guilford Publications.

Ganske, K. (2006). Word Sorts and More: Sound, Pattern, and Meaning K-3. New
York, NY: Guilford Publications.


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