For our final SWI session of the school year, I invited the children to bring in any word that they wanted to examine. When we sat down together that Friday morning, every child had a word. And, even though we don't analyze proper nouns in SWI, one child had brought a name to share because he noticed that it contained one of the Old English letters I had taught them, ash (æ).
Here was the remaining list:
And they divided into pairs and happily dove into their investigative work! We came together after 40 minutes for everyone to share what avenues their team had explored, their discoveries, and any questions they still had.
You'll never believe this, but < pneumonia > and < pneumatic > DO NOT SHARE A BASE. THEY ARE NOT RELATED. It was an incredible discovery! When I wandered over to their table, this group asked me to help them create draft word sums for < pneumonia >. I was so sure it would relate to < pneumatic > (drills, brakes, and so on which are powered by air) that I confidently told them so and we posited a < pneum > shared base.
Nope. You'd think I know better by now.
Turns out that < pneumatic > comes from Latin pneumaticus and, if you know your Latin suffixes, you know to drop the -us leaving < pneumatic > as the base. Spelling preserved and passed down from antiquity. The Greek word prior to that historically was pneumatikos which meant wind or breath.
In complete contrast to this, < pneumonia > comes from Latin pulmo (you can see this word's relationship to < pulmonary >) and this was from Greek pleumon which meant lung. Over time, Latin speaking people noticed the meaning connection between wind/breath and lung, and so the Latin spelling slowy changed to reflect this. The Latin word then became pneumon. The one word actually influenced the other! The spelling gradually morphed to reflect this connection in meaning, yet when you look back to the Greek roots you find that these two words are actually not related. Fascinating!
So, how did we get here?
How are eight Lower Elementary children confidently and joyfully doing authentic linguistic study with only a small amount of guidance from me?
At the start of our SWI work in October, I was so nervous that I spent the first two weeks on the Story of Written Language (the Fourth Great Lesson in Montessori). Yes, this laid an excellent foundation (scribes, printing press, etc.) but it also was well within my comfort zone.
When it came time to actually dive into a lesson, I was so intimidated I had us watch a YouTube video. Yep. If you know me, you'll know how unusual that is for me. But we started with what Gina Cooke had put on YouTube as a very small introduction of the concept of investigating words scientifically and expecting the English language to be well ordered and make sense. The very idea that there's a logical reason for each choice made in our spelling system is eye-opening enough itself!
Then, just like the Little Engine that Could, we slooooowly made our way up the hill.
And we did it together, the students alongside me, because we were all learning at the same time. Yes, I took several online courses with Pete Bowers and then some in person workshops with Gina Cooke and Doug Harper, but that all happened gradually over the course of the year. My first step was introducing SWI as a month-long Waldorf main lesson block (3rd grade Spelling & Grammar), and then offering it weekly on Fridays as a Special. In Waldorf this could also be part of the Extra Lesson work for students who are struggling -- and it is wonderful for dyslexia -- but, really, all students should receive their spelling instruction this way. As Pete says, sarcastically, "To whom should we mis-teach the English writing system?"
If you are facing being the first SWI teacher in your school or homeschool, and want to join me on our retrospective, here's how it all went down:
October 1 - 5
October 8 - 12
October 15 - 19
October 22 - 30
November 2, 9, 30
January 11 and 25, February 1 and 8
- introduction to making matrices: review the bound base < struct >; create as many word sums as possible for words with this base; organize the base, prefixes, and suffixes onto sticky notes and arrange them into matrices on chart paper (oriented horizontally so the ruled lines create tidy vertical columns), look at Pete's matrix for < struct >
- open two file folders and overlap and tape them together to make little personal tri-fold backboards; give one to each child and mini sticky notes and let them create a section for prefixes, a section for bases, and a section for suffixes (with the requirement that they must have proof of each morpheme before adding it to their board)
- introduce our new classroom etymological dictionaries (Dictionary of Word Origins: The Histories of More Than 8,000 English-Language Words by John Ayto)
- give children practice in using the dictionaries by playing "One of These Things is Not Like the Other" with the following words:
Although we didn't use the term twin base, < vide > and < vise > are an example of this concept. For more on this, here's an SWI lesson Pete put on YouTube of Michel working with a class of children on twin bases (< duce > and < duct >):
- review the single final nonsyllabic e and, specifically, the plural cancelling e (house, mouse, etc.); digraphs and trigraphs; orthographic markers (the < b > in < doubt >) and etymological markers (the < b > in < comb >)
- have kids work in teams to brainstorm words that end with < mb > and look them up in the new dictionaries... Do these words always have the same language of origin? Are there any words with a silent b that do not have the preceeding m? Is the combination always located at the end of the word?
- come back to discuss what we discovered, share that the < b > can be voiced in other iterations of the same word (such as in < crumb > and < crumble >)
- listen to some recordings of Old English (Beowulf) and Middle English (Chaucer's Canterbury Tales)
- look up the word < honeycomb > and look at a piece of honeycomb and my Ashford wool carders
- look up the word < combat > (a child questioned if it was related to < comb >), which led us nicely into < battle > and < batter > from the base < bat >
- review the consonant doubling rule and why it is needed
- cap / cape / capped / caped
scrap / scraped / scrapped / scraped
- look at consonant doubling in < knitting > and do word sums; do exploration of < kn > just as we did < mb > and then come together to share what we learned
- explain the word < brush > and why it means both hairbrush, paintbrush, etc. and a mass of low bushy vegetation or twigs
- share a bit from Etymology Seven with Gina Cooke & Doug Harper (where I learned a lot more about Old English and Middle English), show some of the Old English letters like yogh, eth, thorn, and ash
(I did not show this to the kids but you may enjoy the YouTube video 10 Letters We Dropped From the Alphabet)
- read Pop! The Invention of Bubble Gum by Meghan McCarthy and look up the word < mastication >
- look at Emily O'Connor's Truer Words (decks 1, 2, 3) and explore cards for < museum >, < technology >, and < subtraction >; make word sums for the colored word and its associated word list; determine the base of the word family; organize the base, prefixes, and suffixes onto sticky notes and arrange them into matrices
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