Pete Bowers, originator of the term SWI, says that this process can be simple. "This is my current understanding" is a fine thing to say to children. So is, "That was my understanding then and now I have a better understanding."
How else can we model authentic scholarship? Or show life-long learning?
We have to truly be grappling ourselves. It is like leading a science experiment when you already know what will happen versus entering into the thing with a true spirit of inquiry. We need to be real. Learning is messy and that's okay.
You can be a teacher and be a learner too.
So I am going to share a recent situation when I needed to look things up in SWI. And then I'll share additional parts to that deepening understanding.
Friday, December 7
Today I wanted to look at the origins of two words which tied in nicely with our Class Play hands-on projects, one being batik and the other being papier-mâché. I thought it would be fun to look at the history of these words, as well as to spend some more time on step 4 of SWI, which is pronunciation. It was time to go more deeply into grapheme - phoneme correspondences! That meant we didn't spend as much energy on step 2, which is structure, and so we didn't go into word sums today.
We began with < batik >, which we learned came into our language from Dutch and was orginally Malay mbatik. We have never had a Malay word before, so that was very interesting! We discussed what it meant in Malay and where Malaysia was in relationship to Hawai'i, and how the Dutch got involved in the whole thing. We also noted that the grapheme < k > is representing the phoneme / k / here.
We moved on to < papier-mâché >. The children were pretty sure that the language of origin of this word was French. We talked about < paper > coming from papyrus and mâché meaning "compressed, mashed." This word comes from from Late Latin masticare which meant "masticate." < Mash >, by the way, is Old English and is not related to it. < Mandible >, however, is.
We also noted that the digraph < ch > is representing the / sh / phoneme here.
The children then broke into two small groups to work more on grapheme - phoneme correspondences. I gave one group the / k / phoneme and asked them to list all the letter combinations they could think of that spelled that sound. Under each letter combo they were to list evidence, in the form of words that have that spelling pattern for that sound. The other group tackled the / sh / phoneme and had the same task.
After a lively 20 minutes, the two groups came back to report to one another. The first group had the following:
< ck >
< c >
< k >
We noticed that < ck > seems to only represent the / k / phoneme at the end of an English word. At least, none of us could find any evidence to the contrary. But we will keep trying... trying to disprove your hypothesis is a big part of scientific inquiry... and if you find one, let me know!
Then the second group shared what they had come up with:
< sh >
< ch >
< ti >
< c >
< ss >
We discovered that < sh > can be found in the intial, medial, and final position of a word. This was a nice chance for me to introduce this terminology.
And I remembered "ghoti" as being a mock spelling of "fish" from my college Linquistics class but, as I explained to the students, < ti > seems to only occur in the middle of a word, so you can't really use it as / sh / in that way. You can't walk up to me and say, I'm spelling "fish" as "fiti" from now on. They thought that was hliarious.
(In actual fact, g and h can't be stripped off of < ugh > and < igh > to make the / f / sound because I now know those are trigraphs. So the whole thing doesn't make sense anyway. But it really stuck with me in 1997.)
But we had a lot more questions about this group's findings. I had told them -- and I believed -- that < ti > was a digraph because I found it online. (Yes, I just said that. Yes, I should know better.) I found an Australian website called Spelfabet that had a whole list of < ti > words, so I believed that this was a letter combination for the sound / sh /. We knew < sh > and < ch > already. But then a child brought up the word < ocean >. Was this a < c >? Or was it the < ce > that represented the / sh / sound? And then the same child thought of < expression >. Was that < s > or < ss > or even < si >?
Saturday, December 8
The next day I had a Zoom session for Waldorf teachers who are using SWI in the classroom and I asked my question there. Then belatedly realized that I own Gina Cooke's Grapheme Deck. This deck has all of the graphemes -- single letter graphemes, digraphs, and trigraphs -- in the English language and the back of each card lists all of the possible phonemes (in IPA) which can be represented using that grapheme. Aha! A truly reliable source!
I know Gina Cooke and Doug Harper (who writes etymonline) personally and I know their background, their expertise, and their level of scholarship and I know that they are eminently trustworthy sources. There is a difference between reading something when you don't know the author and reading something when you do.
And on Monday I went back to the class to correct my mistake.
Monday, December 10
I showed the class the Grapheme Deck, which says that / sh / can be represented in the following ways:
So, it's NOT < ti >, folks. It is < t >.
I also explained the International Phonetic Alphabet and that the symbol [ ʃ ] is for / sh /. I was thrilled during Emily O'Conner's Truer Words class, which also happened on Saturday, December 8, to learn that Gina had all of the IPA symbols used in the English language in the back of her Grapheme Deck. Never noticed that before. Super excited to learn IPA now!
Friday, December 14
Lastly, we examined another < ch > word which Gina had on her card as representing the / sh / phoneme. This was < machine >. Having clarified my mistake with < t > for the / sh / phoneme, the idea of not assuming things was fresh in everyone's mind.
The question here was, just because < papier-mâché > and < machine > share four letters in commmon, do they come from a shared base? The four letters in common could be a coincidence. So we began with step 1 in SWI, which is meaning. What does < machine > mean?
I heard from lots of children and wrote all of their ideas up on the board:
- does work
is a tool
uses electricity / power
on a big scale
can be simple (wheel & axle)
We recalled that < papier-mâché > means "chewed paper." Is there a meaning relationship between our ideas for < machine > and chewing?
The children were quick to point out that there are machines which chew, such as a blender. In fact, when we make handmade paper, we use a blender to create our pulp. But I kept bringing them back to the difference between there being a machine which can chew and the word < machine > having a meaning of chew at its very essence.
Finally, we decided that we did not see any meaning connection, although we were quite sure that the origins of the word would be French. As one girl pointed out, "We've only seen < ch > representing / sh / in French words."
Note: I was so proud of her for using the correct terminology! We are all trying hard to get away from the old habit of "says" as in "ch says sh." The correct word is "represents."
Time to look it up. We headed to etymonline and found < machine >.
Sure enough, it came into our language from Middle French machine "device, contrivance," from Latin machina. We noticed right away that this meant that the entire word < machine > was a base, which meant that it didn't have a base in common with < mâché >. In fact, < mâché > comes from *PIE *mendh- and < machine > comes from *PIE *magh- which meant "to be able, have power." Other words related to this root are
- may (as in "am able")
might (as in "bodily strength, power")
We remembered last year's SWI lesson, which we did as part of the Zoology block, on < colony >. Just because < colon > and < colony > have five letters in common, and < y > is a suffix for which we have evidence, doesn't mean that the words are related in a word sum. So don't assume! Look it up!
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