Thursday, February 23, 2017

Becoming Word Wonderers - A Guest Blogger

This week, I asked my dear friend and colleague, Lori Conrad, to share some of her thinking with us about her work with learners.  In this post, she focuses on "word work."  My students call her "The Word Lady."  She is, indeed, a word lady.  Lori and I have known each other since college days and she is one of my most trusted friends.  And, I have to say, one of the smartest people I know.  I love her stance on becoming "word wonderers"!
Enjoy Lori's words...
•   •   •   •   • 
Becoming Word Wonderers 
by Lori L. Conrad 

“I underlined Triforium and Trifoolery.” 

“I underlined those, too, and Schlockenspiel.
And what about festooned? Did you guys mark that one?” 

“I didn’t because I’m guessing it has something to do with a festival. 
At least we know it is a verb, right?” 

“Yeah, and did you guys read the caption? 
What the heck does polyphonoptic mean?” 

This was just a bit of the early conversation four self-professed ‘word wonderers’ shared as they poured over a newspaper clipping entitled “After 40 Years, L.A.’s Triforium Makes a Comeback” (A.P., 2/12/2017). As their inquiry progressed, the foursome decided that:
  • triforium must mean some sort of three-pointed (tri) place where music was performed (form like in perform and ium like auditorium or gymnasium)
  • polyphonoptic must mean many (poly) sights (optic) and sounds (phono
  • and, they weren’t too sure about schlockenspiel other than it must have something to do with making music (like a glockenspiel) and it wasn’t a nice thing to be called!
Now, this sort of talk about words doesn’t just happen. 

These four boys learned how to think their way through dicey vocabulary by engaging in regular, inquiry-based word study. In his book, Word Savvy, Max Brand says that word study:
        “has become an umbrella term used to describe teaching practices 
        related to word knowledge. Teaching this knowledge supports students 
        as they develop fluency and understanding in their reading, as well as
        their ability to craft thoughtful writing. An effective word study system
        helps students develop an understanding of orthography, vocabulary, 
        word recognition, and decoding strategies.” 

For me, word study has become an instructional framework that supports learners as they become both word curious and word conscious

And in this classroom filled with 26 word wonderers, word study means that 4 days a week, the entire class spends a 40-minute workshop exploring word meanings, word parts, spelling patterns, letter/sound relationships, and strategies to figure out unknown words. Together, their teacher and I launch the 40 minutes by offering a precise bit of information or insight about a specific language feature or word set. We then send the wonderers off to explore and develop hypotheses. The workshop ends when we all circle-up to reflect on what we’ve discovered, including conclusions about how our daily reading and writing should reflect these new insights and discoveries. 

The work time, the largest and undoubtedly most important part of each word study workshop, has included tasks like:

  • word and sentence searches – using wonderers’ own reading stacks and draft writing as resources for extending and exemplifying the particular study
  • word sorts – puzzling through lists of words looking for some unifying attribute and then grouping/categorizing those words to create generalizations
  • editing/proofreading ongoing draft writing
  • “explain a spelling” (adapted from Sandra Wilde) – encouraging wonderers to talk about their thinking regarding specific spelling decisions they made while drafting, sorting words, etc.
  • have-a-go – selecting misspelled words or ‘clunky’ sentences and then trying two or three different options... settling on a final edition that makes better sense
  • and developing visual representations – like web, wheels and grids – for spelling patterns, sentence patterns and grammar generalizations 
So far this year, the content of these workshops have included topics like the various meanings of the suffix ‘er’ (both as a comparative and as a way to change a verb into a noun) and when to use ‘er’ or ‘or’ (have you ever noticed that there isn’t a hard-and-fast rule for this?!), how readers use parts of multi-syllabic words to infer meaning, how phrases (like dependent and independent) might be punctuated, and ways writers expand their lexicon by building on the phrase:  ‘If I can read/spell _______, then I can also read/spell _______. The year-long ‘scope of word work’ is certainly bounded by grade-level standards, but it is more importantly informed by what the students themselves need... and what sparks their word wonderment. 

Our word study workshop has helped grow learners, like the four boys who figured out that calling something a schlockenspiel isn’t nice, into readers/writers/thinkers who are fascinated by language, are intrigued by the many ways letters and sounds link up to make meaning, and are unfazed by the sometimes crazy ways English spelling and grammar show up on the pages of their favorite books and in their very own stories, articles and poems.

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