Monday, February 13, 2017

Teaching phonics- word study

When I first heard of word study I was uncertain what on earth people were talking about. I gradually created an understanding of word study. Wiley Blevins's book Teaching Phonics & Word Study in the Intermediate Grades includes a quote from Moats (2000) that "word study refers to the process of learning words, including their spelling, meaning, pronunciation, historical origin, and relationship with other words" (p. 241). When reading teachers talk about word study they often do not mean the entire spectrum of features. Mostly they refer to pronunciation and meaning.

Blevins's includes some general guidelines for word study (p. 239-40):
  • Introduce or reinforce the concept that words can be made up of several elements- this includes affixes, compound words and roots.
  • Be sure your instruction is explicit- Madeline Hunter rears up again. Direct instruction is the most effective and efficient way to deliver instruction. This is not the place for inquiry learning. Teach the elements of word analysis. Teach how to discover the meaning of the words. Teach how to use the word. Learning words may take a bright student only a couple of exposures, but some students with disabilities might need as many as 100 exposures to the word or root. Teach- review- review. For students with disabilities prioritize the word study to the most common and useful elements.
  • During instruction, rely more on concrete, known examples rather than abstract rules, principles or definitions.- Teach the relationship between the word's structure and the role in the sentence. Evaporation- includes -tion which means an act or process. Evaporation is the act or process of evaporating. See it. Highlight it. I worked with a teacher who assigned a vocabulary exercise of locating the vocabulary word in the text and define it. If it was a nomination, they were expected to be able to change the definition to the noun form of an act or process of whatever. If it had an -ly ending, they were supposed to know that it was a characteristic of whatever. The problem is that she never taught how the suffixes did this work. A great beginning if the rule had been taught and a resource, like an anchor chart or sheet of how suffixes change words, were available.
  • Alert students to the diversity of English words- English comes from many places- mostly Latin, Greek or Anglo-Saxon origins. Latin and Greek roots are combined to form larger words often found in social studies and science. There is overlap and some words are from other sources as well. English has more words than any other language. This makes English very complicated to learn, but since about 60% of English is derived from Latin or Greek, it makes understanding high frequency roots important.
  • Be sure students are aware of the limitations of structural analysis- not all word parts are discrete roots- under is not a combination of in- and -der.  
  • Apply, apply, apply. They need to practice the activity repeatedly. This is not limited to any grade or subject. It needs to be done across the curriculum and over the entire spectrum of years.

Photosynthesis is a term introduced in elementary school, and reinforced and expanded upon in middle school and high school. Students can learn about the roots- photo means light, synthesis means putting together. These two roots can be used to understand many other words. From a word study standpoint activities like the one below can be completed by small groups to examine the concept. From a phonics standpoint, reading photo- as a unit becomes a method for reading other words with the root more quickly. It becomes like a sight word making the word, and others using the root, easier to read. Engaging in the activities in the boxes allows students to study the word- photosynthesis, but it also allows for learning about related words as well.

What does photo- mean?

What other words do you know with the root photo-? What does each word have to do with light?

How does photosynthesis showcase the meaning of the root?
Describe the process of photosynthesis.

This represents a word study that could be continued as students learn words like photogenic, photon, and phototropism. Knowing that they all have to do with light means it is easier to learn their specific meaning, pronunciation and spelling.

Throughout the section on word study children's books are suggested to demonstrate concepts. Secondary students can benefit from children's books if they are introduced carefully.  Blevins also includes worksheets to use almost as a graphic organizer to complete word studies.

This book is an amazing presentation on how to utilize phonics instruction at the intermediate level. Many of his guidelines are equally valid for older students with disabilities as well. I look forward to the rest of the book.

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