The connections between spelling, vocabulary, and reading continue to be on my mind. Recently, I was excited to see an article in the latest Reading Teacher (Nov/Dec 2018) that spoke directly to my wonderings.
Authored by Patrick Manyak, Ann-Margaret Manyak, and James Baumann, the article has a long and somewhat dry title – Morphological Analysis Instruction in The Elementary Grades: Which Morphemes to Teach and How to Teach Them (The full citation for the article is given later in this post). But I found the second half of the title intriguing enough to read on. Boy, was I glad I did.
Here are the two big ideas I came away with::
The article kicks off with an explanation of morphological analysis (MA), a “process of using affixes, base words, and word roots to infer the meaning of words.” It then cites and discusses the extensive research that supports the following idea: when teachers instruct students in morphological awareness, their teaching contributes to spelling, word recognition, and vocabulary knowledge. As a teacher who is always looking to find the golden threads in literacy instruction, and who strives to identify practices that produce synergy, I love the idea that instruction in one area (morphemes) produces an increased knowledge in three areas (spelling, reading, and vocabulary).
Next, the article describes a few practical classroom tools. The one I found to be most useful was the recommended list of affixes for grades 3-5. The list presents a total of 41 affixes: 14 for third grade, 16 for fourth, and 11 for fifth. If, however, you are using this list for spelling-vocabulary-reading instruction (i.e. Word Workshop), there is no need to stay within your grade level. For example, if you have high flying 3rd graders, then use the suggested 4th grade affixes. Or if you have a heterogenous group of 5th graders, pick a mid-spot affix, such as under-. Then differentiate through word complexity. In other words, for take home spelling lists, give students who need more support words such as undercook and undersea. Then, give higher achieving students words such as underachieve and underrepresented. The concept of differentiating via word complexity is one I discuss at length in Super Spellers and Super Speller Starter Sets.
When it comes to researching morphemes, author James Baumann has a long and distinguished track record. His body of work includes a great deal of examining which morphemes to teach and how to teach them (hence the title of the RT article). His primary objective for selecting affixes to teach was to “identify those affixes that, when taught well, enabled students to infer the meanings of as many novel words containing the target affixes as possible.” In other words, by using specific affixes in your spelling-reading-vocabulary instruction (again, think Word Workshop), you can provide students with opportunities to spell, read, and analyze scores of previously unpracticed words.
In his studies, Baumann used four criteria for selecting affixes:
Because these criteria are so strongly logical, I feel they produce a list that has practical yet powerful classroom applications. Here’s a taste of the list so that you can see how logically and elegantly its laid out. (It’s also a taste so I don’t violate copyright law!)
To circle around to my own work, many of the ideas I put forth in my two Super Speller books align beautifully with the ideas presented in the RT article. Thus, another reason for my word-nerd excitement! For example, in Super Spellers I suggest teachers create and use a narrow and deep master spelling lists for their spelling instruction. Master lists are lists built upon two to four spelling features and that present at least 30 or 40 words that make use of those features. I also suggest teachers teach student-used spelling strategies, such as “think about meaning.”
You can see how both of these ideas – a narrow and deep spelling list that promotes students use of the “think about meaning” strategy – appear in the list below, which is from my upcoming Super Speller Starter Sets resource book. I think you’ll also be able to see how this list aligns with Maynak, Maynak, and Baumann’s thoughts on the criteria for choosing which morphemes to teach: affixes that occur with high frequency; affixes that have consistent, concrete meanings; affixes that can be semantically grouped. For the record, the three roots (which also function as affixes) used in the master list below are three of the 22 Greek and Latin roots that the authors present in their table of Greek and Latin roots.
In conclusion, if you are a teacher of third, fourth, or fifth grades, I suggest you find the RT article (citation below) and consider using the recommended lists of 41 affixes and 22 Greek and Latin roots in your spelling-vocabulary-reading instruction. In addition, consider incorporating some or all of the effective instructional practices laid out by the authors. As always, I am interested in your thoughts on my blog posts, especially if they are helpful to your teaching. Happy reading, happy holidays, and see you in the new year!
I am a teacher, literacy consultant, author, musician, nature lover, and life long learner.