Orthography Reflection

About a month ago we had 40 visiting educators on campus to see how our school uses iPads to support student learning. While in our classroom, one of the teachers asked, “Are you the Real Spelling guy?” Apparently she had seen some matrices in Mr. Davis’s class and when questioned about them, he referred this teacher to me. After initial pleasantries, she shared her awareness of Real Spelling, stories of colleagues who loved it, and, quite proudly, how she had not yet “drunk the Kool-Aid.” I shrugged off the implication with a smile and carried on. She finally asked, “OK, OK, but does it work?” I replied, “What do you mean by ‘work’?” even though I knew exactly what she meant. She rolled her eyes and said, “Do your students spell correctly?” and then smiled as I replied that some do and some don’t, not unlike every other group of students I’ve ever taught. But I went on to say that every one of them knows that the English writing system is orderly and well-behaved, that it is not full of irregularities that must be simply memorized, and that every word has a rich story that will only be revealed to those who are scientific, scholarly, and full of wonder. She inched toward the door as I spoke, fully unaware that it was she, not I, who had drunk the Kool-Aid. I stopped drinking the stuff about two years ago when I was liberated from the gimmicks and untruths I had imbibed and peddled for so long.

But it’s a valid question. Did “it” – orthography, Real Spelling, structured word inquiry – work? My observations and reflections say yes, it did. This blog has hopefully been evidence of “its” effectiveness as well. But let’s ask the students…”What do you think kids, did it work?”

I was really surprised when I first learnt that the spelling of every word had a meaning. When I was young I kept thinking about why words were spelt the way they are. At first I thought it was just made up, but now that I’m learning Real Spelling I know that I was way off on that hypothesis.

Does it work? Yes it does to me, if you mean learning to spell better and learning the rules of the beautiful English language.
My first language is not English, and after learning so much on Real Spelling, my English has improved so much!
There are many rules in the English language, and if you investigate words the way we do in this class, you learn how to spell words better, and learn about the English language. But I have not only learned about English, but also Latin, French and many different languages. We learned about the roots of words, and lots of them are not from Old English, but from French, German, Latin, Greek etc. I guess it is good to have some Latin lessons….
Like I mentioned, I learn how to spell words better. In both ways. I mean, there are two types of spelling I know of. Spelling as in how do you spell cat, c-a-t. And spelling as in Real Spelling. I just saw on the ERB test that I wrote ‘especially’ as ‘expecially’, and I remember not too long after we took the test I investigated the word ‘especially’. I also know that ‘definitely’ is spelt the way it is because of de + fine + ite + ly, and not ‘definately’, as how I used to spell it….

What I think about this is that, yes I have learnt how to spell better using real spelling, because now I know the different parts of, for example, ‘cohesion’ which is co + hese + ion. 

When we first started learning about orthography I was really amazed. Before we started I didn’t know there are so many English rules. I didn’t believe there was a story behind every word.
I learnt the different roots of spelling. I learnt more about Latin, Greek, English, French, etc. I learnt some of the rules of English and how to analyze words. I learnt the different parts of words like suffixes and prefixes, etc.
I was amazed with how beautiful real script is and I can’t believe we got to learn how to write like that. Now I usually use my script for letters, notes, etc, but if it’s something where I need to write a lot, then I would use my normal hand writing.
It was amazing meeting Old Grouch. He is an amazing helper if we need any help with orthography and his script is just absolutely fantastic. I would like to thank him for all he has done for our class. I wish we could meet him sometime!

This year we have been doing lots of word investigating, and we found out the meaning of the word and the story that is behind it. We found out how to analyze words and find different suffixes, prefixes and base elements. All this was fun and interesting but the question is ‘Did it work?’ Well if you mean do I know more about words and how they work, then yes it did work, it worked very well. Now I know different meanings of words and now I know why they are spelt that way. Now I know that there is a story behind every word I look into. If you meant by did it work? Do I spell better now? Then yes I do spell a little better now because I think before I write a word. I think about how it would be spelt with the suffix, prefix and base element and then I most likely will spell it right. In my opinion it did work.
Here is an example of a word I enjoyed to investigate, ‘copying’. It is spelt like this copy+ing and comes from the Latin route ‘copiare’- “to transcribe,” and I came up with words to relate with it like -copy
I also was wondering if the word copycat had something to do with the word copying and found out that it does have something to do with it. It is a compound word which means that it has more than one base element and the other base element in this word is ‘Cat’.

In my opinion real spelling has worked. I might not like it as much as most subjects but I thinks it’s important and cool to know where your every day words come from. I would recommend doing this in all of 5th and 4th grade classes. Me and my classmates always investigate into words, sometimes it can be fun and sometimes it can’t. But I have learned the meaning for many words and now I think it should be part of everyday spelling across the world.

It works for me now. But when I was learning the other way (spell it out loud) that did fine for me. I think the reason it works is because meaning is what built the English language. What would “go” be if it didn’t have meaning? So yes and no. Just a couple words I have been wondering about lately:
Philosophy, Sociology
Actually lots of words ending in -ology. Even ‘ology’ itself.

The first day we did orthography I was amazed of the fact that every word has a history behind it.
It depends how you put the word ‘work’. If it’s, I can spell better, not necessarily. But if it means does it make you think, absolutely. When I’m writing a story in my notebook and don’t know how to spell a word, I think what the ‘base, prefix and suffix is.’
Orthography has not only taught me about spelling but also different languages. For example: French, Latin, Greek and improved my German. It has taught me that many languages come from the same root of languages.
I have learnt how to make a matrix and analyze words. I know that every single letter in a word has a meaning to be there. If I look back now at how I used to spell, I think it was mostly memorizing and sounding out. Spelling should make you think.
I do still make mistakes but now I always go off and find out how you spell the word and why.
Orthography can be really interesting but also boring. Once you’re hooked you can never forget. It is fun showing our talent off to the world, telling them even the Oxford dictionary can be wrong.
It is very helpful for people like me who sometimes have trouble spelling.

I think the real spelling worked because it helped me understand the different meanings of words which also helped me with knowing how to spell a word. I had trouble at the beginning because I did not really understand what a base element or a suffix or a prefix was and now I know more than I did at the beginning of the year. I also saw a lot of connections with different languages.

I find this year of spelling was probably the most thoughtful, unique, really ‘thinking’ spelling I’ve ever had. It not only made us think a lot, it made us think about every word to see and check out how we could spell it. At the beginning of the year I thought a spelling of a word was just a memory, but it was much more than that. Every now and then if I’m reading a book or watching a movie, every time I hear a word I just think about it for a bit and see where it comes from. This year I feel it was the most thoughtful year and I actually thought without having someone make me. I learned how to really spell words with different morphemes, suffixes, prefixes and the list will just go on. Not only did I learn how to spell the word, but I learned how to spell one word in so many different ways if it is in the past, present or future. I’ve learned there is so much more to words and spelling than it seems. Every word holds its own unique story. That’s why I think I have learned so much more this year than I have in any other year because this year I actually thought about words and so much more.

Lucas: Regarding the question ‘does it work?’, if you mean “spell correctly,” I think it does. When I looked over some of the writing assessments I did, I imagined the amount of spelling mistakes I would have made last year under stress. I would most likely have made around 20-25 mistakes. This year, under stress, I had four mistakes, which is quite a decline.
But it’s definitely not just memorization. It’s about thinking. Whenever I see a word I think quite deeply about it. Like ‘history’, I wondered if it was once spelled ‘highstory’, and for ‘exist’ I wondered why it wasn’t spelled ‘exsist.’
I forgot some of the things we learned about, but that’s OK. I also forget some of the stories I read. That just means I get to read them again and make new discoveries.

Sebastian: I’ve never been good at memorizing, but I’ve always liked exploring and investigating. I remember investigating ‘hydration’ and how I connected it to ‘Hydra’. I don’t remember exactly what the base was, but I remember it had something to do with water. Those letters work together because of their meaning and not because of their sound or pronunciation. So my answer to that question is yes it has help me a lot this year.

I think, it does work. The reason why is, for example, I used to spell does, dose. But when Mr. Allen said that -do- is the base element and -es- is the suffix, it has stuck to me since.

I think real spelling has really helped me this year. At the beginning of the year I was not such a good speller. And now Ican spell much better, not like Shakespeare but I have improved and I am proud of myself to have achieved that. When we learned about suffixes and prefixes the first day of school I was confused but then I got the hang of it. Doing mini matrix was a lot of fun and just investigating was very interesting. But overall this year real spelling has helped me a great deal.

To ask “did it work?” is out of mind. Of course it did!
The experience of orthography changed my life. Now when I write I know how to spell words, but not only that, I also now know how to investigate them. I loved the exchanging of information with Old Grouch and hope that for next year’s class they get the same experience.

Spelling and orthography is a lesson to be learned. I know that I have had a benefit from this because my mom is getting annoyed with me talking about it all the time. I have had lots of fun just investigating. I know I have not got a lot of posts about word investigating on my blog, but if you would look in my Keynote app on my iPad you would see about seven different word investigations going on. That was because I was so eager to do a new one and investigate. Plus I had so many words flying around in my head just calling for my attention. Right now I am thinking of the word “fancy.” I might want investigate that later. When I first started investigating words with Mr. Allen and Old Grouch, I thought it was STUPID! But now looking back at all I found out, this is actually worth a lot since there are barely any people out there who know what we know. In conclusion, Word Investigating is an important part of learning.

When Real Spelling was introduced I thought it was interesting. I loved it. I think it is much better than sitting down and doing 70-word spelling tests. If you mean, “If it works in the ‘meaning’ way, then yes. I fell deeply into the mini matrices and how languages work together to make a word.

I thought that Real Spelling was a really fun thing to learn about. I liked finding all sorts of suffixes and prefixes. I wish I could say thank you to whoever made Etymonline and the Mini Matrix Maker, and I thought it was really cool to see how we could find out about all sorts of words, and most of all just to see the meaning and which routes they came from!

16 thoughts on “Orthography Reflection

  1. Kate Gladstone

    Re the girl who spells “not like Shakespeare” … Why would she WANT to spell like Shakespeare? Spelling like the First Folio won’t help you in our own times …

  2. Skot Caldwell

    Dear Amazing Class,

    I began to extract my favourite quotes from the comments above, but found I could not keep up! The pattern that emerges is that you are learners, not memorizers; that you are thinkers, not empty vessels to be filled by others.

    As the school year approaches its end, I hope you have an inkling of the inspiration you have been to other learners around the world. And for teachers such as myself who regularly encounter those who know nothing of this kind of real word inquiry but manage to have opinions (often negative or dismissive) anyway, this last entry is a wonderful gift.

    Thank you all–I wish you a lifetime of wonderful orthographic voyages!

    Caldwell, du Canada

    1. Dan Post author

      Thanks, Skot! Your orthographic voyages in Grade 1 have been a gift as well. I look forward to learning with your class next school year.

  3. Mary Beth Steven

    How wonderful to hear your students thoughts regarding Real Spelling. It is indeed life changing. Does it produce better spellers? I believe that time will tell. Today I gave an impromptu spelling test. I pulled 20 words from our orthography notebooks. I told them I was looking to see how many morphemes were spelled correctly. I told them I wanted them to learn about and understand morphemes and how the combination of them creates a meaningful word. I must say I was very impressed.

    The students were relaxed and thoughtful in their spelling. There was the same variety of grades that I have always seen on spelling tests – yet the errors were of a different kind. I did not see random letter combinations in odd places the way I used to. I saw an ‘s’ instead of a ‘c’, I saw ‘di’ instead of ‘de’, I saw ‘jest’ instead of ‘gest’, and I saw a missing final silent ‘e’. Structurally the words were much much closer to accurate spellings than before we began any investigations. For me this was proof that Real Spelling works!

    1. Dan Post author

      Thanks so much, Mary Beth. The video you posted recently of your students reflecting on all they’ve learned – in just a few short months! – definitely inspired this blog post. I’m sure, like me, you’ll miss your current group of students, but I’m anxious to see what you’ll do from Day 1 with the 2013/14 crew. I’d love to have yours help mine (and me!) analyze the structure of sentences…along with continued word investigations.

  4. LEX

    I appreciate seeing that Mr. Allen’s Grade 5 has taken to heart the consideration that correctness is a pallid and charmless metric, whereas learning and understanding are ‘results’ that last forever. I will absolutely be pointing scholars and ersatz scholars alike to this page for the ‘evidence’ they are seeking. I hope that these students will stay connected online with other real spellers around the world. I am so eager to watch what minds like theirs will go on to accomplish in the world.

    How miserable to imagine correctness as the Polaris for the study of language.

  5. Ann Whiting

    Dear Mr Allen’s Grade 5 Students,
    I wish when I had first begun to teach that I knew what you now know about spelling / orthography. Already you are way ahead in knowing that every word has a story behind it and that there is a logical reason for every spelling. You may not know every reason but you do know it’s there to be uncovered and investigated and confirmed by hundreds of other words. Your investigations this year have helped teachers to see that you have to think about words, you have to ask questions about the why of words. So ‘Soon to be Grade Sixes’… keep wondering about words, look, as many of you have said, for the prefixes and suffixes and keep thinking about the bases. Keep Etymology Online and Word Searcher forever on your tool bars and keep making matrices! Continue to ask your teachers about the why of words- you have a right to know and we as teachers have a duty of responsibility to help you find out! You have taught us all so much and your investigations that live on in this blog will continue to inspire teachers to see that kids are spectacular thinkers and researchers, persistent and determined. Bravo for a wonderful year in words and thank-you for sharing your investigations and research ,
    from your fans here in Malaysia.

    1. Dan Post author

      Ann! Remember how you and I recently lamented the hectic nature of end-of-school-year protocols and how they would prevent our usual flow of orthographic blog posts? One of us was lying! How do you do it?! Your blog is an absolute treasure, made all the richer now that I’ve actually met you and know what a wonderful, barking-mad, hilarious, inspirational person you truly are. Your students will never forget you, nor will your countless cyber-students (including me!).

  6. Pete Bowers

    Well Dan and crew this is a glorious testament to what you have been learning this year.

    Your turning around of the “Drinking the Kool-Aid” comment was spot on Dan. I do understand why this comment surfaces fairly frequently when people hear about teachers being so excited about this “spelling thing”. From the perspective teachers typically have of what spelling and spelling instruction is, it frankly seems a bit crazy for people to be so excited about spelling.

    But along with a healthy dose of skepticism, hearing about this type of response should also spark some honest curiosity. My introduction to Real Spelling was seeing a blurb in a teacher conference booklet asserting that English spelling is about meaning, well-ordered with almost no exceptions. My response was “yeah right”. It was absolutely partly a desire to see what this snake oil salesman was selling that I went to the session. So I do totally understand this perspective. But when within 10 minutes, I was offered an understanding of countless spellings that my previous training had told me were irregular — and thus not subject to “understanding” I saw that there was something to investigate. I expected it to fall apart, but the more I investigated, the more I learned, and I haven’t stopped since.

    As you say Dan, it was after encountering Real Spelling that I stopped taking the Kool Aid of accepting the untested assumption that English spelling is highly disordered.

    The Kool Aid reference is exactly backwards. The reference implies the taking of some drug that prevents you from seeing reality clearly, when in fact in this case the term is applied to people who are using scientific inquiry to develop a deeper understanding of the reality of how spelling works.

    And as for your students comments.

    I encourage the reader to go through them again. The common theme I see is that of studying spelling as being an activity that is about thinking, about inquiry into the meaning of words — and the joy of the process.

    I could select even more emotionally charged student’s quotes than this, but consider what Sebastian says: “I’ve never been good at memorizing, but I’ve always liked exploring and investigating.”

    If Dan’s instruction facilitates this kind of response from Grade 5 students when asked what they have learned from spelling, I would argue teachers have a responsibility to look a little deeper at what is going on in this and so many other classrooms.

    If these Grade 5 students can explain things about the spelling system that most teachers cannot, and if those same students express this learning as exciting and even “life changing” I hope we are smart enough to listen to what these students are telling us. Typical schooling is missing something fundamental. It’s time to take a look.

    Be skeptical, but also be open to considering the evidence!

    We all owe you and your crew an enourmous thank you for teaching us this year by sharing your learning.



    1. Dan Post author

      I am certain that you, Pete, have thanked me more than I’ve thanked you. How can that be? Thank you a million times for your generosity, inspiration, and kid-in-a-candy-store giddiness with all things orthographic and scientific. The Real Spelling community would not be the same without its number one cheerleader!

  7. Old Grouch

    All I have to say to all of you is, Thank you.

    After three decades of being a voice crying in a howling wilderness I have lived to witness the desert rejoicing and blossoming like a rose.

    The world is a better place for your presence in it.

  8. Dan Post author

    On the eve of his 70th birthday (careful well-wishers, it’s not until August), Old Grouch has devoted more time and energy (“effort” wouldn’t work here…I know he considers his correspondences with us many things, but an “effort” is not one of them) to the scientific endeavors of the 22 scholars in 5A than even the readers of this blog would believe. In fact he’s introduced us to the concept of scholarship, what it actually means to be a scholar, a genuine learner. And we’re merely one group of a countless horde of young and old orthographers who are challenging the Kool-Aid industry, inspired by his knowledge, humor, and love of “human thought made visible as text.”

    You’ve said it many times to all of us, Old Grouch, so let me say it to you now.

    The world is a MUCH better place because of your presence in it. Thanks for all you do!

  9. Kathy Penn

    Thank you grade 5 for sharing your thoughts on Real Spelling – each of you have inspired me!

  10. Felicia

    Thank you very much Dan and your scholarly students.

    Thanks for your doors and minds to us making us a part of your learning and investigation. I have learned so much about English (and Latin), Real script and the sheer joy of investigating words from you and your students. Your honesty and humanity encourage and inspire me.

    What I have learned from you through your blog is the courage to admit that you dont’ have all the answers as a teacher. The important thing is the willingness to investigate, explore, and ask for help whenever necessary. You are co-learners with your students. I salute you! (Thanks for giving me the opportunity to access a Swiss education from Ghana and for dedicating a post to me.) You really touched my heart.

    Thank you once again, Dan.

    1. Dan Post author

      Hello again, Felicia, and thank you for the kind comments. I am so glad that you are part of our audience and that we have in some way inspired your learning. As we approach the end of this school year, I am already thinking about next year’s group of students…partly about what I can teach them, but mostly what they can teach me!
      I am hoping to visit Ghana in the next couple of years. The Bosomtwe Community School is our sister school. The students and teachers who have been there have returned to Switzerland completely changed. Are you in Accra? It would be great to meet you some day and see your school.
      All the best, Felicia!


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