Thank You Pete Bowers!

This past weekend, Pete Bowers took time out of his already busy world tour (workshops for schools in China, Dresden, and Lausanne) to make a relatively last-minute appearance at ZIS. And we’re glad he did! On Monday, we took advantage of Pete’s kindness, his passion, and most importantly, his knowledge of the English orthographic system, all captured in the videos below. (A big thanks to Mike Boulanger who taught me how to upload lengthy, “over the limit” videos!)

Pete’s first stop? Grade 1…

After reflecting with the Grade 1 teachers, Pete was quickly on to Grade 5, making it to three different classrooms for an hour each. It’s amazing to watch how he masterfully presents and inspires students to question and explore.

Mrs. Sikora’s class:

Miss Vinclair’s class:

Mr. Allen’s class:

After that final lesson, Pete welcomed 30 teachers and administrators to share the key principals of Structured Word Inquiry. Note: this workshop was not required…pretty good turn out!

I’ve known Pete for several years now, but this was the first time I actually saw him speak to a large group of educators. One thing he said that I hadn’t heard before was, “It’s a feature of English spelling, not a bug.” Let me explain…

Pete started the session by asking teachers to brainstorm “tricky” words, ones that don’t seem to make sense. As in most of his workshops, I’m sure, homophones came up. Several teachers offered there, their, and they’re, and to, too, and two, probably because these words are so frequently misspelled by students, or because we are misguided by the belief that English spelling is determined primarily by “sound” representation. Not true, which Pete masterfully proved by asking the teachers why those words are spelled differently. “Because they have different meanings.” Exactly!

This led to Pete’s explanation of the Homophone Principal and a celebration of the system’s versatility, a recognition of the difficulties that would be caused if we didn’t have a variety of ways to represent the same “sounds” (phonemes). “It’s not a bug, it’s a feature.” Brilliant, and one of many thought provoking statements from Pete.

Thanks Pete! You’ve been an inspiration for so many years to so many people, not the least of whom are the readers of this blog. Aren’t you glad you didn’t have to write one of your long blog comments (which I LOVE!) and could instead just talk to us all for a really long time?! I hope it won’t be the last time!

7 thoughts on “Thank You Pete Bowers!

  1. Pete Bowers

    Well Dan it didn’t take you long to get these films up!

    Many thanks for planting the seeds so well for my visit. What a delight to work with the teachers and students at your school even for just one day.

    I feel the need to pass on a couple of comments for those who watch these films of my teaching in these classrooms so they have the context that I made clear to teachers at your school.

    Pace and Audience…
    While I think people will agree that the students seem largely engaged and often quite excited about their learning in these sessions, I don’t want the viewer to think that these are intended as models of ideal classroom instruction in any way. Although in the films it appears that my intended audience is the children, in fact my main audience was the teachers observing behind them. Especially with one day at your school, I was determined to offer your teachers as much exposure to facts about English orthography as I could, and evidence that young children are quite able to make excellent sense out of this content. But I do not wish to send the signal to teachers that this is the speed at which such content is “supposed to” be delivered. Especially in the Grade 1 class it’s not my recommendation that children sit looking at a display for 30 minutes! By covering this much ground, the teachers in the room have more background knowledge and they can now revisit that as much as they feel is necessary with the students.

    It is worth noting, however, that they can gain a great deal even in that sub-optimal context.

    The other thing that is missing from these lessons is that these investigations are not growing organically out of the text, ideas and questions of the students. I am parachuted into a lesson and go. I may grab a word from the classroom, but as we see in your class, Dan, the investigations just grow naturally from what you are studying and thinking about in your other studies. In other kindergarden and Grade 1 lessons this trip, I did model classrooms just by picking up a big book that the students already loved and started reading. After reading a little bit, the simple prompt of asking if there was a word a student would like to take a look at was enough to dive in.

    Learning what I don’t yet understand by teaching!

    The other point I really wanted to share is that there is a point in the Grade 1 lesson in which I do exactly what I try not to do. The fact that you’ve shared the film is a great opportunity for me to show that teachers should be happy to make mistakes in front of their students as long as they are treated as opportunities for learning.

    In the Grade 1 class I address the similar spelling of the words HERE, THERE, WHERE (sorry for the upper-case — can’t use angle brackets). It is is so important to address the fact that these words do NOT share an H grapheme. The first does use the H, but the others use a TH and a WH. So far so good. However, as I try to signal that by tapping out, I recognize that I don’t actually have a clear understanding of the graphemes in the ERE part of these words! The real error I make is that I don’t just pause and acknowledge my curiosity about that part of these spelling. In the moment, I make the mistake of tapping out those letters one-by-one (rather feebly). That recognition made me determined to explore this question with Old Grouch here in France, which I have already started to do. I have thought about this issue many times. I’ve gone back and forth between thinking that ERE is a trigraph and thinking that it is a digraph ER with a final ‘marker letter E ‘ of some kind. One thing that I should NOT have signalled is that these are single letter graphemes.

    So, I have not yet watched all these films, but I am very happy for others to do so. Just so long as no-one assumes that because I am supposed to be some sort of “spelling expert” that there are no errors in these sessions. The great thing about doing one’s best to present the real structures of spelling to children is that we are constantly running into evidence of what we ourselves don’t yet understand.

    As I repeated many times on this latest spelling trip, I believe that the “sequence of instruction” is best guided by the questions and curiosity of the learner — and the errors we make.

    I have the Grade 1 students at your school to thank for helping me make sure to refine a part of my understanding of spelling that I have long neglected!



    PS: I suspect that one reason I decided not to share my confusion about the spelling of these words at that particular moment was that I didn’t want to take that tangent at that moment with the children. In retrospect, I see an easy solution I could (should) have done. I could simply have tapped the H, TH, and WH graphemes and not tapped the ones I was unsure of. That wold have put the focus where I wanted it to be without misleading the rest of the spelling. I now have an additional instructional option to draw on in future similar situations with different words. Once again — thanks to your students and your blog!

    1. Dan Post author

      So interesting, Pete. I was actually thinking that a couple of times while you presented…mostly from the perspective of “How is Pete doing this? He needs to educate teachers, most of whom have never heard of Real Spelling or SWI, while interacting with students of varied ages, keeping them engaged, as teachers and administrators file in and out of the sessions.” So yes, your comment is important to consider, that the pacing wasn’t ideal, but still, most of the students and teachers who saw you that day are now thinking about words and the English language differently. THANK YOU!

  2. Skot Caldwell

    Okay, I have to just say that I laughed after reading Dan’s crack about Pete’s long blog posts (which I also LOVE), and then scrolled down to see Pete’s hilariously long blog comment. As usual, it is filled with nuggets of wisdom! The post itself, with all the little films, utterly captures the frenetic pace of this visit–the guy is everywhere! Honestly, Mr. Bowers, I don’t know how you do it!

    On the other hand, there is something about this material that is energizing, yes? I spent almost 3 hours blasting away with two highly-engaged colleagues a week ago, practically off the top of my head.

    I have to say, Pete, that “errors” aside I am absolutely inspired and delighted by what I have watched in these films, and so appreciative of the opportunity to watch them. Which is funny, because I’ve been a few of your workshops. But man, it is good to be able to really focus on your words and the flow of your presentation. You are good!

    1. Dan Post author

      I completely agree, Skot. Masterful presentations…and yes, one after the other…yet no hint of “Oy…I need a break” from Pete. The wording…the pacing (even though Pete disagrees)…SO MANY gems that I will use when speaking of orthography in the future.

  3. noreen

    Hello Dan,

    Thank you Dan for video taping Pete’s knowledge filled sessions with the children. I was thinking as I watched the first grade’s session, what a lot of information for the children! I wondered how they would take it in and process it. At the same time I thought, any teacher who sees this has obtained so many examples of using ‘real spelling’ in their work. It’s one thing to learn it with a number of adults, but to see Pete teaching and the childrens’ responses was so valuable. I feel so grateful for being able to look in. Thanks so much. Noreen

    1. Pete Bowers

      Thanks Noreen!

      It is true that this is a lot of information in one session. I also don’t recommend having the kids sit this long as a general practice. What is great, is that despite this less than optimal context, the kids get so much out of the contend. I have made a document introducing this and all the other videos in part to make sure people understand the context of these model lessons. Since my time at schools is often short, I use these lessons as a time to communicate as much content as I can to the teachers in the room. So the audience in this lesson is not really the kids, but the observing teachers watching the film use it to build their understanding — and then only teach as much as they like from my lesson to their own class.

      To get more on these lessons and links to more details on function and content (lexical) words go to this link:



  4. Pam

    I also concur! I am a teacher near retirement; however, after discovering Pete and Real Spelling, I am so motivated to keep teaching- just so I can further explore this fascinating subject with my students. How I wish I had made this discovery years ago. Thanks to Pete and the entire community of real spellers.


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