As the owner and director of wordtorque, I am currently assisting a number of schools to embed Word Inquiry into their way of thinking and into their curriculum. Modeling lessons in the classrooms is a practice I value. Teachers can see Word Inquiry in action and develop the confidence to help children study the structure of words. I also run public workshops for anyone interested in words, educator or otherwise.
Prior to this I was the Elementary Principal at ELC International School in Bangkok and am very passionate about the positive impact Word Inquiry has on the critical thinking skills of children. I have been using this approach as a teacher and administrator for nearly 15 years and my particular interest is in the pedagogy of application.
Schools are busy places and teachers seem to have more and more on their plate. Word Inquiry supports many strands of Language Arts at once and strengthens understanding across all disciplines.
I have worked internationally for 26 years after beginning my career in Australia. In addition to 12 years of administrative experience, I have also had the opportunity to teach Grade 1 through Grade 5, write some children’s books, be a learning support specialist, and coach teachers in literacy strategies. I hold an MEd (administration) and an MEd (literacy) as well as Literacy Coaching certification. I have studied with Real Spelling and Pete Bowers of WordWorks.
My broad experience in a number of roles allows me the perspective of the classroom teacher, support specialist and administrator when collaborating to make decisions about the best approaches to assist all students to be successful.
About Word Inquiry
Instruction that focuses on learning about the structure of words through inquiry seems to me to be aptly and succinctly named Word Inquiry. Others will refer to this area of study as Orthography, just as we might say the study of Mathematics or Reading or Chemistry.
The study of English orthography is not a program and as such cannot be labeled as if it were. Michel Rameau, my mentor, refers to the materials he has created to support linguistic inquiries as Real Spelling materials, while my colleague Pete Bowers calls investigations into the logic of English word structure, Structured Word Inquiry.
Why are there different names? Michel and Pete prefer to emphasize different elements. In the title Real Spelling, Michel focuses on developing an accurate understanding of English orthography. In Structured Word Inquiry, often referred to as SWI, Pete is instead highlighting the structured nature of the inquiry process used to uncover the structure of words. Not being a fan of acronyms, I prefer the shortened form of Word Inquiry as this ensures the students hold front and centre what they are studying and the process by which they are studying.
Certainly, my colleagues and I all advocate using a structured inquiry process, not open, unguided inquiry, to develop a deep and comprehensive understanding of our spelling system. It is the common goal of teaching students about the logic of the English spelling system by following scientific process, aided by specific tools, that binds our community together.
Although there will be times in the week teachers dedicate to the discipline of Word Inquiry, it is, by nature, transdisciplinary and once core concepts are established and tools grasped, you’ll find yourself exploring the meaning and structure of words in Mathematics, Science and Social Studies. In fact, you and your students will barely be able to utter a word without beginning to analyze it! Such analysis leads to deeper comprehension, stronger spelling skills and enriched vocabulary.
Have you often felt you should do more to strengthen students’ vocabulary than present a list of words relevant to your current topic?
And have you ever found yourself telling students to sound out words they are trying to spell or read only to realise they can’t be sounded out?
International schools present unique challenges. Teachers and students speak with an almost impossibly broad variety of accents, with different word pronunciations. We need an approach to teaching foundational literacy skills that will build vocabulary and help students learn to spell regardless of how words are pronounced.
right: building a word web with words related
in meaning and structure to <friend>
An added challenge is that traditional ways of supporting vocabulary growth, decoding and spelling skills are often compartmentalized and don’t utilise 21st-century teaching approaches.
Fortunately, once you know more about the structure of written English at the word level, you can equip your students with skills to independently access the meaning of unfamiliar words and see links between words, thus deepening their understanding of English whilst enhancing their ability to think critically and problem solve.
Understanding not only how and why words such as <hop> and <hopping> are related but discovering the link between words such as <do> and <done>, <heal> and <health> or <mishap> and <happy> empowers students, giving them greater control of their language, literacy and thinking skills.
left: introducing word families to our youngest children