Tag Archives: Literacy

One Piece at a Time: Roots, Stems and Literacy

ImageIn my second year of teaching, my school implemented a much-needed school wide literacy plan. Over 2/3 of our students were significantly behind in reading and part of the school’s core mission was to advance students dramatically enough to allow them to take courses at a local college in their junior and senior year of high school.  Clearly 6th graders who were reading on a 2nd or 3rd grade level had a long way to go.  Like many literacy plans, the intent was admirable but the execution was, well, less than effective.

A core part of the plan was for all teachers- even math and science teachers like me- to include the “word of the day” in our instruction.  The teachers leading the program were very dedicated humanities teachers, and I wish I could say I resisted the urge to be snarky when the first week’s list consisted of the following words:  polyglot, propaganda, symbolism, insurrection, and doctrine. I couldn’t, though: I replied with a note asking them to include the formula for photosynthesis in their lessons.

Luckily, cooler heads prevailed and we revisited the intention behind the plan and decided it made a lot more sense to support school-wide  instruction of a new common prefix, suffix or Greek  or Latin root word each week.  In addition to preventing weekly turf wars over the word list, teaching prefixes and suffixes led to much better results for students.

This makes a lot of sense because learning a relatively few number of prefixes, suffixes, and roots words gives students an advantage when trying to decipher a vast amount of words.  In her book Phonics They Use: Words for Reading and Writing, Patricia Cunningham explains that,

“Four prefixes— un, re, in (and its variants im, ir, and il, all meaning “not”), and dis— account for 58 percent of all prefixed words. Add sixteen more prefixes— en/em, non, in/im (meaning “in”), over, mis, sub, pre, inter, fore, de, trans, super, semi, anti, mid, and under —to account for 97 percent of all prefixed words. Students who know how to read, spell, and attach meaning to these 20 prefixes can apply that knowledge to decode, spell, and understand the meanings of many multi-­syllabic words.”

Every lesson made with LessonWriter.com automatically includes the option to focus on one of the affixes found in the reading, so it is an easy way for teachers to support morphology instruction while still focusing on text related to specific content (Click here to give it a try!)

For More Great Resources on Word Roots, check out:

The Supplement to Massachusetts’ English Language Arts Framework
Scholastic Worksheet on Common Prefixes and Suffixes
Wikipedia’s List of Greek and Latin Roots
Anne Murphy Paul ‘s “Why Kids Should Learn Cursive (and Math Facts and Word Roots)

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What Level is the Right Level? Finding the Instructional Sweet Spot

The right level text can be the difference between engaged students increasing their skills and comprehension, and alienated students unable to make meaning or progress. This is why skilled teachers are careful to choose texts that Image are the appropriate level for their students,; but finding the instructional sweet spot is by no means an easy task.

Lev Vygotsky coined the term Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD)  to describe “the distance between the actual development level as determined by independent problem solving and the level of potential development as determined through problem solving under adult guidance, or in collaboration with more capable peers.”

ZPD has often been an elusive pedagogical ideal, but the push from the Common Core to include texts with a greater degree of complexity at earlier grade levels has exacerbated the need to find the right fit.  Fortunately, there are some great tools that not only help educators identify texts of appropriate levels, but also provide instructional strategies to make difficult texts more accessible to students:

  • Google has an Advanced Search Filter by Grade Level.  The filter breaks up search results into basic, intermediate and advanced, and the best thing is that categorizations are not simply the result of automated grade level analysis, but have been vetted by actual educators. Click here to read more.
  • LessonWriter.com just added a new premium feature that allows users to get  an estimated grade-level based on the Flesch Kinkaid Grade Level Formula  If you are not already a LessonWriter user click here to register now for free.
  • Also, http://readability-score.com offers several grade-level estimation calculators.

These are terrific resource for learning more about instructional techniques related to accessible texts:

How do you select text of the appropriate level for your students? We’d love to hear your suggestions.

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