I used to think that Reading and Spelling was largely based on visual memory. Yes, you needed to know the graphemes and phonemes but the goal was to synthesize that information quickly to aid quick visual word identification or spelling.
Now I believe (after keeping current with research/theories of Dr. Peter Bowers and Dr. Linnea and the work of Dr. David Kilpatrick) that reading/spelling is a morphophonemic process, that is, that the process of word recognition is anchored in orthographically mapping graphemes to phonemes within morphemes, which are units of meaning. When students encounter a word, they analyze the spellings and map the graphemes to the phonemes and to the meaning and retrieve this representation from memory. It can take from 1-20+ exposures for this representation to make it into long-term memory but, once there, the word is immediately accessed. One of the important aspects of working with students is to gain an understanding of the optimal amount of direct instruction for the student to map these understandings into long-term memory. SWI greatly facilitates orthographic understandings because the entire investigative framework is rooted in meaning. Even the 4th question, Pronunciation? relies on grapheme/phoneme correspondences within the meaningful unit of a morpheme.
Thus, the 4 questions of Structured Word Inquiry (Bowers, 2010) can be analyzed through the lens of orthographic mapping (Linnea Ehri), which is the process by which sight words (any word, not limited to our previous understanding of irregular words), are immediately accessed.)
The 4 Questions of Structured Word Inquiry:
- What is the meaning? (Meaning)
- What are the relatives? (Etymological information adds a layer of meaning as it can explain why a word is spelled as it is while morphological information helps students to focus on morphemes (base, affix), the meaningful units in a word.)
- What is the structure? (analyze the spelling using word sums and/or a word matrix)
- Pronunciation? (map the graphemes to the phonemes, articulate the sounds, note pronunciation shifts across the word family, articulation activities, spelling-it-out, and writing-it-out to consolidate understandings. Chart new phoneme and grapheme understandings as references.)
I might add a fifth question, “Can you use this word in a meaningful way?” as a way to monitor and assess developing word understandings. I would also be interested to map exposures, as possible, to begin to understand how many exposures is optimal for each of my students, as well as continuous informal assessments of comprehension, decoding and encoding(spelling) (with grapheme/phoneme analysis).
Here is a recent SWI thinking sheet that I created for <judge>:
As I was working on this, I had some questions about <judge> and <judicial> which was resolved with the help of some friends:
I have seen Structured Word Inquiry have such a positive impact on the word learning and spelling of diverse learners. It has been exciting to see the research on orthographic mapping confirm this. Looking forward to more explorations on the science and the magic of word learning!