The Curriculum of the Steiner School - The Extra Lesson

Notes and Lesson Plans

The Extra Lesson: Structured Word Inquiry
updated June 7, 2021


by Janik Coat

These are the blog posts from my colleague Shawna Pope, the Structured Word Inquiry Teacher and a Speech-Language Pathologist. They assume some background knowledge of phonology and morphology. Please enjoy! And feel free to contact me for more information on her work!

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The Extra Lesson: Structured Word Inquiry
for Class 3 and higher

This is now my second page on this topic; if you ended up at this page first, you may want to begin with my Favorite Resources for SWI.

Waldorf Third Grade includes an "intensive study of Grammar." It is also a time when students are expected to become adept in decoding (reading) and encoding (spelling). This does not happen magically; for many children, it requires carefully scaffolded support!

SWI is not only used remedially. It is an excellent subject of study for all students in elementary, middle, or high school.

I highly recommend purchasing the Nienhuis Montessori Printed Alphabet ($49.90) and Printed Alphabet Box ($79.90) for a child who would benefit from a hands-on component to these lessons.

Waldorf Book Group & Monthly Zoom Sessions: Steiner and SWI

A few notes from our Structured Word Inquiry lessons thus far:

    November 15, 2016 - Words Have Meaning and Spelling is Logical

    November 19, 2016 - My Journey to Find the Truth About Language (also shared below)

    My Journey to Find the Truth About Language
    Shawna Pope, MS/CCC/SLP

    This blog post is being written in response to a request for resources to duplicate this learning in the home school community. I apologise for the length of the response, but found everything written here is necessary to understand just what is taking place.

    When I entered private practice in 2015 I knew I wanted to specialise in literacy, but I did not know the best teaching practices for the task. I had knowledge about language, as a speech-language pathologist but literacy entered our scope within the last 7 years and it was not yet clear to me how to best teach the literacy skills involved with reading and spelling. I found that the state of affairs was quite dismal as the researchers and practitioners in the field were constantly in arms over how best to approach reading and spelling.

    As a speech-language pathologist, my main interest was to teach students who had difficulty learning to read and spell so this task was even more unclear as much of the research focused on teaching the skills to children who just seem to naturally " pick it up". I first stopped and considered reading instruction based on the Orton-Gillingham ( O.G. ) approach as everyone in the " dyslexia" community raved about the success of all of the programs based on the approach and the original approach itself. Learning the original approach was not accessible to me and was very costly so I began by attending a week long course to become a consultant for the Barton Reading and Spelling system. I thought I had found the key to teaching students who struggled with literacy and was very excited to begin.

    Upon purchasing the materials and diving into learning the procedure involved in this scripted program I soon found I had many questions about many words that were not answered anywhere in the program. I worried about my clients and their families asking me questions that I would be unable to answer in a meaningful way. I was also uncomfortable with some of the "rules" that were created to explain the English language because there were so many exceptions to these rules. Every exception had a confusing complex explanation that left me with even more questions. I also read reports from parents talking about how their children struggled with maintaining interest in learning the procedure of the program. I found this to be the case with all programs based on the O.G. method. Parents still dutifully sent their children to receive the instruction, however, it was not something many children did with enthusiasm. They were reported to make progress but many continued to struggle in various areas and some made no progress at all.

    During one of days spent searching for answers, I happened upon a website, I had been there before and it did intrigue me but I think it was beyond me at the time. This second time I dipped my toe in the waters, I became more interested. I saw some of my questions being answered in the videos posted on the page. I was attracted to the curiosity that the children had when learning about words and their ability to grasp concepts I had not yet learned. I began to wonder why I had not been taught these skills in childhood or even in my degree program.

    I soon found I knew very little about how our language worked. I was one of those students who just " picked up" enough language skills to be successful academically in what was required of me. Most of the expectations I realised focused heavily on memorisation of concepts and definitions.

    My journey moved on to a website I discovered on the wordworks website. It was on this website I began to have epiphanies so overwhelming I could barely focus. It took a few weeks for me to settle down to sit for long periods of time ingesting all of the ways in which our language worked. I realised that before I could teach struggling students to read ( or any students for that matter) I must first learn myself. I was starting from scratch.

    After I completed a few Spellinars from the RealSpelling website with other scholars learning about language I began to turn my attention to teaching. This is very much a process of scholarship and not of learning based on a curriculum (which denotatively means race track). The terms scope and sequence apply to what we understand as " curriculum ". We have lost the art of scholarship almost entirely in many of our educational settings. When teaching structured word inquiry and about language what makes it work and what makes it an enjoyable journey is it's inherent scholarship ( denotatively, learning with ease at leisure). There is no scope or sequence but there are spelling conventions that we teach as they arise. Sometimes we guide these sessions depending on the lessons we would like to focus on. However, sometimes magic happens when you go in with no plan at all. Children seem to really enjoy it when the teacher thinks things through with them and do not have all of the answers in their manual.

    With that being said, when I began a short time ago, I found it difficult to make the leap to teaching in which the students led me and where I didn't not have lesson plans or a sense of where the lesson would sometimes go. I purchased the Teacher's resource book from the Wordworks website to get me started while I found my comfort level and solidified my understanding of the English language. I also began taking online courses with Gina Cooke from Gina sells some resources in her online store that I have found essential to grasp and teach many concepts. Her Lexinars have added to my understanding in all facets of language and I have found them to be invaluable.

    Now that I am teaching children of varying ages, levels, and abilities, I am creating resources of my own to use. I got some of these ideas after visiting The Nueva School in California this past summer. Pete Bowers, from Word Works presented an amazing week long workshop at the end of a year he spent there instructing the teachers. I would like to make my own resources available to others who are interested and have a plan to do so very soon.

    The beautiful about this learning is that you can actually begin teaching as you are yourself learning. The dept of your analysis only goes as far as your knowledge and that is fine, the learning is still rich. You learn about orthography and it's components of morphology, phonology, and etymology right along with your students. The result is delight and relief that English is not only interesting but regular and logical. There are no red words, sight words, or outlaw words as none of our words set out to break laws or to trick us. We only have to know how to think about them in order to bring understanding. Our words are not driven by pronunciation, but my meaning that lies in their morphology.

    December 20, 2016 - Latin dubitare, Old English tweogon
    this blog post covers the following words:

      doubt, doubtful, doubtfully, doubtless, undoubtable, undoubted, doubted, doubting, and undoubtedly

      dubious, indubitably, indubitable

      double, doubly, doublet, and redouble

      duplicity, doubloon, duplex, duo, duet, and doppelganger

      twist, twisty, twirl, untwist, twisted, twister, twizzle, twelve, twenty, twine, two, twain, twice, and twin

    February 24, 2017 - Court and "Compliments"

    February 9, 2018 - Photos from the Classroom of word sums

Learning More

May 6, 2018
Shawna inspired me (Renee) to learn about SWI and so I will keep my notes here about how and when and where I got my training. First I attended the 2018 Dyslexia Training Institute Virtual Conference and watched workshops from several presenters:

  • Doug Harper - An Introduction to Etymonline
  • Pete Bowers - Structured Word Inquiry: What it is, what it isn't... and where it fits in the research
  • Jennifer Petrich - Using ASL Signs to Support Literacy Instruction of LD Students
  • Tracy Block-Zaretsky - The Journey Words Take Us On
  • Scott Mills - Cognates through a Pedagogical Lens
  • Sue Hegland - Building a Strong Foundation in Language and Literacy for Dyslexic Students

May 15, 2018
Began five-session training in SWI with Pete Bowers (May 15, 22, 29 and June 5, 12)
Read A Special WordWorks Publication about 'Special'

June 14, 2018
Began three-session training in Real Script with Rebecca Loveless (June 14, 26, 28)

October 9, 2018
Began five-session training in SWI with Pete Bowers (October 9, 16, 30 and November 6, 13)
Read Starter Booklet of References to Guide SWI Investigations PDF

Read Morphology and Phonology of 'Exclude' PDF
Read Guide for Writing-out and Spelling-out Word Structure with Word Sums PDF

February 28 - March 2, 2019
SWI conference in Chicago IL: Orthography in the Classroom
with Pete Bowers, Gina Cooke, and Doug Harper

April 26 - 28, 2019
SWI conference in Dayton OH: Etymology Seven
with Gina Cooke and Doug Harper

continued SWI training from 2019 - 2021 is detailed on my LinkedIn page

"Starting in the second and third grades, many of the children will have developed their proprioceptive systems and connected the right and left sides of their brain together, and therefore can be more formally taught to write in cursive, to read phonetically, and to spell without developing attention problems and learning challenges."
from Teaching Our Children to Write, Read & Spell: A Developmental Approach Looking at the Relationship of Children's Foundational Neurological Pathways to their Higher Capacities for Learning

I'm still researching what Steiner has to say that would be relevant to this, but I'm thinking to introduce Script in grade 2 and SWI in grade 3, first as a main lesson and then as a weekly special, akin to Form Drawing. It could also be used in the Extra Lesson work for children who are struggling with conventional spelling. However, I think ALL children (and adults) can benefit from SWI.

Notes from teaching this in the classroom as a month-long main lesson block in October 2018, then continuing it as a weekly special subject for the rest of the 2018-2019 school year:

Blog posts from teaching this in the 2019-2020 school year:

Blog posts from teaching this in the 2020-2021 school year:

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