In the below tables, you will find an overview of the big ideas assessed as a whole, a description of each task, an example item, and a list of the standards addressed. Below each section in the table, you’ll find a more detailed explanation of each skill measured and the tasks used to measure that skill. (Detailed explanations excerpted from the upcoming Ganske, K. (2020). Mindful of words: Spelling and vocabulary explorations 4-8, (2nd edition.). New York: The Guilford Press.)
The goal of this section is to provide data on how students understand words—specifically how students use units of meaning to figure out the meanings of academic words. We created multiple tasks that show students word solving skills. These tasks assess four main skills (see below), which we have linked to the State Standards and Common Core Standards.
Skill 1: Students can identify units of meaning. We used two measures to assess whether students could identify units of meaning, both in terms of breaking words down and also in terms of connecting to larger words. We used a task titled Odd Man Out,where students were given three words and had to identify the word that did not belong. For example, when looking at estimate, classmate, and roommate, the morpheme mate in classmate and roommate represents the meaning of ‘a person’. Estimate is the odd man out: it is the example where the morphemes do not overlap in terms of meaning. This task forces students to think about how the written language conveys meaning. Our second measure, which we call Meaning Puzzles, asks students to identify the word part that is most helpful in determining the meaning of that word, which in this case can be a morpheme or a morphologically related word that is contained in the larger word. Here,students need to look beyond overlap in spelling to figure out the link to meaning. For example, accusatory has spelling overlap with accurate, accuse, cushion, and custom, but only accuse overlaps in terms of meaning. Hence, a student who knows they can use accuse to figure out accusatory rather than using accurate is more likely to figure out the word’s meaning and apply that meaning to their literacy endeavors. It is important to note that while we had developed other tasks to identify units of meaning in words, these tasks worked best.In terms of instruction, this skill highlights that we need to help our students think about morphological overlap between words. We need to constantly challenge students to think about how the word’s form and sound conveys links to other words in their morphological family. For example, thinking about astronomy’s relationship to astronaut,and then about the units like astr=star,will build a strong foundation of understanding how units of meaning are put together to convey meaning or even broken down to figure out meaning. We have observed instructional work where students eagerly look up word origins to find overlap, create word webs to identify morphological word families, and find imposters where tricky spellings look like morphemes but are not (see Goodwin & Perkins, 2015 for examples).
Skill 2: Students can use suffixes for syntactic information. While we tend to think about the semantic roles of morphemes, morphemes also play an important role in conveying syntactic information. In other words, knowing how to adapt or interpret the form of detect to fit the phrase ‘the detection of evidence’ is important for helping students deal with the complex syntactical structures involved in text, particularly related to academic language. Two measures assessed this skill. The Real Word Suffix tasks gave students a sentence like ‘The countries benefited _______from their membership in the European Union.’Students need to identify the correct form of the missing word given four options (financial, financially, finance, financier.)This measure requires students to think about the information the suffix is conveying within a morphologically complex word. Similarly, our Making it Fit task asked students to complete a sentence with the appropriate derivation of a word. For example, students were given the statement Amphibians are _____[create] that live on both land and sea. They had to adjust the root word create to contain the correct suffix for the context: hence creatures. Again, we attempted multiple measures to assess this skill, including a nonword suffix task, but ultimately, these two tasks worked best. In terms of instruction, this skill highlights the ability to use the syntactic information in a suffix as another clue to a word’s meaning within a larger phrase. Here, we have seen instruction that provides many different phrases and then asks students to adjust the form of the word to fit the phrases. We have also seen students encouraged to play with words like this in their own writing, which draws attention to the syntactical role of the suffixes. One key here is that Goodwin and Perkins (2015) suggest this as one of many strategies students can use to figure out the meaning of unknown words within phrases. So if students read complex texts and show confusion, teachers may draw attention to the syntactic role of suffixes as a way to scaffold meaning making.
Skill 3: Students can use morphology for meaning. This skill is perhaps the one that most often comes to mind when we think about uses of morphological knowledge in supporting literacy: the ability to use the semantic information in morphemes to figure out meanings of related words. Students completed a task titled Word Detectives where they read sentences and then used units of meaning to figure out the meaning of the morphologically complex word. For example, students read, The experiment required materials to be equidistant. The materials are a) equal in size and weight; b) spaced out evenly from each other; c) from far away locations; d) ordered spatially. Students had to identify the two units equi and distant and connect those to the meanings provided. The skill represented here is what Anglin (1993) would call word-solving, which our research team built upon and describe further in Pacheco and Goodwin (2013).
In terms of instruction, this skill highlights the importance of getting students to use units of meaning to figure out the meaning of an unfamiliar word. We have seen students reading texts and marking unknown words with flags, then writing those words on sticky notes so that they (alone or with a partner) can box units like root words that they know. They can then add up the meanings of the separate units to estimate a meaning and then reread the text with that meaning to determine whether their hypothesis makes sense. See Goodwin and Perkins (2015) for more examples.
Skill 4: Students can read and spell morphologically complex words. The final skill identified from our work is the ability to read and spell morphologically complex words. This skill connects to the orthographic and phonological information conveyed via morphemes. For example, knowing the spelling of the word know can help a student to spell knowledge (not nolidj). Similarly, knowing how to read finance can support reading financially. Much work has shown these relationships (see Goodwin, Gilbert, & Cho, 2013), and the reason is that students’ experience building and applying knowledge of these patterns in reading and spelling builds higher quality lexical representations, which they are able to use in their literacy endeavors (Goodwin, Gilbert, Cho, & Kearns, 2014). Our two measures ask students to spell a morphologically complex word they hear and also to choose between three pronunciations of a morphologically complex word they see.
Instructionally, this indicates the importance of highlighting the overlap between morphological patterns and spelling and phonological patterns. In other words, if a student doesn’t know how to spell a word, they may support sounding out the spelling with consideration of the units of meaning being conveyed by that word. Similarly, if faced with an unknown word, a student may be able to find a part of the word that they know how to read and use that unit to support reading of the larger word.
Vocabulary: Students are able to identify various features related to words including the definition of the word, multiple meanings of the word, synonyms and antonyms of the word, and verbal analogies for words.
Syntax: Students are able to identify correct connective types including additive connectives (for example, “and”, “as well”, “further”), causal connectives (for example, “so”, “in order that”, “because”), temporal connectives (for example, “before”, “after”, “finally”), logical (for example, “similarly”, “provided that”, “in case”) and adversative (for example, ”but”, “through”, “however”).