Copyright Susan and Peter Bowers 2008

Spelling-Out Word Structure: 
Making sense of spelling through linguistic analysis
Assessment & instruction in line with principles of Understanding by Design

“Why is there an <h> in <school>? We don’t hear it.”
Grade 1 student
How would you respond to this question from a Grade 1 student?
Would you respond differently if the question were from a Grade 4 student? 
In what way would your response target understanding of the English spelling system, not just the spelling of <school>?
This article and the video embedded below are resources that build on this question about <school>. They explain and model how the linguistic practice of spelling-out word structure can be used to respond to the student’s question whether it was asked by a lower or upper elementary student. Further, this article and video show that integrating this practice of spelling-out word structure can be applied to help reveal the structure of any word. There is nothing particularly special about the word <school> except that the question about this spelling pointed me to foundational spelling concepts that student needed to learn more about. 
 “The problem of education is to make the pupil see the woods by means of the trees.” 
Alfred North Whitehead (1929/1957, p. 6)
Additional details on the conventions of spelling-out word structure are outlined here. 
Many thanks to Gail Venable for helping me cut this article down to the essential points (I was determined to keep it brief!) and Rebecca Marsh for her generous, skilled and fast copy editing. 
Thanks also to Grade 2 teachers in Dubai for letting me share parts of our Skype workshop that models  the practice described in the article. We have an amazing community of learners out there!
Link to Understanding by Design: Central concept - Assessment - Instruction
The video above was captured from an on-line consultancy I have been doing with a school in Dubai. In this Skype session I used this same question about <school> to teach a group of Grade 2 teachers to use this practice of spelling-out word structure. That school, like many international schools, works with a curriculum based on Understanding by Design (UbD) (Wiggins & McTighe, 2005). I helped teachers see how structured word inquiry (Bowers & Kirby, 2010) using this practice of spelling-out word structure is a means of bringing the UbD principle of “backwards design” to instruction of the written word. 
Wiggins and McTighe, (2005, p. 338) define backwards design as, “[an] approach to designing a curriculum or unit that begins with the end in mind and designs toward that end.” They go on to recommend teachers take on the practice of “starting with the end (the desired results) and then identifying the evidence necessary to determine that the results have been achieved (assessments). With the result and assessments clearly specified, the designer determines the necessary (enabling) knowledge and skill, and only then, the teaching needed to equip students to perform.” 
When you watch this film and you read the article linked above, I hope you will see how teachers who take on the practice of spelling-out word structure supports exactly the kind of instruction recommended by the UbD. Following that framework, let’s start with the identification of one of the ends literacy instruction should have in mind as articulated by Rayner et al. (2001).
Desired result: “[T]he child learning how to read needs to learn how his or her writing system works” (p. 34). 
Assessment: Understanding of the graphemic and morphemic structure of words can be assessed with the practice of “spelling-out morphemic and graphemic structure.”
Enabling knowledge and skills: Teach children how graphemes and morphemes work by making these structures explicit through spelling-out word structure orally and with written word sums. 

Additional LInks
After watching the video and reading the article provided here, you can download a free resource to help you with the conventions for spelling-out word structure at this link. 
Another article on Structured Word Inquiry and Understanding By Design can be found at this link. 

Bowers, P. N., & Kirby, J. R. (2010). Effects of morphological instruction on vocabulary acquisition. Reading & Writing: An Interdisciplinary Journal. 23, p. 515-537.
Rayner, K., Foorman, B.R., Perfetti, C., Pesetsky, D., & Seidenberg, M.S. (2001). How psychological science informs the teaching of reading, American Psychological Society, 2, 31-74.
Whitehead, A. N. (1929/1957). The Aims of Education. NY, The Free Press. 
Wiggins, G. & McTighe, J.(2005). Understanding by Design. Expanded 2nd Ed. USA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.Spelling-Out_Word_Sums.html,_Instruction_&_UBD_files/%3Ch%3E%20in%20%3Cschool%3E%20part%201.pdfSpelling-Out__Assessment,_Instruction_&_UBD_files/UBD%20and%20SWI.pdfshapeimage_3_link_0shapeimage_3_link_1shapeimage_3_link_2shapeimage_3_link_3shapeimage_3_link_4