“He who dares to teach must never cease to learn.” –John Cotton Dana
When I graduated with a degree in elementary education, whole language was common practice in elementary classrooms. However, I had one professor who continually reminded us that we couldn’t forget phonics instruction. That stuck with me as I began my teaching career the fall of 1992.
The more time I spent teaching students the more I realized I was unsure of how to adequately teach students to read and spell. So, I began taking additional courses in literacy. I took two different Orton-Gillingham graduate level courses as well as dozens of balanced literacy courses. I purchased numerous books that addressed “research based” methods of teaching reading, writing, and spelling. After years of courses, self-study, and obtaining a Masters of Education in Curriculum and Instruction in Reading, I finally felt I was getting a handle on how to best teach literacy. However, no matter how much I felt I was addressing the reading needs of struggling students, I couldn’t shake the feeling that there was more to spelling than I was finding in all of my coursework and self-study. Did I find things that helped? Yes, I found “rules” that explained some of the spellings. However, even with these new “rules” there were still too many words that just didn’t seem to make sense. Why does < two > have a < w > in it? And what about all of the different homophones (e.g., peace/piece, tail/tale, male/mail, ant/aunt)? Therefore, I continued to search…
About a year and a half ago I began hearing more and more about Structured Word Inquiry (SWI). I watched YouTube videos and webinars. April 2018 I participated in the Dyslexia Training Institute (DTI) Virtual Conference—by far one of the best professional conferences I’ve ever attended. I participated in every SWI webinar that was offered during the DTI conference. By the time the conference was over, there was no turning back. I had learned enough to know I had to continue my learning journey with SWI. I had so much to learn about how our spelling system actually works. Twenty-five years in education and I was beginning to see what I hadn’t known and what my students had needed all of these years.
Since beginning the SWI journey, I’ve continued to take trainings in SWI, Latin, and even had the privilege of working with an SWI coach. This is certainly a process, but I finally feel like I have a better understanding (and am certainly better prepared to teach my students) about the way our English spelling system actually works. There are many things that have stuck in my mind through my trainings this past year. However, one of the ideas I continue to return to is that we often assume the primary job of spelling is to represent sound. However, the reality is, as stated by Pete Bowers, "The primary job of spelling is meaning representation...This is the linguistic definition of orthography."
If you’d like to learn more about Structured Word Inquiry (SWI), check out the following podcast as well as visit the resource section of our website (shinelearning.org).