“When I took the ﬁrst survey of my undertaking, I found our speech copious without order, and energetick without rules: wherever I turned my view, there was perplexity to be disentangled, and confusion to be regulated; choice was to be made out of boundless variety, without any established principle of selection; adulterations were to be detected, without a settled test of purity;and modes of expression to be rejected or received, without the suffrages of any writers of classical reputation or acknowledged authority“. Samuel Johnson, ‘Preface’ to A Dictionary of the English Language
‘One sign of immaturity [in a science] is the endless ﬂow of terminology.The critical reader begins to wonder if some strange naming taboo attaches to the terms that a linguist uses, whereby when he dies they must be buried with him.’ Dwight Bolinger, Aspects of Language, p. 554
This week we have focused on terminology and while linguist Dwight Bolinger alerts us to the endless flow of terminology and strange naming taboos of linguists , Samuel Johnson, although talking about the language in the 18th century and of his hopes for his great dictionary undertaking, reminds us of perplexity and confusion ( See Word Nerds: ‘Respect for the Harmless Drudge’). This murk of confusion and perplexity among students when talking about words only obfuscates. To think about and explore words and then make connections to literature, poetry, history, current events and express these connections with clarity, we need precise language and precision of thought and so we plunged into an inquiry based around morphological terminology.
We started this foray by encouraging students to question one another in the class about their understanding of the morphological terms through an activity known as “Find someone Who”. This was a brief 5 minute activity designed to get students talking and thinking about the terms they would later be investigating more thoroughly. Note the buzz of excitement and the questioning.
Students have analysed various words in the past two weeks and peeled off affixes to reveal base elements. They labelled these elements in word sums : prefix, base element, indicating whether it was free or bound, identified suffixes, and connectors in earlier sessions to gain a sense of the structure of words. This week’s exercise, conducted in 20 minute bouts over three days, exposed misconceptions and provided a way students could state what they knew as well as, and perhaps even more importantly, that which was unclear. This activity allowed them to ask questions to clarify confusion and perplexity. They worked collaboratively, built knowledge together and used data of their earlier word analysis to make carefully worded statements about each term and make connections to show relationships of the terms.
Watch students as they work on the relationships of the terms. I was amazed by the thinking, reflection and focus the groups exhibited in making sense of the terms.
I remain impressed by the thinking that occurs and the questions that follow when we ask students to make connections, when we use inquiry rather than lecture giving dry definitions and tell them to learn this. By allowing students to struggle and to continue to demand precision in their explanations, they surprise me with their insight or reveal that which I too often assume is understood. This activity then allows for a deeper understanding when explanations are finally given. Look at their charts below where they explore their understanding so far in this morphological journey.
Below the students new vision of words:
Emphasizing clarity, subtle as a sledgehammer, but fun… :I Can See Clearly Now: Jimmy Cliff at Glastonbury 2011.