It's quite common when I introduce eSpindle to the educational community (not parents, not students, but educators, administrators, and publishers) that it is rejected with a brusque -- "but eSpindle requires knowing how to spell the word!"
It blows my mind every time, but people actually highlight that as a flaw of the program.
>>We don't teach spelling, why do you make it a requirement?
>>Well... because if you don't know the spelling, you don't really know the word, do you now?
>>But that is memorization!! Are you saying you want students to MEMORIZE content?
>>Memory is not a four letter word. Every kind of learning - playing an instrument, learning to ride a bicycle, cooking, academics - is 5% "aha!" and 95% memorization.
>>That's dark 19th century pedagogy! We want our kids to explore! Experience! Learn smarter, not harder! They don't have to learn at all, actually, just know how to consume information effectively... be creative, critical thinkers... tech-savvy...
And so it happens that although eSpindle is the most advanced and high-powered vocabulary and spelling practice program in the world, most people actually find us in the search engines because we also provide the most extensive listing of root words and suffixes on the Web.
Root words are being taunted as the holy grail of orthography and verbal prowess right now.
Admittedly, studying root words and etymology is very interesting, and I could spend hours exploring "what's in a word" (if I only had the time). Delightfully, there are a few words where you can systematically decode meaning from knowing root words (most books I know herald "orthography" as an example).
Then there are a few thousand more where you can derive some bits of understanding if you know root words. That's it, folks!
The fact is, to say it bluntly, that the root word frenzy to a large degree is linguistic smart-alecking that is not useful to somebody struggling with a limited vocabulary or someone learning English.
Our brains (unless we're dyslexic) build their vocabulary knowledge by storing mental orthographic images (MOI) and sound impressions for each word... it is a pattern-based process that relies on -- yes! -- memorization. Almost exclusively at that. It helps when the word is presented in interesting context, but learning words is still mostly memorization in action.
We're currently making lists for the word archive at eSpindle Learning, and we ran hundreds of queries in our database to draw out words as examples for the various root words.
The result: Most of the words that display the root word sequence actually do not fit the common teaching for that root word. In some lists, one can see a proportion of three misleading words to one conforming word. We were initially going to clear the "not-working" words out, but will likely keep them in.
Students should understand that root word knowledge is great, yet really just a grain of salt in the big pot of word soup. It's not what language is made of. Language, to the largest part, is not a verbal Lego set, where words are the sum of their components. But it does add some fun to know root meanings.
Let's take for example some random suffixes: "-ware" - "things of the same type or material". We got silverware, earthenware, software, hardware... and aware? unaware?
Next suffix. "Wise" - "in what manner or direction": Clockwise, lengthwise, otherwise, likewise... unwise? Plus, if as in these (and many other) cases there are indeed just four words where the root word meaning applies, why not simply teach the words and let the brain figure out the pattern, as it will naturally do?
The smart mind is lead to strange and wondrous lands by root word study... the labyrinth of the English language that resists standardization, rules, "smart learning." It will slip and slide and fall - get tangled in contradictions and oddities, and end up with as many questions as answers.
We get emails from students constantly asking in despair -- what's the root words of "ought"? Of "weird"? If "pre" as in "prejudice" means "before"... why does "present," the word that means "now," have the prefix that indicates "before"?
If I was a modern-day student, I would get started on questions like these and get lost for hours of verbal wonder and philosophizing, and would flunk all those "smart-teaching" root word classes.
The fear to "just teach" and the ban on anything that resembles memorization that has become prevalent in the educational community is disastrous if you're a student who either has a lot of catching up to do, or who just doesn't memorize words automatically/subconsciously.
These ideologies that strut around displaying modern and liberal attitudes are actually the opposite: Ignorant of current realities and elitist.
How much longer do we have to look at ridiculous drop-out rates and every decreasing literacy levels, before we will start to set aside ideology? The research is in that a 4th grader who does not operate at grade-level literacy level is doomed to fall more and more behind. So, what will we do with this knowledge now?
It's not a matter of phonics (which teach sounds, not words, and are heavily overrated), it's not a matter of rules (that don't work) and root words (that are a linguistic hobby, not a solution).
The problem is that if you don't have a chance to build a large vocabulary in your early years and within your extended family, you need a teacher teaching you these words. You need follow-up that makes sure these words make it into long term memory, and you need as much targeted instruction as it takes to help you catch up.
Let's end this on the positive note.
Research has not only shown that our academic crisis is largely a verbal, a literacy crisis.
Research has also shown that students can build their vocabulary at drastic speed if provided with targeted, meaningful study tools. We also hear this from our members: Provided with effective tools, the gap can be bridged quickly!
Ditch the ideologies!
Memorizing is not bad.
Spelling is not a problem, unless you don't teach it.
It's not rocket science. It just needs a bit of practice.
It's really not a big deal, unless it's ignored.