#WordPowerLeague – Spotlight on… GRAPHOLOGY

Summer 2019, I will be launching my first book, WORD POWER: Amplifying vocabulary instruction, a dual-function vocabulary teaching and planning resource for FS-Y6 that provides clear guidance on how to plan for explicit instruction of core word learning strategies and how to embed vocabulary learning through repeated exposure in a language-rich environment and across the curriculum. For more information, visit the Word Power League website.

In my previous post, I explored the thinking behind why PHONOLOGY can be used as a core word learning strategy.  Click here to access this post.

GRAPHOLOGY is one of three ‘Power-Up’ strategies (also including Phonology and Orthography) that pupils can use to view words through the ‘lens’ of phonic foundations.

spotlight on phonic foundations

Graphology is one of eight ‘Power-Up’ strategies that pupils can use to harness and refine their word-building toolkit. ‘Graphology’ is the systematic study of written and printed symbols and of writing systems and is a key aspect of ‘phonics’ – the system or approach used to link sounds in words (phonemes) to the graphic representation of those sounds (graphemes) in order to develop reading and writing fluency. High-quality phonics programmes build a firm foundation of pupils’ knowledge of written letters to spoken sounds and incorporate opportunities to link phonics and handwriting.
The EEF KS1 Literacy guidance report (2016) states, ‘Writing is a physical task as well as an intellectual one. Transcription refers to the physical skills involved in writing and the skill of spelling words correctly. Pupils must learn to form letters and spell words correctly, write in joined-up handwriting and use a keyboard.’ (Recommendation 6, pg. 14)

When considering the strategy of graphology, ask:

  • Do pupils have the physical skills, strength and dexterity necessary to write effectively with appropriate letter size, directionality and orientation?
  • Are pupils able to match spoken sounds (phonemes) to their written symbols (graphemes) and affix these patterns to visual memory?
  • Can pupils write with automaticity, without conscious attention to hand movements? Have they embedded ACCURATE letter patterns through repeated practice?
  • As a teacher, do I provide enough opportunities for pupils to rehearse new sounds and words in writing in order to effectively ‘anchor’ new word knowledge?

If I were to ask you to write a shopping list, as an experienced writer who has often written the words milk, bread, cheese, apples, etc., visual and muscle memory would kick in for this task. As a fluent writer, you would not need to consciously consider which grapheme matches the /z/ sound in cheese. You’ve written this word before and the pattern has become ‘anchored’ or ‘committed to the hand’ (Sue Palmer, Pen Pals Handwriting). You will maintain a visual memory of words with similar patterns that match this ending sound – please, tease or appease. Writing here is automatic – visual patterns of words have been committed to memory and can be expressed quickly, in visual, written form. As a fluent reader automatically reads familiar words without overt sounding or blending, so a fluent writer writes words automatically without consciously matching sounds to graphemes and without considering individual letter formation.

In the following clip, Penny (from the American sitcom The Big Bang Theory), wows Leonard with her physics knowledge. However, she might struggle to write down her speech as, unless she has the words that are familiar to a theoretical physicist in her ‘anchored’ writing patterns, there will need to be a conscious effort to match the visual patterns of words to written communication.

Penny Explains Physics

We are also likely to be unfamiliar with these words that Penny is using within the domain of theoretical physics; however, we can use our word knowledge to make connections with words used in other subject domains and for different purposes.

‘Recently I’ve been thinking that, given the PARAMETERS of your experiment, the TRANSPORT of electrons through the APPERATURE of the NANOFABRICATED metal rings is QUALITATIVELY no different to the experiment already conducted in the Netherlands.’

  • Although used in a different context (referring to the movement of electrons), TRANSPORT will be a word that is both visually and semantically familiar to us – we can make connections with other meanings and uses of this word, including other words in the word family such as transportation, transporter or deport. We will have experience in writing the prefix (trans-) and the root word (port) in other contexts.
  • NANOFABRICATED will likely be a new word. However, the prefix NANO is phonically regular and therefore easier to match spoken sounds to written graphemes. We are also likely to be familiar with the root word FABRIC and the suffixes ATE and ED. The  position of the word in the sentence (syntax) tells us that its function is an adjective (describing the type of metal). We are unlikely to have written the word NANOFABRICATED as an entire unit, however, our memory and knowledge of individual word parts (morphology) can support our spelling and basic understanding of the word.

In my previous post, Spotlight on… Phonology, I touched on brain research conducted by Dr Duncan Milne (Teaching the Brain to Read, 2005). The core thinking behind including ‘graphology’ as a word attack strategy is the potential for further strengthening visual memory. Visual memory refers not only to words that are remembered as entire units, but also units of sound (phonemes) and meaning (morphemes) within words, as well as individual letter shapes. Milne refers to ‘spatial processing’ as an ‘understanding of the physical properties of letters in space’ as a key component of the development of graphemic awareness (31).
The English Programmes of Study for Year 1 requires that children ‘understand which letters belong to which handwriting families and to practise these’ (pg. 14). In Literacy: what works? (Sue Palmer and Pie Corbett, 2003, pg. 20) the following ‘handwriting family’ groups are identified:

  • ‘curly caterpillar letters’ (c, a, d, g, o, qu, s);
  • ‘long ladder letters’ (l, t, i, u, y, j);
  • ‘one-armed robot letters’ (r, n, m, h, k, p, b); and
  • ‘others’ (e, f, v, w, x, z)

Other schemes suggest the alternative ‘zig zag’ or ‘monster’ letters for the ‘others’ category (v, w, x, z). Pinnell and Fountas (Word Matters, 1998, pg. 142-43) propose that teachers provide instruction on the ‘features of individual letters that set them apart from others’ such as: tall and short letters; circle and tunnel letters; letters with lines that cross through them; and letters with tails dots and curves.

However, graphology is not just about recognising the physical shape of letters, their relationship to other letters or their position on the line – it also concerns directionality and the process of letter formation as a step towards a speedy, fluent handwriting style.  Secure GRAPHOLOGY leads to written fluency.

The EEF’s Preparing for Literacy guidance (2018) offers additional insight into the teaching of handwriting – ‘It is important to monitor both the PRODUCT and the PROCESS of children’s handwriting.’ (pg. 15) In the example provided in the guidance on page 15, the ‘product’ of the child’s letter formation looks the same in both cases; however, the ‘process’ of letter formation (incorrect directionality in the first example) will ‘hinder the development of a fluent handwriting style.’ Some questions to consider:

  • How often, as teachers, do we observe pupils’ writing style at the point of writing?
  • What does the handwriting ‘process’ tell us about how pupils go about forming letters?  Is this hindering writing fluency in any way?
  • Is there anything that we can gather from the ‘process’ of letter formation that can be corrected to support a fluent handwriting style that might be missed if we just observe the ‘product’?

Whether the handwriting focus is on individual letters, units of sound, visual spelling patterns or whole words, a focus on GRAPHOLOGY should be a key component of vocabulary development programmes. Let’s POWER UP pupils’ muscle memory and anchor spelling patterns to support fluency!
Graphology will be explored in more detail, with explicit curriculum links and practical, daily teaching ideas in my new book, Word Power: Amplifying vocabulary instruction (out summer 2019). Stay tuned for information via Twitter @kashleyenglish and through the Word Power League website http://www.wordpowerleague.co.uk

If you have any questions or comments about this post or if you would like to contact me to discuss vocabulary development or training needs in your school/ local area, please get in touch kellyashleyconsultancy@outlook.com

Copyright 2018, Kelly Ashley Consultancy

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