Structured Word Inquiry (SWI) is different from "phonics-first" methods. The process of SWI guides learners to make sense of spelling as a reliable system for representing word meanings without exceptions. SWI is scientific investigation of how the structures and conventions of our orthography system (the writing system of a language) work to represent meaning through the interrelation of morphology (the system by bases and affixes construct words), etymology (historical influences: every word has a story) and phonology (conventions for grapheme-phoneme correspondences). Understanding orthography requires recognizing that morphology is the organizing structural framework. SWI recognizes how crucial it is to understand grapheme-phoneme correspondences, and thus ensures that instruction reflects the morphological and etymological influences on those conventions. For example the grapheme-phoneme correspondences of <does> cannot be understood without considering its morphological relation to the spelling of its base <do>. The grapheme-phoneme correspondences of <signal> cannot be understood without considering its morphological relation to the spelling of its base <sign>, and the grapheme-phoneme correspondences of <pleasure> cannot be understood without considering its morphological relation to the spelling of its base <please>. We see that pronunciation of graphemes cannot be determined until the graphemes are represented in words. Students can choose the books they want to use as the basis of orthographic study, because they do not need to be able to read independently to pick words to study. Students are taught by Teacher-Led Inquiry with the instructor selecting the topic or concept to investigate, or by Inquiry-Led Teaching that is driven by questions raised by the student. In either case, the teacher and student investigate words with these essential questions:
The student will learn to properly announce spelling, build word sums, and construct word matrices. When learners understand the structure of the English writing system, they:
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