Literacy Development

Literacy Development in the Derivational Relations Stage

            The term derivational relations refers to the type of word knowledge that more advanced readers and writers possess.  Spelling and vocabulary knowledge at this stage develop primarily through processes of derivation in which new words result from the addition of prefixes and suffixes to a single base word or word root.  Exploration of words at the derivational relations stage prompts more extensive experience in reading and writing skills.  There is a close correlation between growth in vocabulary, spelling knowledge, and the amount of reading and writing that occurs in the derivational relations spelling stage. 

            The derivational relations stage can be composed of students in upper elementary, middle school, and high school, as well as adults; therefore, most mistakes made will be at a “high level” of spelling competency.  These mistakes will require a more advanced foundation in spelling and vocabulary to correct.  It is imperative that individuals at the derivational relations stage explore the logic underlying the correct spellings of these words not only to help them learn and remember their correct spelling but also to develop a deeper understanding and appreciation of how words work.  Vocabulary development progresses through this understanding and appreciation of words and how they work. 

          The Upper Level Spelling Inventory (USI) is a valuable tool for collecting spelling errors in the derivational relations spelling stage for closer examination.  Errors in the derivational relations stage generally occur at the juncture of syllables and with the vowel in unaccented or unstressed syllables.  The following three categories are comprised of specific spelling errors that occur during the derivational relations stage:  (1) In polysyllabic words there are often unstressed syllables wherein the vowel is reduced to the schwa sound; (2) Suffixes like the -tion in opposition also cause challenges for spellers because they are easily confused with -ian and -sion, which sound the same; (3) Other errors take place in the feature known as an absorbed or assimilated prefix.   For an example of these spelling errors please review the chart on the Key Features page.

 Derivational Relations Stage:  Reading and Writing

            An ever-expanding conceptual foundation and the addition of words that represent this foundation underlie the type of word knowledge that transpires through advanced reading and writing.  Advanced readers have the capability to explore the Greek and Latin word elements that are the essential morphemes from which thousands of words are assembled.  Linguists estimate that 60% to 80% of English vocabulary is built through the grouping of roots, prefixes, and suffixes.  Comprehending these processes will allow students to analyze and understand the unfamiliar words that they will encounter in the content area reading materials of middle school and high school.  Students gain access to these words primarily through reading experiences.  The advanced reader picks up morphemic chunks as well as syllabic chunks in polysyllabic words. 

 The Spelling-Meaning Connection

            Words that are related in meaning are often related in spelling, despite changes in sound.  Therefore, if you are uncertain how to spell a word, try to think of a word that is comparable in meaning that you do know how to spell.  This concept presents a tremendous opportunity to integrate spelling and vocabulary instruction.  In a group of related words a number of sounds may change, while the spelling remains the same.  For this purpose, students need to be guided to first notice particular changes may that represent an increasing order of difficulty and abstractness.  Please review the Word Study Instruction page of this blog to learn more about this sequence of difficulty in the derivational relations spelling stage.

Donald Bear, M. I. (2008). Words Their Way. Upper Saddle River: Pearson.

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