CAUTION: Long Words Ahead

a white jigsaw being completed against an orange background

It’s All Greek to Me

My name is Ian and I’m a dissectologist. I picked it up from my partner. He’s actually been into dissectology for years, but during lockdown it’s all stepped up a gear. Sometimes he gets through a thousand a week, though I’d say I’m more of a five hundred man myself. Then there’s my mum; she’s also quite the fan. And an octogenarian to boot. I mentioned this to a group of Lexonik learners once. “How long has she been keeping octopuses for?” they asked.

So okay, maybe they were a little hazy on the finer points of octogenarian life, but they’d certainly made a connection with another, more familiar ‘octo’ word, and from there it was just a few short steps to the correct definition of someone in their eighth decade. Basically, they’d used their metacognitive skills to crack the code to a new piece of vocabulary.

The vocabulary priority

Dissectology. Octogenarian. Metacognition. How exhausting it must be to be surrounded by academic language all day! In ‘Bringing Words to Life’, Isabel Beck, refers to such terms as Tier 3, or subject-specific, vocabulary. They hardly ever appear in everyday conversation, yet in the school curriculum they pop up all over the place. And since the introduction of new and more demanding GCSEs in 2017, they’re just as likely to be appearing in PE exam papers as they are in more traditional subject areas such as maths and science.

Last week, Sir Kevan Collins, the government’s Education Recovery Commissioner, warned that one third of all pupils due to transfer from primary school this autumn will lack the necessary reading skills to succeed at secondary level. This figure was already worryingly high last year, but lockdown deprivations have added another 30,000 children to the list.

Lexonik’s take on vocabulary

Language is ever evolving. Apparently, almost fifteen new words are created every day. Recently, a friend asked if flexi-furlough would allow me to attend a surge testing event to track a mutated variant of the coronavirus. I didn’t even bat an eyelid.

So, you may be surprised to hear that both etymology, or the study of the origin of words, and morphology, the study of prefixes, suffixes and roots, play such a big part in both Lexonik Leap and Advance programmes.

But here’s the thing. One prefix can help decode vocabulary right across the curriculum. Knowing that ‘circ’ means ‘around’ links the movement of blood (circulation) to the voyages of early seafarers (circumnavigation) to the measurement of the distance around a circle (circumference). Empowering stuff!

Before you know it, students are building up their own private collections, just like Pokemon cards or Panini stickers. And, once their awareness is heightened, they’re spotting connections everywhere they look!

A few years back, I introduced the prefix ‘mono’ (one, single) to a group of Year 9 learners with the rather basic example of ‘monobrow’. The next time I saw them I was bombarded with examples including everything from monotheism, heard in an RE lesson, to carbon monoxide, used in a chemistry experiment. In both cases, recognising the same prefix had helped unlock the meaning of longer, more complex words.

And while it’s great to see those lightbulb moments in children - “So that’s why it’s called a quad bike!” - as language specialists, we can apply the same techniques in our everyday lives as well.

When the vet told me that one of our cats had hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, I had no idea what she meant. However, I knew that if I applied my Lexonik linguistic skills, I’d be able to work it out for myself.

But let’s end on a positive. So, assuming you haven’t got round to calling the police just yet, I’ll reiterate that dissectology is both an absorbing and stimulating hobby. It’s got nothing to do with cutting up bodies. And everything to do with the art of completing jigsaw puzzles.

If you feel like you want to learn more about our intervention programmes check them out here or if you’re looking for advice, get in touch.

Ian Jones
Lexonik • Senior Regional Trainer