Post 14: Growth Mindset and the concept of “Know Better, do Better”

I wanted to take a pause and share a little bit about my experiences over the last few months. Back in February 2021, we found that more and more sales were coming in for our decodable readers. Suddenly we found ourselves in the position where we had to consider the next steps for SyllaSense Publishing. COVID -19 creates instability and uncertainty in the target market, and the cost of printing almost doubled since before the pandemic. To maintain the target price for the books we would have to print larger quantities at significant total cost. We had to make a choice – reprint the series, or run out of stock and fold the company.

Folding the company when we were just starting to get some traction in the industry felt wrong, so we dove headlong into the reprinting plan. Along the way, we decided to do some updates to the series. We reimaged 6 of the books with more inclusive characters and photos, we changed a few of the character names, and we tightened up the elements page, changing the heading of “endings” to “suffixes”. I had originally used the terms “beginnings” and “endings” on the elements page because at the time I was writing the series, I was teaching an intervention program that used these terms rather than “prefixes” and “suffixes”. After having just completed my Orton Gillingham Practicum though, and having spent a fair amount of time learning about morphology, using the term “suffixes” just felt more accurate. I felt that I had a good handle on the suffixes <-s>, <-ing> and<-ed> included in the Green Series, including their meanings and conventions for use, so it just felt like a logical plan. I was super focused on the Green Series at this time, and hadn’t really given a lot of though to how these changes would play out in the Purple Series.

Jump forward 5 months – the new books had been printed, and were selling well. I found that more and more people were now asking for lessons and resources to go along with their book purchase. All along I’d been planning on making a manual of sorts to go along with the series, but working full time, completing Orton training, tutoring, and running the company on the side had kept me so busy that I hadn’t had time. As the holidays drew to a close, I started thinking about my goals for the New Year. I really wanted to create a series of blog posts sharing instructional ideas, so I ended up starting “12 Days of SyllaSense”, where I planned to post lesson samples, book spotlights, and information on Structured Literacy for the first 12 days in January.

Here is where the “growth mindset” and “know better, do better” themes start to emerge. One of my plans was to flesh out the skeleton Scope and Sequence for the 2 series that I’ve always had posted to the website, and create an expanded version with details about each concept to teach. I started with the Green Series, which went very smoothly. I had already switched the elements page to list “suffixes” in the reprint, and I was clearly able to list the meaning of each suffix, the conventions for use, and suggestions for teaching and consolidating the concept. Yay me! I was feeling great about the process until I moved on to the Purple Series Scope and Sequence.

One of the very first “endings” that I typed into my expanded Scope and Sequence chart (note that the Purple Series has not yet been reprinted and still lists “endings” on the elements page) was <-er>. I had made the executive decision to include the suffix <-er> in the series as a single element to teach (even though I haven’t introduced r-controlled vowels yet), because it is such a useful suffix and it would increase my ability to include rich, meaningful, multisyllabic words in the text (at the time of writing I decided that a teacher could introduce it as a suffix only, and not go into where <-er> fits in the scheme of syllable types). “Great!”, I said to myself. “I know multiple meanings for the suffix <-er>. Let’s pop open that book and see which <-er> version is in the book so that I can include the details in the Scope and Sequence”. To my dismay, the first word I found including <-er> was the word “water”.

Now those of you who have completed in-depth Structured Literacy or Structured Word Inquiry training will likely have spotted the issue right away. The <-er> in the word “water” is not a suffix. It is just the grapheme <-er>. It is part of the base, and is not a meaning unit, and cannot be removed to expose a base word. It is a common “ending” to words (you might describe it as a common syllable found at the end of a word), but it is not a suffix. At the moment, this is okay because the elements page still references “endings” found in the books, however I had now just printed 1000 copies of each of the Green Series books and changed the term “ending” to “suffix”. “Hmmm”. A double “hmmm” comes when I realize that, if the <-er> is not actually a suffix, it doesn’t belong in the series at all. It is an r-controlled vowel and I haven’t introduced those yet.

I thought to myself, “That’s okay. Its just one word. Maybe the rest will be okay. Alas, this was not the case. The more I looked at what I had listed as “beginnings and endings”, the more instances I found of “endings” that were not suffixes.

Truth be told, in most cases it isn’t a deal breaker. For instance, the “ic” in “fantastic” isn’t a suffix, but it still a closed syllable, which has already been taught in the series and fair game to include. I did, however, find the words “under” and “river”. Like “water”, both of these words are problematic I also realized that I had listed “ation” and “tion” as “endings”. They are both common ending syllable, but they are not suffixes.

Now my brain was (and still is) hurting. I am, by nature, a lifelong learner. I know this about my self. I actually think it is one of my greatest strengths. The issue is that I have chosen the path of publishing books. Books can’t easily be changed when you learn something new. I also know myself well enough to know that I won’t stop my learning journey, and this will likely happen again and again. Back in the fall, my board was doing some training that required some difficult conversations. One of the key pieces of advice given to us was to try to be “okay” with feeling uncomfortable. Sometimes you can actually feel the dissonance between a new understanding and an old belief, and this is okay. It is part of the growing and learning process.

I reflected on this a bit, and I realized that these feelings are somewhat par for the course for anyone going through a learning process. For years, I (and many others) taught using a balance literacy, whole language program. I taught using Leveled Readers, encouraged students to “think about what made sense” rather than decode the words on the page, and told parents to never, ever cover the pictures when students were reading, rather to refer to the picture to help students along when they got stuck. At the time, I felt that this was an example of “best practice”, and I was actually a leader in the system, teaching others about how to teach using this method. We know what we know, and what we’ve been taught. When we learn more (which I continue to do), it can sometimes be uncomfortable, and it can take some time to rectify our previous knowledge with our new understandings. I’m doing my best to embrace this process, uncomfortable as it might be, and encourage others to do the same.

I wish I could tell you what my next steps will be with the series. Luckily for me, I have some time before the Purple Series needs to be reprinted. This will give me some time to sort it all out in my head and decide the direction I would like to take the series in the future. In the meantime, I invite you to ignore the elements page! If your focus is on morphology, please feel to use the books and focus on the words that have true bases and affixes in your teaching. If you teach “beginnings” and “endings” (common syllables found at the beginnings and endings of words), you will find multiple opportunities throughout the Purple Series to teach and practice these common patterns.

As always, thanks for joining me on the learning journey! No one ever said the journey would be easy, but it is well worthwhile!

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