Just the Wrong Facts: Morphological Awareness

The International Dyslexia Association (IDA) just came out with a new, “Just the Facts” sheet on Morphological Awareness. It is a new branding to bring awareness to the forgotten piece of our language, morphology. I’m not sure if I agree or disagree with the term “morphological awareness,” but that is not the point of this article. My concerns today are that the IDA so badly wants to jump on the “morphology bandwagon” that they have not done their due diligence to provide accurate information to those they serve. They just released an article called, “Morphology 101,” along with the Just the Facts sheet.

So what is all the hub-ub on morphology? Why is it all the rage? Here’s the thing. Spelling is not “sound written down.” Spelling is an interwoven use of morphology, etymology and phonology. The morphemes are the structures that make up a word. Morphemes include bases, prefixes, and suffixes. One of the biggest misnomers in the field of education is the term, “root.” A root is connected to etymology – the story behind a word. Where did this word travel from? Is it from Latin “placere?” Or maybe it’s Old English. If you are lucky you’ve find a word that got its beginning in our language from the warrior Viking of Old Norse. These traveler stories are the roots. Calling a morpheme a “root” or a “root word” is inaccurate. It is also confusing.

To make things even more confusing is the nonsense word “bound root.” Are we talking about a head of garlic that’s roots got all tangled? There are definitely bound bases. A bound base is a base that is not independent word. It requires an affix in order to be a complete word. An example would be the bases <rupt> or <cept> that is seen in <corrupt> or <intercept>. The respective roots would be rumpere and capere.

Word is getting out that morphology is a huge piece of the pie that’s been missing in reading and spelling. When morphology is accurately represented, it provides huge break throughs for kids who have sadly been deemed “treatment resistors.” These are kids who have been marked as having some sort of defect, with the inability to absorb what is being taught. In the medical field, physicians and scientist would agree that perhaps the medicine (or treatment) is not the right choice for the student. A physician would choose another medicine (or treatment). The other treatment includes the use of morphology. This is why and how the focus on morphology has become to great. Students are shining and making great strides with morphological instruction that includes etymology (and phonology) through orthographic linguistics. Sometimes it is termed, “Structured Word Inquiry” or “Real Spelling.” It is studying the written structures of English that bring about a deeper understanding, that drives both reading and spelling.

Another concern I have about how the Just the Facts sheet was written is the term “morphological awareness” is used when sometimes the word “morphology” would be beneficial. Sometimes we need to bring awareness to something, which means to be vigilant and watchful, but sometimes we just need to learn and understand something. When do we ever refer to the process of photosynthesis as photosynthesis awareness? We either know how photosynthesis works or we don’t. If we don’t we learn and understand it, we don’t become “aware” of it to figure out how it works. When I read this article, I asked myself, would “morphology” or “morphological understanding” be a better fit here than “morphological awareness.” Most of the time, the answer was yes. My concern is that we are creating a new “buzz word” when really the problem is that morphology needs to be understood. The IDA is just becoming aware that morphology is important. They are the ones who are becoming morphologically aware. Again, I’m still undecided about the concept of morphological awareness as a whole that needs to “address.” What I do believe is that morphology is a missing component in education and that it needs to start at a much younger age.

I also wanted to share what my white board looks like when I left my office today. I did not write any of this in response to the IDA article. I created this yesterday with a student and thought it might be helpful to leave it up for the week. I teach kids, 2nd grade, 4th grade, 8th grade, the difference between a root and a base. They are active participants in finding both of these. My white board, in my highly biased opinion, explains more about morphology than these articles.

Attached you will find my comments about the IDA article on Morphology 101 and the Just the Facts: Morphological Awareness: One Piece of the Literacy Pie. I will also be sending these critiques to the IDA in hopes they will consider a revision to their (inaccurate) “facts.” I will add that the Spring edition of the IDA Perspectives Journal on morphology also include linguistically inaccurate information (aside from the excellent article by Marcia Henry).  Perhaps I will include my feedback on those in a future post.

IDA Morphology 101 markup 

IDA Just the Facts: Morphological Awareness: One Piece of the Literacy Pie

While I would like to end the post here, I must leave you with the study of <pie>, since we are talking about “one pice of the literacy pie.” It turns out that <pie> has several definitions. Most people associate <pie> with the pastry, like apple pie, pumpkin pie. Yum, it’s getting to pie season. When we think of a piece of the pie, we usually associate it with a circle that has been cut in half, or quarter, or sixteenths. When we study fractions, pie shapes are often used. <Pie> is also a shortening of the bird, “magpie”. The names Margaret and Mag are derived from this bird’s name due to its “idle chatter.” In the 16th century, a phrase arose the “wily magpie” which referenced a sly rogue. Perhaps that is how I feel I will be looked at for writing this post. The last definition is the one that seems to fit the IDA’s literacy pie the best. Pie is also a mishap of typesetting. When a typesetter drops his tray of characters they would get all  jumbled up. If printed in this manner, this is called pie type (or pi type). Similarly, modern day “symbols” were referred to as “pi characters” by typesetters. When we type #(%&@^ , most consider this to be gibberish which is what pi type referenced. This, my friends, is how I think the morphological information provided about the literacy pie today by the IDA reads, in pi type.


Morphological Awareness: One Piece of the Literacy Pie. International Dyslexia Association, 11 Oct. 2017.

Hessler, Terri. Morphology 101. International Dyslexia Association, 11 Oct. 2017.

“Pi Type.” Pi Type – PrintWiki, printwiki.org/Pi_Type.

“Pie .” Etymonline, www.etymonline.com/word/pie.

“Pie.” Merriam-Webster, Merriam-Webster, www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/pie.

Thornhill, Howard. “Pi the Type.” Pain in the English, 11 May 2008, painintheenglish.com/case/2585.

Homophone Friday Series: ferry, fairy

I am starting a new series to sighing the homophone principle. English has a unique characteristic to its language

ferry vs fairy

called the homophone principle. Essentially if there is a word that is pronounced the same as another word with a different meaning it will take a different spelling if it is possible.

Homophones are words that are pronounced the same but spelled differently. English has many, many homophones. The most common are: two/to/too, eye/I, won/one, four/for/fore, here/hear, wear/where. Many people get confused with homophones, which are a characteristic of our English writing system and not a defect.

The grapheme choice for homophones are mostly etymologically driven. This means that studying where the word comes from and what its story is tells us a lot about how it will be spelled. When this is taken into account rather than thinking that spelling is only about phonology, then homophones make more sense.

I have recently started a series called, “Homophone Friday” looking at homophones which may be common or uncommon. The series will feature the IPA symbol representation of a homophone, as IPA is the way “sound” can be written. It will feature at least two words that are pronounced the same. Sometimes, there may be 3 or 4 words that are pronounced the same.

If you have a homophone that you are intrigued about, please email me at lisa@lisaklipfelmft.com. I am keeping a live Google slideshow of the homophones that I study to share with you. Click here for link.

A Great Breakfast to Start Your Day

While traveling recently, I came across an advertisement where cows are spelling as . While many chuckle and knod, stating, “Yeah, English spells stuff weird. Why don’t we just spell it how it’s sounded.” Let me walk you through the word .

When doing a scientific word investigation, we go through 4 scientific questions – mean? built? relatives? pronunciation? The definition of by Merrian-Webster’s is “he first meal of the day especially when taken in the morning.” Its definition leads us to question #2 about how it is built. Breakfast was the meal that broke the fast from the evening and overnight. In question #2, we look at the structure of the word. The morphemes identified in <breakfast> are presented in word sums: <break> + <fast> -> <breakfast>. In question #3, we look at relatives which can all be put into a matrix after word sums are created for each of them. Words with the same base include: break, breaks, breakage, breaker, breakers. It also has many compounds: breakout, breakwater, breakup, breakthrough, breakdown, windbreak, heartbreak, breakout, heartbreak.

It is an Old English word and is a strong verb. This means that the past tense will not have the default expected <-ed> suffix. The past tense is <broke> and the past participle is <broken>. There are many verbs that have a stem shift instead of a suffix added for past tense. So, <broke> and <broken> are relatives by having the same root, but they do not share a base <break>. For illustrative purposes, that would mean that <broke> and <broken> can go in the etymological circle and not in the lexical matrix.

The forth question is about pronunciation. Lets start with the graphemes of <breakfast>. There are 9 letters and 8 graphemes: <b.r.ea.k.f.a.s.t>. The pronunciation areas that are unexpected are at the grapheme <ea> and <a>. In the matrix, all the pronunciations of <ea> have a long <a> phoneme: break, breakage, breakable. There is a shift to a short <e> phoneme in <breakfast>. It is the same phoneme when the <ea> is used in <bread>. Some etymologists believe there is a connection between <breakfast> and <bread>. Either way, we know that <ea> can also be pronounced in this way.

So what about the <a>? Why do the cows want to spell it with a <u>? The answer is that it is pronounced as a schwa. The stress is on the first syllable and therefore the <a> can and is pronounced with a schwa. The schwa is a perfect example of why we can’t spell with phonology primacy. We must look at morphology (and etymology) to actually spell correctly. Knowing that that this meal broke a fast, helps us to spell it with the morpheme that means without food.

This is a quick example of how morphology and etymology are needed along with phonology for orthography. If we spelled by phonology only, we would spell <breakfast> as <brekfust> and we would need to change our dictionary in every state and dialect in the country, as well as any time we shifted the pronunciation of a word. This is another example of how our English writing system is morphophonemic.

Dyslexia Warning Signs App

APP TESTER NEEDED: Dyslexia Warning Signs

Dyslexia Warning Signs app is a simple app designed for professionals that have no experience or knowledge with dyslexia, but who are professionals that parents come to for help. This app is currently in its testing phase and that is where I need your help. I am looking for parents who would be willing to download this free app on their iPad, take the questionnaire, and give me their feedback on the experience. Feedback should be emailed to apps@levelupdyslexia.com. I need feedback on look/feel, usability, information provided, and additional features that would be helpful. Thank you again for your help and support.

Download app on your iPad here. It’s free.

How to Respond to “Your Child Just Needs to Read More”

Stack of books

Stack of books

One of the most common recommendations that families with struggling readers get is “your child just needs to read more”. Let me analyze why this phrase is not helpful and in some cases might be hurtful.

There is an implication in this statement that a child is not spending time reading. At the International Dyslexia Association conference, it was stated that a fluent reader reads in two days what a struggling reader reads in one whole year. This is jaw dropping for parents and teachers. The thought might be, lets have those struggling readers read more. One of the flaws in that statement is that a struggling reader is expending a lot of energy when they read. That student is often exhausted when they read for the same amount of time as a fluent reader. A struggling reader is decoding every syllable in every word. That last sentence has 20 syllables and 10 words. So instead of quickly recognizing the 10 words, they are stopping to process each 20 syllables, deciphering the vowels, determining schwas, and that’s not to mention the dropped schwas. As far as time goes, a struggling reader would need to increase their reading time by 182. That is logistically impossible.

There is another implication of “your child just needs to read more” is that the practice of reading leads to improved reading. It has been found that guided reading does not improve decoding skills. It increases compensatory skills which mask decoding difficulties. Asking someone who wears glasses to take of their glasses, look at an object and “see better” would be a ridiculous request. That is how someone who is struggling in decoding feels when they are told to “read more”. The skill that will help them read better relates to explicit, direct multi sensory instruction, or an Orton-Gillingham based approach. Another common approach in schools is for kids to take home a passage and read it 5 times for the week to increase fluency. This task teaches a dyslexic student to memorize the passage, because that is a compensatory skill they learn when they aren’t allotted the skill of decoding.

So I am asked, “how do I respond to that request?” Education is the answer. Sometimes it needs to be put into perspective. This may be different if it comes from a teacher verses a friend. Teaching others about the multitude of processes your child endures while reading helps them to understand it is not about “more time” reading. It also helps them to see that reading doesn’t click for everyone the same. Educate people about the skill of decoding and what works. Explain to them that reading is not accessible unless the skills of decoding is present. The time focus for a struggling reader should be on instruction and not leisure reading, until the student masters ALL the tasks of decoding. Once a student has mastered decoding then reading more will be a decision between the student and the child, but until a student is decoding, it’s best to spend that time in a more fruitful way.

California Dyslexia Law 2015

CA dyslexia bill
Today, Governor Brown signed into law, AB1369, a California Dyslexia Law. It is the first time in 30 years that dyslexia has been addressed.

It should be noted that there is not a mandate for teachers to use a specific program, but with the guidelines by the state forthcoming it will be expected that multi-sensory structured literacy will become the method for reading remediation. Additionally, it give parents, teachers, and administrators guidance on what is effective, as delineated by the scientific evidence.

Additional California law is expected to follow to address the inadequacies of screening for dyslexia and the need for teachers to be trained in the risk factors and implementation of these reading interventions.

Book Review: Thank you Mr. Falker

Thank you, Mr. Falker

Thank you, Mr. Falker book by Patricia Polacco

Thank you, Mr. Falker, by Patricia Polacco, is a book about a little girl who loves books with a great desire to read, but it doesn't come easy. Her strength of art keeps motivated through school. When the family moves to a new school, the girl's dislike for school grows, teasing begins, and so do the somatic complaints.  The new 5th grade teacher Mr. Falker connects with her and teaches her to read. The book never mentions that she has dyslexia, but it is implied.

See this book read by actor, Jane Kaczmarek.

Declaration of Independence From All Ineffective Literacy Methods for Students With Dyslexia

In CALIFORNIA, July 4, 2015

The unanimous Declaration of Independence

from all

ineffective literacy methods for students with Dyslexia 

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve an ineffective educational method connected by Dyslexia, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the Laws of IDEA entitle them, the decent respectful opinions of mankind requires a declaration cause which impel them to revolt.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all students are not created equal, but that all students are endowed with certain unalienable rights, that among these are free, appropriate public education.

To secure these rights, the Educational system, deriving their powers from the laws governed by our state and country, that whenever an Educational method becomes destructive, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Educational methods, laying its foundation on such principles for students to seek Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that certain Educational methods for Dyslexia long established should not be changed for light and transient causes: and accordingly all experience hath shown, that students are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations occur within the educational systems, it is their right, it is the duty, to throw off such Educational practices, and provide new interventions to guard for their future.

The student who is suffering with Dyslexia; now it is necessary to alter Educational practices. The history of the California Educational system has a history of repeated injuries and usurpations for such students, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over their School Districts. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to to candid world.

Districts have refused to follow the IDEA related to Dyslexia, indicating that it does not exist; it needs to for the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.

Certain educations organizations have forbidden his Legislators to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance in literacy

Districts have called together their administrative bodies in such a way that its effect, and seeming purpose of fatiguing families into signing IEPs in which they do not agree that meets their child’s needs

Districts have endeavored to prevent the families from feeling they have the right to evaluation and testing, or interventions for that matter

Districts who have evaluated students have obstructed the Administration of Justice by refusing to qualify students for a myriad of unfounded reasons.

Districts have combined with others to subject us to:

Following unacknowledged rules, regulations and policies; such guidelines which do not exist and cannot be found in writing among their district writings

Blocking access to evidence-base multi sensory direct explicit structured and systematic intervention; Only allowing the use of ineffective curriculum that only frustrate our child, leaving them grades behind

Depriving our children of the opportunity to read

Depriving our children of the opportunity to write and spell that is on par with their intellect

Ridiculing our children’s efforts, by way of telling them to “try harder”

Stabbing and stealing their self esteem, a secondary effect of they Educational system’s inability to effectively remediate our children’s reading and spelling

Absconding with their desire to learn; dashing their hope they can learn beyond.

Imposing a financial burden upon our families because the California Education system has failed to teach our children the basic inalienable right to read and to write, leaving families who want their capable children with Dyslexia to be literate to employ tutors trained in evidence-base multi sensory direct explicit structured and systematic which should be and could easily be available at every educational institution in California

For segregating those children, who are fortunate enough to have the Educational system agree to help them, by placing them with peers who do not have such similar educational goals

For the stronghold that takes place when a family should speak out about such Educational rights, and declaring these families should be fought in the area of due process

We do not want the attentions that has been bestowed upon us. We have warned them from time to time of the attempts of unwarrantable erroneous literacy interventions. We have reminded them of the circumstance of our right to a free and appropriate public education. We have appealed to their humanity and have requested the disavow these usurpations, which would inevitably interrupt our children’s education. They too have been deaf to the voices of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounced the efficacy of these Educational methods to teach our children with Dyslexia in literacy, and hold them as unknowing, unlearned in the ways, yet those we must over come for the sake of our Children’s livelihood.

We, therefore, the Representatives of the children with Dyslexia of California, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Legislators of California for the rectitude of our intentions, do solemnly publish and declare, That these children and students have at their disposal the evidence based and effective interventions at their disposal at each and every educational institute erected in the the state of California. Being absolved from all previous ill mannered and ineffective literacy programs for our children of Dyslexia shall be dissolved and abolished from their curriculum. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of IDEA, we mutually pledge to each other our Loves, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.

Written by Lisa Klipfel

Adapted from the Declaration Of Independence of the United States of America


United We Stand Against All Ineffective Literacy Methods for Students With Dyslexia

United We Stand Against All Ineffective Literacy Methods for Students With Dyslexia

California Dyslexia Bill AB1369 Goes to Senate

AB1369 the CA dyslexia bill goes to the sent

AB1369 the CA dyslexia bill goes to the sent

The California dyslexia bill, AB1369, passed the CA house of representatives this week. It will now go the the Senate. It is on it’s way to the Senate rules committee and expected to go to Senate floor at the end of August.

The current bill adds the description of “phonological processing” as an aspect that qualification can utilize. It states that the state superintendent will develop program guidelines for dyslexia that are evidence-based for school year 2017-2018 and this guide will be available online. The bill currently reads as follows:


Section 56334 is added to the Education Code, to read:

 The state board shall include “phonological processing” in the description of basic psychological processes in Section 3030 of Title 5 of the California Code of Regulations.

SEC. 2.

Section 56335 is added to the Education Code, to read:

 (a) The Superintendent shall develop program guidelines for dyslexia to be used to assist regular education teachers, special education teachers, and parents to identify and assess pupils with dyslexia, and to plan, provide, evaluate, and improve educational services to pupils with dyslexia. For purposes of this section, “educational services” means an evidence-based, multisensory, direct, explicit, structured, and sequential approach to instructing pupils who have dyslexia.(b) The program guidelines shall include, but shall not be limited to, characteristics typical of pupils with dyslexia and strategies for their remediation, as well as information to assist educators in distinguishing between characteristics of dyslexia and characteristics of normal growth and development.(c) In developing program guidelines pursuant to subdivision (a), the Superintendent shall consult with teachers, school administrators, other educational professionals, medical professionals, parents, and other professionals involved in the identification and education of pupils with dyslexia.(d) The Superintendent shall complete the program guidelines in time for use no later than the beginning of the 2017–18 academic year.(e) The Superintendent shall disseminate the program guidelines through the department’s Internet Web site and provide technical assistance regarding their use and implementation to parents, teachers, school administrators, and faculty members in teacher training programs of institutions of higher education.
The screening of dyslexia and teacher training was removed following pressure from the CTA to kill the whole bill. The opposition from SELPA currently is that it will cost more money to identify students with phonological processing issues. While it is true that there will be more costs in assessments, in the long run, it will cost less, because students can get remediation early which will take much less time. CSBA also opposed the bill. After amendments were made, CTA changed their position to neutral, neither opposing nor supporting.
Parents have asked what they can do. I would guide you to Decoding Dyslexia for legislative updates. Parents can sign up for email updates and learn how they can have their voices heard. In addition, we need to educate those agencies that are opposing this bill. It will not be long before another bill is submitted to bring back screening and mandatory teacher education. We would like these agencies on our side. The best position is for members of these groups: CTA, SELPA administrators and CSBA to write to their organization headquarters asking for them to support dyslexia, screening and teacher training. Although outside parents can do this, it would be more effective to have their own members to advocate within their own organization.
I am grateful that all three votes to this point have been unanimous. With over 5500 letters from parents, teachers, administrators and politicians in support of this bill, capital hill is hearing the roar of families who are asking for support their their loved one with dyslexia. I will share more information as the legislative process continues and grows organically.

Why the DIBELS is not a Complete Screening for Dyslexia



Screening for dyslexia should include several measures. It should screen for rapid naming, phonemic awareness and sound to letter correspondence at it’s minimum. Family history of learning to read can be a significant factor as well.

Phonemic awareness is a major problem with those with dyslexia. This is the idea of knowing what a particular letter, or set of letters, called graphemes sounds like. Much of the literacy tasks, book, shows that you see on the market focus on initial sound literacy. A “cat” starts with the sound /k/. The problem is that many dyslexic students struggle with middle and last sound phonemic awareness. This is why it is so difficult for them to rhyme. Phonemic awareness includes many other tasks such as phoneme isolation, phoneme segmentation, and phoneme deletion.

Rapid naming is the ability to state the name of an object quickly. It is a necessary school for reading and fluency of reading. Although the DIBELS screens for the accuracy of reading, rapid naming is a critical skills used in this task.

The question is brought before us. If the only screening tool is the DIBELS, who is getting left out? The DIBELS is a well normed test. It screens for nonsense words in first grade, but is not normed beyond 1st grade. There needs to be a more robust screening. We need screening that would involve phonemic awareness that involves isolation, deletion beyond just segmentation.

Moreso, we need to not just do screening but to look at the data and what it is telling us about what intervention needs to be put into place. Data without action is useless.

I’m providing a great article from Dr. Wolf which further explains these two concepts.