The adventures of a fourth grade teacher in East Central Illinois.

The Urbana Junior League of Anti-Floccinaucinihilipilificators

With parent-teacher conferences on Thursday and Friday and then the weekend, it seems like a really long time since I have written a “real” blog post on my adventures in teaching fourth grade. Yeah, I know I wrote a post on Thursday, but it was a quick one that was composed on my phone because it was also my father-in-law’s birthday. So it feels nice to be writing again.

It is not really a secret that I love the English language. I love that we have a rich and diverse vocabulary that has begged, borrowed, and stolen from so many other languages. Once a person masters the affixes we use in our language, we can do all sorts of fun things with our words. Sure, many of the words we use are pure gibberish or are just made up, but neologisms and portmanteaus are fun anyway. (My father-in-law probably finds such a statement coming from me to be ridiculous, since I am so often talking about how I am a language purist. Let me clarify: I am okay with making up new words. I am not so okay with randomly changing the meanings of the words we already have. I know that we have a living language that evolves, but I don’t think it is evolving to simply use a word in a completely foreign way.)

Because I love my language, I have devoted a large part of my life to understanding my language and learning the words. I have always been very good at spelling. When I was in eighth grade, I participated in my school’s spelling bee and eventually went on to represent my district in the regional spelling bee. (I was knocked out in the first round when I was given the word vicious and spelled viscous instead. That’s a mistake I’ll never make again!)

As a result of this, I was really excited to get an email from our Assistant Superintendent to announce the Champaign-Urbana Schools Foundation’s 1st Annual Adult Team Extreme Spelling Bee. Teams of three would be facing off to compete in a spelling bee that would be raising money for the schools in our communities. Unfortunately, the entry fee was $150. Then we got another email informing us that several administrators in the district had made contributions to pay for the entry fees and teachers were invited to apply to be a part of the team. The application process was simple: Submit a one-sentence explanation of why you should be on the team. While the exact email I sent was lost, I remember the essence of what I wrote: I was my district’s spelling champion when I was in the 8th grade and feel like I would be an excellent contribution to the district’s team. Only a few others applied and so I received yet another email informing me that I would be a part of the team! We were asked to suggest a team name.

I thought about it for about fifteen minutes before coming up with an awesome name: the Urbana League of Anti-Floccinaucinihilipilificators! What does that mean, you ask? Well, we are a group from the Urbana School District, which explains the Urbana League part. “Anti” means “against.” And floccinaucinihilipilification is the process of deeming something worthless or of little value. So a floccinaucinihilipilificator is a worthless, lazy person. So we are opposed to being lazy. (As a fun aside, floccinaucinihilipilification is the longest non-technical word in the English language, beating antidisestablishmentarianism by one letter.)

My team name suggestion was accepted and my wife, being the amazing graphic designer she is, came up with a shirt design for us. The spelling bee was on Saturday. My team didn’t make it to the Finals, but we did make it to the 21st round of the Swarm Competition, before failing to spell fallacious correctly. (We left out an l.) So we were runners-up to making it to the Finals. The bee was a lot of fun and I got a great t-shirt out of it, which I wore to school today. We also won the award for best team name!

My reason for wearing it to school was two-fold. First, whenever I attend an event that is school related and I get a t-shirt, I like to wear it to school the following day. Second, I wanted to tie my experience with the spelling bee into my students’ spelling work, which I decided to get rolling this week. I told my students about the spelling bee this morning and mentioned we’d start doing spelling work in the afternoon. As promised, I announced the spelling curriculum and gave the students their first assignment. They were given a list of twenty-four words that they needed to sort according to their vowel/consonant patterns. There were three patterns that I wanted them to specifically look at: VCV (such as in hoping), VCCV (as in hopping), and VVCV (like in cleaning). Then the students will do some other activities, such as writing the words multiple times in print or cursive, and using at least twelve of the words  in sentences, in a story, or by giving the definitions. We will have our first spelling test on Friday afternoon. Those students who complete the spelling assignment and pass the test with an  80% or better (get at least 20 words correct), will become members of the Urbana Junior League of Anti-Floccinaucinihilipilificators! (Then they will have to get at least 90% correct on the next test and 100% on the third test to stay in the UJLA-F. My expectation is that the students will begin to see patterns emerging in their vocabulary that will transfer to their spelling. We’ll see how it goes!


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