Tuesday, March 18, 2014

The Montessori Reading Sequence

I signed up to take this on-line seminar about the Montessori Reading sequence. I am only half way through but I thought I'd share some of the topics and takeaways that I've found useful so far. (I am sure many of you studied Montessorians out there have heard of, or read about, many of these topics already. But I am very sure it doesn't hurt to read them once more.)

This talk is by a Montessori Foundation representative. Her information is a wonderful mix of research, neuroscience findings, Montessori pedagogy, theory, and practical application. This particular seminar is geared toward those in a traditional 3-6 Primary Montessori classroom, though there are many viable adaptations for homeschoolers for sure. These topics I highlight below are no particular order, and while some are summed up from my notes, others are my own conclusions. I decided that I'd make a list since I presently have a head cold and don't have the brain capacity to summarize and hypothesize very much. (Hence, the lack of posting last week.)

(I realized that some of the points I am about to express below may not apply to some people, children, families, classroom, etc. These are simply the salient points from the talk that I found useful. I hope that any comments or discussion to the contrary are polite.)

Oh, also I guess my comments assume that you know that the Pink Blue and Green reading scheme is and that you are familiar with the Dwyer method. If you aren't familiar with either of these you can go here for a run down on the Dwyer method, and here for the P/B/G sequence.

1. Vocabulary development, the preparation of the hand, and the preparation of the ear are the keys to writing and reading. When the child has attained these skills alone, they will be able to very quickly master the sandpaper letters (in just a few weeks) and move on to easy handwriting. Reading skills should soon follow. However, each of the three areas must be prepared with great care and attention BEFORE any sandpaper letter, pencil, or written word is made available to the child. If the child has difficulty with any of these subsequent steps, it means that he/she was not properly prepared in the first stages. Proper preparation can begin as early as infancy with vocabulary development.

What I take from this is that S was very poorly prepared since she is presently having such trouble handwriting and reading. So we are working on this now. We are building aural awareness, vocabulary, and working on hand coordination and strength.

2.  Vocabulary development is an everyday, all day, endeavor. Inside and outside the classroom, we must talk, converse, interact, and share vocabulary with our children. New adjectives, adverbs, and verbs are just as important as new nouns. Stories, poems, songs, prayers, and conversation all count. As a homeschooler we are lucky that we have all our waking hours to get this "work" into our daily routines. It certainly takes the pressure off during classroom time.

Frequently, I let opportunities pass by before I remember to verbally point out the qualities that surround us. As homeschoolers we also have the unique opportunity to be able to converse with our children all hours of the day and I intend to use some of those other times, in the car, in the waiting room, around the breakfast table, and before bed, to get some of that other vocabulary development and aural awareness accomplished. 

I just figured out that command activities and cards fit into this part of the language curriculum. Commands given in verbal or written form help develop focus, sequence, memory, concentration, and vocabulary. There is generally very little written about command cards in the albums I have, and their use is usually a far off extension of the key lessons.

3. Language, in all its lessons and introductions, should be a fun exploration. This bit has always been a little bit perplexing to me since I never thought of language as a fun exploration. I struggled with spelling, grammar, and writing during all of my 19 years of school. In fact, the only place I felt I excelled was speech writing. I am now working to make this paradigm change. Each time S triumphantly points out "ch" on yet another package, sign, book, or building, I understand that language can be a fun endeavor. She is saying, "See! I can do it! I know that those symbols can say, 'ch'!" 

4. All of the sensorial materials and all the practical life exercises are for readying the child for writing and reading. THESE are the bits of theory that I find central to implementation. These tips are the how, and the why we do things that make the curriculum come together. 

The touch boards teach the child hand control and the lightness they need to touch the sandpaper letters effectively. The sound cylinders are there to hone auditory discrimination so that they can better decipher the different word sounds they hear. The pink tower demonstrates dimensional differences which the child needs to be aware of to "see the difference between "m" and "n". Table washing introduces the child to the left to right movement which we use when we read English language on the page. Polishing teaches the child sequence, and develops their focus, concentration and memory. 

Take time to enjoy each of these activities. Don't hurry through. Observe mastery in the child. Let the child repeat these activities as many times as they find necessary. Encourage repetition by presenting the lesson again, performing the activity yourself, or allowing an older child to demonstrate the sequence to a younger child. Let the child really develop these skills which will help them learn to write and to read just a small while later.
5. Do not rush the introduction to the metal insets. The child MUST have a proper pencil grip BEFORE starting this material. This is not a material that teaches proper pencil grip. (I just finished watching a video on Youtube that stated the exact opposite of the statement above. I take this to mean that there is always someone who can tell you something different than what you know.) Without proper pencil grip the child will not be successful and there will be little spontaneous joy in creating something beautiful.

The metal insets teach pencil control. And there is an entire sequence of these pencil lessons that I will not go into here. What surprised me about this tip was the "don't rush" part. Little D, who is 2 yrs 9mos, can dabble with this material as he sees fit. I haven't given him a formal lesson because I didn't know when to start the sequence. Well, he drew this inset drawing last week, with a tripod pincer grasp, with his left hand, for those of you who are wondering. I could start the sequence but since he is still interested in the works that help develop that pincer grasp, I think we'll stick with them a while longer and practice a bit more.

6. Encourage the prolonged use of metal insets even through elementary if the child desires. Again, the metal insets help the child with pencil control. This material also serves as a wonderful creative outlet. Elementary children can certainly create more complex geometric designs and explore how angles lines, and curves can work together. 

7. Contemporary neuroscientists are confirming much of what Maria Montessori knew 100 years ago about a child's brain learning to write and read. I watched this recommended video of Prof. Stanislas Deheane's lecture about how the brain reads and writes. I think this science is fascinating. There are more of his lectures on YouTube if you search his name.
8. Handwriting is about muscle memory, not about sight. When the child sees a letter, each eye takes in a different image which the brain then synthesizes into a single impression it understands. When a child feels a sandpaper letter and experiences that letter though touch alone, the brain must only understand a single input and can create context and meaning for that single impression. Children MUST learn their sandpaper letters through touch alone and WITHOUT SIGHT.

It never occurred to me to ask S to feel the sandpaper letters with her eyes closed. She has had so much trouble forming these letters on a chalk board and on paper. She insists on tracing them and then can never form them free hand. But after just a few touch-only impressions she formed a cursive "b" on paper free-form without any model. I asked S and T if they ever traced their sandpaper letters at Montessori School with their eyes closed, and both said that they had only traced them with their eyes open. I wonder if this will be the key that will open up S's world of handwriting.

9. English is not regular, but it is a phonetic language. Many people believe English is not a phonetic language. While it is true that our spelling varies, and is sometimes confusing, each letter symbol does correspond to a sound. Whereas each Chinese character can correspond to a different word, but not necessarily a unique sound.

In this respect we must teach language phonetically, and draw that connection between symbol and sound. Analytic reading, or whole word reading, trains a child to recognize the shapes of words rather than the sounds of symbols. By linking sounds and symbols, we are enabling our children to read many more words than the ones we teach them today.

10. Limit picture cues when reading and writing. I never understood this suggestion before now. This suggestion seemed to be the opposite of what I had read about the Pink Blue and Green reading scheme. For that matter this suggestion seems to be the basis of many other commercial phonics programs out there. 

When the child is shown a direction connection between symbol and sound, there is no need to provide them with a picture cue. With sufficient sound awareness preparation, the child should be able to express themselves easily with written language, and will not need a prompt. Pictures encourage guessing and this pushes aside the symbol-sound connection. Predictable texts encourage guessing too. Flashcards encourage guessing. With these guessing exercises we are wiring the brain to recognize the shape of a word (whole-word-reading) instead of encouraging the brain to translate individual symbols into sounds, using synthetic phonics.

11. Orthography, or spelling, comes much later in the writing sequence after learning all the sounds and their symbols. Typically, spelling is studied at the elementary level.

12. The pink blue and green reading system was born out of one of the first attempts to adapt Montessori's original Italian language lesson sequence into an English language lesson sequence. Muriel Dwyer subsequently lightly adapted Montessori's language sequence into the sequence many AMI training centers use today.

*        *       *
Since this blog is really a log of what I have done, what we have done, and where we are going, I felt compelled to semi-document my thoughts about this seminar. With my health on the mend, I'll be back soon with a little of what we've been up to in the classroom...and my thoughts on the second half of this seminar.

1 comment:

  1. Sounds like a FANTASTIC seminar. I would write a paragraph for each point, entirely agreeing with each one! ;)

    You brought up one important point I would like to make more clear in the albums I offer - that the command cards of various styles and types ARE key - they sometimes seem to be listed as peripheral, but they provide SO many benefits to the fullness of a Montessori approach, that they can't be ignored ;)

    The only thing I'm not sure about - based on seeing older AMI albums, I'm not seeing that AMI "adopted" any particular scheme, but has had some very minor adaptations along the way; Muriel Dwyer summarized what AMI provided for the languages she knew, emphasizing the similarities to the approaches in each language. At least, that's what I've found thus far ;)

    I have upper elementary children in my (Montessori-based) religious ed class who did not have metal insets at primary or lower elementary - they LOVE working with them ---- and even with once a week exposure, I see more conscious awareness of their writing skills. Combined with calligraphy study, these children suddenly love writing ;)