Tuesday, September 21, 2010

A Better Language Approach for Montessori at Home: Part Two, PBG vs Dwyer On the Shelf

Today my intent is to do a quick run-down on the steps as I understand them and the materials I was using for the PBG scheme and compare those to the steps and materials for the Dwyer scheme as I understand them.

This section should be called something like "How I personally was implementing the PBG scheme." Everyone does it a little differently and nothing I could write would represent everyone. I'm not sure it represents anyone for that matter. It has been more than six months since I switched to the Dwyer scheme and my recollections of the PBG scheme are getting fuzzy. It doesn't help that I am not AMI or AMS trained to begin with and therefore am certainly no expert witness on this. I'm sure most trained Montessori teachers would find my observations a little obvious and ridiculous. I guess I'll go ahead anyway.

At any rate, what I was doing was combining the PBG instructions from the Karen Tyler language album (which match Homfray's) with the instructions for the word drawers over at My Montessori Journey (MMJ). The reason for this is that I didn't buy Karen's language packets and the free word drawer materials provided not only ready-made groups of words but also pictures to go with them. If you want to see one example of how an experienced Montessori teacher implements the PBG scheme in her classroom, go back to my post Language Tips and Tricks and read through the links provided there.

The steps of a typical PBG scheme would be somewhat as follows:
  1. Aural preparation (Sound Games, Stories, Poems, etc.,)
  2. Single Sandpaper Letters
  3. Pink Series Work (CVC): Reading CVC words and Writing CVC words with the moveable alphabet (tandem)
  4. Begin double sandpaper letters
  5. Blue series work (consonant blends and short vowels) Writing blue words with the moveable alphabet. Reading blue words
  6. Green series work (vowel pairs and consonant digraphs)
  7. Puzzle words
A note on PBG aural preparation: I am really unclear on how this looks. I couldn't find any albums that use the PBG scheme that were specific about whether they only use the single letter sounds in the preliminary aural exercises or all 40 key sounds. The Shu-Chen album only gives single letters as "examples" but doesn't specifically exclude double letters. I learned the aural exercises from the Gettman and Montessori Read & Write. Both books are essentially using the Dwyer scheme and include both single and double letters at the outset. The purchased album I own, Karen Tyler's, is extremely weak in terms of aural preparation. The album only aurally prepares single letters sounds with short vowels and only attempts the initial sounds of words before beginning the moveable alphabet (no preparation of middle or ending sounds, not sure how that is supposed to work). If you are using these albums you should read the Dwyer or MRW to flesh this out properly.

I am going to stop here, although I know some of you are more interested in what happens past that...it would be too much for this post. I'll save that for later. Also, you might notice I'm not talking about handwriting right now.

So what does Pink series work look like on the shelf? Here is a link to an old blog post in which you can see pictures and descriptions of the materials I would put together for one set of 10 words.

  • one box of pictures to use with the moveable alphabet
  • one box of objects to use with the moveable alphabet
  • one box of objects with premade labels to match together.
  • one box of loose pictures and loose labels to match together
  • one box of pictures with the label written on the back
  • one box of "pink secrets" (words written on little slips of paper and folded up)
  • one card with six pictures on it with a pouch on the back containing labels to match to the pictures
  • one list of words to read
  • one little booklet of the words (one word per page, no pictures) to read

Once they had worked their way through enough "pink" sets of boxes you would prepare:

  • sentence cards using the words they had learned as well as "a" "the" "is" "in" and phonetic verbs such as "got"
  • sentence cards with pictures that "embody" the sentence to match them to.
  • little "story" booklets. Each page containing a sentence like: The fox can run! The fox ran on the box. The fox bit Mat.

This is 9-12 boxes for one set of maybe ten words. You would probably keep making sets until you had covered pretty much all of the cvc words (pink) that can be "objects."

Then, you would continue to make sets until you covered all of the words you can think of that are constructed with consonant blends and short vowels (blue).

Then, you would continue making sets until you had covered all of the words constructed with vowel pairs and consonant digraphs (green).

If you made as many sets as the author of My Montessori Journey made word drawers you would make 42 sets. That's right, if you averaged 10 boxes per set you will have made 420 boxes.

In my Karen Tyler course and on the Homfray video it was mentioned that you would have several boxes of each type of activity out at once (certainly not 42, exactly how many is a mystery). The many activities are intended to either (1) keep the child working because they have so many activities to choose from (Kal-El wanted to do them all at first) or (2) because you don't know what type of activity will appeal to any particular child you can find what they like. Presumably if you discovered they only like word list and object boxes you would only make those after a while. However, after I don't know how many of 42 of these (to be fair, I have no idea how many sets of these Karen actually provides in her materials that you can buy to supplement the album) they probably are pretty sick of whatever activity they liked at first. And, (3) at this stage the child needs a lot of practice and this certainly provides it.

Okay, so now let's compare this to how the sequence might look in Dwyer scheme:

  1. Aural preparation of the child (in addition to the usual vocabulary building, stories, poems, songs, etc., this means all levels of the sound game (initial, middle, and ending sounds) with all 40 key sounds from American English.
  2. All sandpaper letters, single and double
  3. Moveable Alphabet
  4. Object boxes.
  5. In tandem with, before or after 4. (object boxes) Activity Word Game.
  6. puzzle word cards

How does this scheme look on the shelf? First of all, you do not need to prepare boxes to use with the moveable alphabet. Because the child knows all the single and double letter sounds you don't need them. They can write anything they want. They PBG scheme needs them because the child will need suggestions for what they are able to write at any given point.

In addition to the moveable alphabet you will find on the shelf a TOTAL of TWO object boxes. The first contains about approximately 12 little objects in which each sound is represented by one letter (cat, pelican). When the child is is "at ease" with the first box, a second box is introduced that contains about 12 objects in which one of the key sounds is represented by two letters (sh, ee, th, etc.,) and all the other sounds by a single letter. You change a few of the objects out each day.

You do NOT need to prepare labels for these. Dwyer specifies more times than I can count that "It is of the utmost importance that the directress writes the name each time in front of the child, as thus without any explanation the child feels that the process of reading is connected with communication. Little cards with the names of the objects ma
y be prepared so that the children may work alone afterwards if they so wish." [26]

Above is a picture of Kal-el working with object box one. I am sitting at the desk writing out the labels that he is bringing to his rug and matching to the objects that were in his box.

Above is a slightly better picture of his objects and labels matched up.

The other activity is the Activity Word Game. Dwyer states that "this can easily come first, or should be parallel [Dwyer's emphasis] with the object box." The directress writes down a verb for the child to "act out" from one of two sets of words. The first set contains verbs that are easy to "act out" such as "bang" and "bark." The second set is a little harder and contains verbs such as "crush" and "mark." Again whenever possible you write these in front of the child. As in the case of the object boxes you may prepare the two sets of cards and have them on the shelf for the child to work with alone (unlikely) or with another child (fun). If you choose to put this on your shelf you will have a box of cards, each card with a single action word printed on it. I write the cards out spontaneously in front of Kal-El so there isn't anything on our shelf.

Beyond this are the puzzle words which are the words in English which obey no rules whatsoever. Each directress should make her own collection, print them on cards and introduce them 2 or 3 at a time with a three-period lesson (You would do the same in the PGB scheme.) On the shelf (if you wanted prepared cards) this would look like a box of little cards, each with a single word printed on them.

That's right. You make as few as two or as many as six boxes. Total. Ever.

Again, I am stopping here to make the two schemes easy to compare at equivalent stages. I can talk about what comes "after" another time.

A couple of thoughts. Perhaps my combination of the word drawers and Karen Tyler's PBG activities created a bit of an extreme example. However, the list of materials that Karen's albums suggest you make are the same materials as demonstrated in the Margaret Homfray video. However, even if it was only half the work I am making it out to be, you can see how the Dwyer method is much more attractive from a "materials making" standpoint to the PBG scheme for the Montessori homeschool in which only one or a few children will ever use the materials.

Another exciting element is how the writing the labels in front of the child to connect reading with communication takes advantage of the one-to-one relationship between mother and child. In an endeavor where the small number of students in our "classroom" and the resulting increase in interaction between "directress" and child is considered (by some) one of the elements that makes a Montessori experience at home "inauthentic," it's nice to have that work in our favor for once.

A tip: I made about 30 little blank label slips and laminated them. I write the words on them with a dry erase marker. Now I have given myself two options. I can give the now-completed labels to Kal-El to work with on my own or I can wipe them clean for use with the next activity.

I want to make it clear that I am comparing these two schemes and preferring the Dwyer for Montessori AT HOME. I am NOT making any judgments about what would be best used in a Montessori SCHOOL. It is also easy to see how a large set of PBG materials might be advantageous in a classroom of 30 where you only have so much time in a day to sit down with each of them and handwrite labels. I can also see how the initial work to make the materials is worth it when they will be used by 30 children per year, year after year. It is also apparent that in a classroom where children might be entering older, with less aural preparation and parents who are interested in seeing evidence of reading right away that the PBG scheme, especially one such as at My Montessori Journey can get them "reading" after only knowing 8 single sandpaper letters. After studying both, I feel the Dwyer system still has philosophical advantages but perhaps these are overcome by other disadvantages in a large classroom.

There are other physical advantages, beyond the effort of making the materials. In order to have three "sets" out at once in the PBG scheme I outlined above, you would need to own 27-36 little boxes or stands as well as the shelf place to display them. In the Dwyer you need a minimum of two and a maximum of six (if you choose to prepare some sets of cards). Filling the PBG boxes can substantially tie up your miniatures collection. My miniatures collection has to be used in many other places in our "curriculum" for example, not only aural language activities with my younger son but the "fox" in our collection might be needed in an animal versus plant work, living versus non-living work, North American continent box, Animal habit work...It was difficult when more than half my miniatures were tucked inside any one of 30 little boxes.

Another reason to use the Dwyer method at home? It will actually match what is your Gettman book. Hallelujah! Just more confirmation for my growing belief that all you really need is the Gettman (the two linear feet of albums I've printed aside).

The next post I intend to publish will be about different types of aural preparation and the effect they have on the child's experience with the moveable alphabet.



  1. I'll need to read this post a couple more times to really understand, but I think I get the basics of the differences, although some pictures of the 2nd method would be GREAT. At least for me.

  2. Andie,

    I don't really have anything to take pictures of...

    My shelf has the single and double sandpaper letters, the moveable alphabet, and ONE box of objects with no labels. Kal-el brings me the box when he wants to work and I handwrite labels in front of him to match to the individual objects. Eventually there will be two boxes of objects, but he's not ready for the second yet.

    We do the activity word cards, but they are not stored on the shelf because you write them spontaneously in front of the child.

    If you were to pre-prepare all the cards for a classroom, it would look like this (left to right).

    sandpaper letters, moveable alphabet, object box one, object box two, Activity Word game box one Activity Word game box two, stack of puzzle word cards.

    I'll throw an object box picture in there to try to help you out. I don't know of anyone else who has blogged about the Dwyer method with pictures so I can't even give a link. It will probably get clearer in upcoming posts as I get into going through the steps.

  3. I haven't read the first post in the series yet, but loved this post. I wish you had written it 6 months ago when Bear first started reading and I started printing out PBG cards. Is there a book on the Dwyer method (sorry if you already linked it and I missed it)? I don't really get the second object box. Could you explain it better or give examples of objects inside (the two sound thing threw me off)? I never made all the components of the PBG series b/c it was too much. Bear really just liked matching those cards with labels and then we went to early readers where we read together. She reads words she knows or can figure out and I help with the others. Your post was so thorough though and Bear is almost ready for the "after" post of what you do after the learning to read stage.


  4. The Girl Who Painted Trees,

    The links are in the first post, it is available through NAMC.

    I will get to the "after" in the next couple of days I think. It IS the same sequence as the Gettman though so you can peak at that. The Dwyer pamphlet is just more user friendly and fun to read on this.

    The second object box is like what you might consider "blue and green" words... The first object box is almost like "pink" except that "pink" is always CVC and Dwyer allows words with more than three sounds in them like "pelican" and "cabinet." I think the aural preparation that precedes the typical PBG series gets them reading short CVC words faster than the Dwyer, but then typically there is a big hump to overcome getting to longer words and non CVC words. With the Dwyer you can pretty much do anything right away.

    The second object box would have words in it like "ship," "feet," "goat," "tart."

    After the object boxes, activity words, and puzzle words you move on to little books/stories. Next comes further exploration of phonograms. First are the 14 phonogram folders (one for each sound that can be spelled more than one way such as er/ir/ur and or/au/aw/ough/oar). Next are phonogram sorts, more puzzle words, and the phonogram dictionary.

    I'll make sure I get into this in the future as soon as possible :)

  5. Thanks for such a fast reply. I own the Gettman and also the Karen Tyler albums as I am doing her course right now. But the Gettman is so difficult to read and the print so small and squished together. I never want to look at it. I better thoguh. Bear is stuck on the phonograms right now and all the different spellings, so I will get to work on some phonogram booklets for her. And also more puzzle words. And you are SO right about the hump to read bigger words - she just doesn't think she can and gets discouraged because of the length. Very excited about your upcoming posts. Thank you SO much for taking the time to write them. They are incredibly helpful.

  6. Thank you for putting together this series of posts. Will you continue to use you sound bins as part of the learning to read process?

  7. Anonymous,

    Yes, I plan to continue to use the sound bins. They are part of the aural preparation process. From a materials making standpoint they are not "necessary" and most of our aural prep happens outside the classroom. However, I do like having a physical trigger inside the school room for the aural prep and Me Too likes having something to do that feels similar to what Kal-El is doing when Kal-El chooses his language work.

    My sound bins are definitely expanding past Karen Tyler's definition to now include ALL 40 key sounds, so you'll be seeing the double letters show up on the blog as well :)

  8. Anonymous,

    I realized there was something else important I should have said about that...

    The sounds bins, the way I was doing them before, would be an optional companion activity to the sandpaper letters. Dwyer is adamant that the written symbol should not accompany the sound during the aural preparation.

    I want to use the sound bins as part of the aural preparation process however. So, I will be tweaking them slightly. I will put the activities without reference to the written symbol in the large basket for Me Too for aural prep. In a smaller basket along side I will include some extra things for Kal-El only who will combine them with the larger basket and do them as supplemental work with his sandpaper letters.

  9. This is very interesting. I think you are right - it is better suited to a homeschool situation than a classroom, although I do spend a portion of every day writing labels for emerging readers.

    One thing I would like to point out here though, is that writing usually comes before reading, so having lots of objects (or pictures) for children to sound out is terribly important. Just because they have sounded out f-o-x it doesn't follow that they can then blend the word to make fox. This can take a long time - 6 months even, so writing words out for them to read can be very frustrating for some children because they will be feeling that they are expected to read the word but they can't.

    Please don't take this as a criticism, just an observation that not all children are the same!

  10. Annicles,

    Right, but doesn't the object box eventually self-correct this? If they can't read the label to match to the object they should be able to sound out the objects to match to a label? Write out all eight or twelve for them and then they pick up the "fox," sound it out, and then find the label? Then they see "f o x" and know it is blended to make "fox" ?

  11. No - there is a stage where a child cannot blend f-o-x even if they can logically work out that it must say that. Some children will be happy to label the object because there is nothing else starting with "f" but it can be terribly damaging to some children, usually the perfectionists, who know they cannot read the word and are not prepared to take a guess in case it is wrong. They will avoid language work at all costs if they feel there is too much pressure, percieved or real, for them to read the word.
    Blending doesn't always come autimatically or shot on the heals of sounding out - there can be a long delay.

  12. Annicles,

    Have you seen the part of the Homfray video on the movable alphabet where she insists that it is important for the directress (yes, I know, not the children) to read back what the children have written with the movable alphabet?

    She said: If you walk around and see that they are getting it right, read them back for them. "oh I see you a made /h/ /a/ /t/ hat and /b/ /u/ /s/ bus." the more you read back to them the better.

    I bet that the blending issue she knows is upcoming is the reason she does this.

    I also wonder if a child who can't blend is completely proficient with all the steps of the word analysis from the aural prep? (I'm asking by the way, not arguing...It's hard to gauge tone in an e-mail, I know. Bear with me) I don't have enough experience with teaching reading with Montessori to know the answer. It would be interesting to know though if they can truly do all the steps, if they are slow at it, if they've spent enough time on it. Both Dwyer and Homfray really are firm about how the word analysis stage is crucial.

    I know what you are talking about though, apparently my husband could not blend for a YEAR when he learned to read and his mom (second generation reading teacher) was ready to send him for testing. They wound up adding whole language to the phonics instruction. That had other drawbacks for him though.

  13. My boys' teacher,
    It's fine, I'm up for a friendly discussion!
    In answer to whether a child who has a problem with blending purely because s/he hasn't had enough pre-reading experiences, the answer is, not necessarily.
    If you think about what is happening while a child is reading a word, there are many steps that the brain has to unconciously take.
    This is also known as processing. For most children the brain is able to easily look at a letter, decide on its sound and put it together with a string of other letters to make f-o-x turn into fox. For some children though, the steps are experienced in a more distinct way, so they can aurally blend f-o-x and they can read f-o-x but there are too many steps in reading, sounding aloud and blending into a word until the brain has reached a level of maturity.
    A child who is struggling to read, despite being able to aurally blend, hear phonemes in order, hear initial, medial and final sounds etc, often has problems with following simple 2/3 step instructions. At the age of 3-6 this can be a very usual and normal stage in development. After that there may be some cause for concern.

    I was taught that a child who can write a cvc word with ease but not read it back should be allowed to continue onto the blue series of words, even if s/he can't read cvc words back to themselves. so they might be able to write sled, crab etc but not read red, dog etc. In one extreme case I was teaching the green series to a child before he started to read the pink words. None of the work was wasted though as when he suddenly started to read it was as if he had been for a year.
    I teach sight words along side the phonic words. The English language is only 40% phonic so in my school we teach children to recognise the common but non-deciferable words like the and when as whole words.

  14. Hi My Boys' Teacher. This is the first time I've posted but I've been lurking for a while now. I really appreciate your blog!!! It's the only Montessori blog I follow regularly now... the others are all too overwhelming for me. I have two girls who are a bit younger then your two boys so you are a nice jump ahead of me in this journey.

    My older daughter is still working on the aural prep. I've been trying to follow Dwyer/Gettman on the Eye Spy game. I have some objects and we talk about sounds just around the house. The basic single letter sounds are easy to come up with but I'm curious what you use for the other sounds. How do you make sure you cover all 40 sounds well? Do you have objects for all 40 sounds? Do you have a list of words you use. Specifically the middle sounds are hard.... Dwyer says to use words with only 3 sounds in them so it's easy to break them apart. I've started trying to compile a list for myself but it's challenging! I've also done a bit of searching online. I don't want to make this more complicated than it has to be! I'd appreciate any advice!

  15. Katie,

    You are right, the double letters are harder to cover than the singles and the double letter that are only middle sounds are extra difficult.

    I hope I cover all your questions Let me know if I miss part.

    In order to get good coverage of all 40 sounds I found that I had to "schedule" them. I don't do a letter of the day or anything, but have a group of letters I'm making SURE to hit that week. I do extra letters as they come up as well, but I make SURE to hit the ones on my list a lot. My group is a mix of single and double sounds. I just keep rotating the sounds around until the child can identify any sound in any position in a word. I write our target sounds on the family message board so I can remember what they are. Me Too is a couple weeks away from a rotation through all 40. When he finishes he will finally be ready for the movable alphabet.

    When I am working on middle sounds I try to keep the word to three sounds as you said so that it is easier to identify. Otherwise, I don't worry about that unless I am putting objects together for reading or writing.

    I use objects in our environment at home or out to play I Spy whenever it is convenient. I put together sound bins for extra focus or practice on particular sounds. Sound bins are not a Dwyer thing. I just use them as a supplement. They vary according to the child's level. If they haven't been introduced to sandpaper letters yet, the sound bin does not show the letter. If they have, it does. I also put together sound sorting baskets to help practice. (two or more sounds and the child sorts them according to the sound you are looking for in the part of the word you are looking for.)

    Here is an example of our "oa" bin. I combine objects I have collected, objects from around the house, and pictures as necessary to cover the sound.


    And here is "sh":


    I found ideas in several places:

    The Dwyer has lists of words by sound in the back. Elizabeth Hainstock's Book (Teaching Montessori in the Home: The Preschool Years) has lists. There are also sound books you can view free on enchantedlearning.com. The Montessori N Such catelog has great photos of their double letter activities that will give you a lot of ideas.

    Making the sound bins makes it easier for me to make sure that I practice the hard to find sounds.

    I am slowly working on getting all my sound bin posts labelled and in one place on the blog, but I'm not there yet. Sorry :(

  16. Katie,

    One other place I look when filling a sound bin is www.wordway.us.com.

    For example, I am trying to puzzle out a regional pronunciation with "ail" and turned to this page:


  17. Commenting on an old post, but only because I JUST finally got to go through Dwyer's booklet - and now I'm ready to compare my reactions to yours and to others :)

    I find that MBT seems to be right-on with all observations here - at least from my own viewpoint ;) I have AMI training which uses presentations in the language album that seem to be "summarized" by Dwyer in her booklet.

    Regarding the previous discussion about some children having a longer stage in between writing and reading - I don't see that as a problem with either Dwyer OR AMI language --- because we follow the child.

    Dwyer and AMI do not separate out learning the phonograms from learning the individual letters. In the sound games, we focus on all of these sounds, so why should we wait 6 months or a year or two years in between allowing a child to work with cvc words and phonogram words.

    Of course, Dwyer and AMI do not focus on CVC words as such. If a child can write (and when ready) a phonetic cvc word, the child can also write a 5,7 or 10 letter phonetic word with the same ease. There is no need to slow a child down here. My observation has shown that when a child is slowed down at this stage, it introduces those longer stumbling blocks, which are avoided/minimized by simply being natural with our language.

    There ARE children who will not respond in the same way; but we shouldn't change the whole method used for everyone because of those few ;) Instead, we adapt for those few, by allowing them longer time with just the writing stage - and as MBT pointed out, by reading aloud the children's movable alphabet words, thus showing how the blending works and that "wow! someone else knows what I just said here!" - moving their minds right along to "I wonder if I can do that too!"

    So we don't have the child "try" to read until he is already showing clear signs of trying of his own accord, or has already displayed successful reading - then we bring in the writing. In this way, we avoid damaging the souls of us who are perfectionists (me!). ;)

    And by minimizing the number of "objects" with the movable alphabet, we encourage their imaginations -- too many materials with the MA and their minds are trained to always need that guidance. So we have children writing phrases and paragraphs with the movable alphabet - who can't read a lick to save their lives!

    And then one day - the lightbulb goes on and they GET it! I've seen it too many times to count - it's so precious every single time!


  18. Hi, My boys teacher! Having done PBG series and also read M.Dwyer's pamphlet, maybe you can give me your insights? My 4 year old has a speech delay, He can say short sentences now. I constantly come to the same issue-what language to teach him first? In what language to prepare him to read/right? The one he speaks now and is able to understand words -in order to play games and prepare him aurally? Or teach him the language, read and write in english, for he is living here.
    We speak russian, but live in Uk and i would like him to learn english also (so that he can communicate with other children). He knows just few phrases and words in english: train, car, dog, cat,tortoise "let's run, go!'' etc.
    I will really appreciate your reply!
    Warm regards, ILona

  19. I'm not certain I see the difference between the two approaches other than one prepares for phonemic awareness before introducing the symbols and introduces all of the alphabet before writing even starts?

    In my album, the kids work with objects and moveable alphabets, or objects and sandpaper letters. I always thought the PGB series just moved that to print instead of concrete materials.

    Or is it that the PGB is building phonemic awareness through its exercises focused on individual sounds rather than doing it through aural preparation? And because of that, there is no explosion of writing because they're learning the sounds little by little?

    1. guavarama - there is a big difference in the amount of materials needed, the number of "trays" to organize/prepare.

      Writing with the sandpaper letters is still writing, so they are writing then - we just give them all (or almost all the SPL), including the phonograms - before any serious work with the movable alphabet. And we don't provide guides for what they should be writing, because if a child has every key sound, they can write ANYthing, so we don't have to tell them to write just "dog" or "cat" - they can write elephant and skeleton and universe - because they have all the sounds. Spelling may not be correct - and that is ok, as long as it can be worked out phonetically.

      PBG just has too many artificial steps. I know very few teachers who follow it precisely - everyone modifies it for their own sanity. But I know many teachers who follow the AMI (Dwyer-summarized) way to a T - because it is flexible in and of itself to meet the needs of just about every child. ;)