Wednesday, September 22, 2010

A Better Language Approach for Montessori at Home: Part Three, Transition

I thought I was going to write about aural preparation and the movable alphabet today. When I woke up this morning I realized I was more in the mood to write about our transition from PBG to Dwyer. What I am about to write will clue you in to my thought-process. The quick and dirty summation of what we are doing will be in a paragraph at the end, I promise.

Kal-El had just finished the pink series when he hit a brick wall in his reading and became very grouchy about it and uninterested. Coincidentally, it was at this same time that I received my Dwyer pamphlet in the mail. However, he does not have all the prerequisite skills to just switch from PBG to Dwyer and start right in with the object boxes and movable alphabet where he is. A lot of you might be in the same place so let me tell you how we are transitioning. I am using my own best judgement on this, so if anyone else decides to transition please let me know, comment about it here, blog about it, whatever... I'd love to see how others would handle it and get a dialog going.

Dwyer continually stresses the importance of aural preparation. For example:

...this stage is of the utmost importance both for the young children and for those who enter school at 5 or 6 years and unless it is thoroughly covered, it will jeopardise [sic] the rest of the scheme...once the child enters the Children's House it should be carefully reviewed to make sure that no step has been left out. If children arrive who have not had the happiness of playing these activities at home it is essential for the Children's House to start filling the gap from day one. [21]

Fortunately, Kal-El has had thorough aural preparation (with one exception). The Gettman and Montessori Read & Write are what I used to learn how to do aural preparation and they both are compatible with the Dwyer scheme. However my inspiration for our transition is Dwyer's idea of filling the gaps before proceeding.

Kal-El's first gap is that he only knows the single sandpaper letters. This means he can work with Dwyer's "object box one" but he cannot move on to object box two or to the activity word game as she describes it (whether a verb falls into box one or two is not based on spelling but rather on how difficult it is for the child to interpret. For example it is easy to "bark" but hard to "flash", at least without getting naked). He also cannot write freely with the movable alphabet. He gets really angry with the movable alphabet because he can't write what he wants to write. This is why the PBG scheme uses object boxes with the movable alphabet.

He already has sound awareness for all of the double-letter sounds in any position and can demonstrate all levels of the sound game using them, so it is a simple matter of taking some time to teach him those 13 sandpaper letters. I also am working on filling one gap in his aural preparation. Montessori Read & Write unintentionally leads you to only play the sound game with words that have three sounds in them. Dwyer includes an extra step. After the child is able to identify the 40 key sounds in either the first, last, or middle position of a three sound words Dwyer says "The adult must now guide the children step by step until they can work out for themselves every sound contained in any word however long. So at this stage we ask the child to think of a word and then break it into its sounds."

Dwyer's description of object box one includes words such as "pelican" and "cabinet." I think this multi-syllable step is important because when the child is introduced to the movable alphabet they should be able to write whatever pops into their head (that's what makes it so exciting). It should be no surprise that what pops into their head may or may not be made up of words containing no more than three sounds. By the way, I think this is all related to why an album that uses the PBG scheme will direct you to acquire two movable alphabets in differing colors and an album (such as the Gettman) that uses the Dwyer scheme does not. When you are presenting only single letters to start, you only use the red/blue movable alphabet with the pink series. When you teach the double sandpaper letters and begin the blue series the second color (often black or green) is used when you start the blue series with its double-letter sounds. Each double letter phonogram can be written with the alternate-colored alphabet when they occur, for example: "fish" or "scout." The Gettman assumes that the child already knows the single and double sandpaper letters the first day they use the moveable alphabet and it would be unnecessarily complicated to introduce two alphabets of differing colors. Although, if your alternate alphabet was green then everything would match the colors of your sandpaper letters and I don't see any reason why you couldn't have two. Great, I didn't think of that. Now I really wish my second movable alphabet was green instead of black.

I have put our movable alphabet away for now. I haven't completely decided what to do about that yet. He definitely needed a break. I could wait until he has mastered all of the double sandpaper letters and bring it out fresh. I have both the traditional red/blue movable alphabet and a second movable alphabet in black so alternatively, I could teach him how to use the two alphabets together by introducing some of the black letters along with some object boxes to use with the movable alphabet.

I think the simplest way to describe our transition is that we are staying with the PBG order of introduction (for Kal-El. Me Too will do Dwyer from scratch.) but we are switching to using Dwyer materials. So, on my shelf will be the single and double sandpaper letters, the two movable alphabets, one object box, and we will do the activity word game. The objects that go in our object box are pink for now. We are adding objects with more syllables. Soon the objects in that object box will be from the blue series, someday from the green series. Those objects can also be used with the movable alphabet until he has learned enough to write freely. We play the activity word game, but right now I can only use "pink" verbs. Eventually I will use "blue," then "green." This is the way I have come up with to continue with the PBG scheme that we were too far into to quit, while at the same time free myself from making all those materials and work with my child in the more personal way that Dwyer advocates for language work.



  1. This was very helpful, since I am trying to decide at this point whether to try and move forward with Beeper and how. Right now it is a very casual, laid back approach. I know he'll get it eventually, and I don't want to push him or make anything seem too forced, because then he'll just hate it.

    I don't know yet what approach I'll use with future kids, but I will definitely do more with aural preparation.

  2. (I think I'll ending commenting on all of these posts - MBT has done such wonderful write-ups!)

    just in regards to movable alphabets - there is some confusion on these because there are just so many! And what goes with what and which albums and all. I wrote up a Montessori Nugget about it here:
    Just to have that link in one more place - I hope it helps someone! I wish I'd had this information earlier ;)

    1. Why are the colors like that? I'm not quite understanding the intent of switching up the materials sizes and colors and why you need multiple sets (is it just an issue with lack of alphabet otherwise? which you would get around if you were making your own material by printing lots and lots and putting it all in one tackle box?)

  3. Maybe you mentioned it elsewhere in your previous posts and I didn't get it. I though the object boxes are for practicing reading and it isn't something you would get to until you've done some work with writing?

  4. I am not sure if this is relevant but I do not quite understand the push to sweep aside the Montessori method of language and teaching to read. I am all for innovation but I do think there is a lot of emphasis in this discussion on moving away from the Montessori method. As has been highlighted by others who have taught the Montessori method, the language part of the curriculum leads to other sectors of learning like science, etc. It is a progressive move from one to the other at the child's pace. Some homeschooling and preschooling establishments claim to use Montessori style teaching but do not or are so impatient to have the child learn that they rush the process because it suits them to. Whether it benefits the child is another thing. I have not read anything so far that tells me that a child benefits from teachers or parents wanting to vamp up the Montessori method. By all means, adjust where necessary but criticism the Montessori method is usually done because the teacher or the parent is not prepared to allow the child to learn at their own pace. I do believe the Dwyer method is very helpful for English speakers, but the standard Montessori approach helped some of the worlds newest innovators, so I am not convinced all english speaking children find it hard to relate to the current Montessori curiculum due to Montessori being an Italian speaker. I like it as it is although I think that one diversion to the Dwyer technique definitely helps english speakers. Just saying...

  5. I think you are misunderstanding greatly. The “Dwyer Method” IS the Montessori method of reading, not a different one. It is simply a description of the Montessori method of teaching reading/writing all in one place, in more modern language, written out clearly in step-by-step order. This is the Montessori reading method as you would most likely see it done in an AMI school. The Pink Blue and Green scheme that you seem to referring to as the “Montessori method” is the reading scheme as “vamped up” in American schools. My understanding is that you would see this most used in an AMS Montessori school but can’t 100% speak to that. The PBG scheme has much added to the method. Your entire comment seems to have the whole thing backwards. The PBG scheme is the diversion, not the Dwyer. The Dwyer is the bare basics approach. There is nothing in there I haven’t seen in Maria’s own writing and it 100% follows the child. The whole point of my series is that the PBG scheme, with all of it’s additions of sets and sets of cards is impractical to make at home for a single child or a few children, makes you less likely to really follow the child etc., The Dwyer is a movement towards Montessori not away.