Friday, September 24, 2010

A Better Language Approach for Montessori at Home: Part Four, Aural Preparation/Word Analysis

Muriel Dwyer and Margaret Homfray may approach the language sequence slightly differently from one another, but there is one thing they both state loud and clear: thorough aural preparation/word analysis is key. Any deficiencies in this will jeopardize the entire scheme.

The aural preparation of the child includes many activities such as building vocabulary, reading and telling stories or poems, teaching the children to speak and listen, as well as singing rhymes or songs. However, I felt like I had begun the children's aural preparation "for real" when we began the "sound games" or "I Spy" which generally are fun activities which accomplish "word analysis."

Dwyer and Homfray accomplish this preparation at slightly different stages in their teaching. Dwyer loads these skills into the front of the sequence, prior to the sandpaper letters, and calls it "aural preparation." Homfray advocates quite a bit of aural work before the sandpaper letters, but the bulk of what she calls "word analysis" work is done while teaching the sandpaper letters.

Philosophically, I prefer Dwyer's approach. She reminds us "One of the golden rules of the Montessori approach to learning is to present or to deal with one 'difficulty' or 'point of interest' at a time [Dwyer's emphasis]." She points out that " The child knew... [the sounds] as soon as he started to speak, but he did not know that he knew them" (23). The purpose of the sound games is to let the child discover that he does know these sounds and to help them "work out for themselves every sound contained in any word however long." The sound game is broken into several steps so the child has time to master one part of word analysis before moving on to or adding another. If the child only explores isolated sounds or initial sounds before embarking on the sandpaper letters either the word analysis never gets taught prior to the movable alphabet or it is taught while working with the sandpaper letters. Coming back to the Montessori "Golden Rule", one will be forced to present not one but somewhere between three-five "difficulties" when they learn the sandpaper letters. They will not only be learning the written symbol for each sound that they know, but also how to break a word down into it's component parts, and then find that sound in the beginning of a word, then the end of a word, then the middle, then finally multi-syllable words (if covered at all) .

I have found the number of skills acquired during the sound game vary from album to album. Probably this is due to whether the author intends to teach word analysis during the course of the sound games or alongside the sandpaper letters. At the extreme end, an album that uses the PBG scheme might only play I spy with initial sounds and with the 25 sounds of the single letters of the alphabet. On the other end of the spectrum, the aural preparation may be identical. I think the Dwyer plan is as thorough as you can get: all 40 key sounds, placed anywhere, in any-sized word.

You can read about the sound games everywhere and anywhere. I recommend the Gettman, Montessori Read & Write, or the Dwyer because those are the three places I know of that are compatible with the Dwyer.

The parts of the sound game are routinely referred to as "stages." Even among the three sources I've mentioned, there is variation in the number and description of these stages. Dwyer describes the sound game in terms of three stages. Because most of us are familiar with the sound game, I'm going to describe these in the simplest terms possible rather than give examples of each level of the game. These stages are to be done with all 40 key sounds, not just one sound for each letter.

  1. Initial sounds only starting with a single object and no chance of error, moving to 2, then 3, then more objects "slowly making the choice more difficult until the children are able to find the required object anywhere in the room" (20).
  2. Hear the sounds in the end and later in the middle of words. Eventually words longer than three sounds.
  3. How many words can the child think of that begin with or contain any one sound?

Although the Dwyer description is the most inclusive, the description in Montessori Read & Write breaks the process down into more steps and makes it a little easier to digest.

  1. Initial sound, one object at a time no opportunity for mistakes.
  2. Initial sound, choice of two objects or more. Only one object can be identified as the correct answer.
  3. Initial sound, choice of part of room or whole room. Many objects can be identified with the same sound.
  4. Initial sound and last sound played at both levels 2 or 3 as appropriate.
  5. All the sounds in the word played at level four, and then with any objects or words. The object does not have to be 'spied'
  6. Take a sound and think as many words as you can that contain the sound either at the beginning or end of th eword or have the sound somewhere in between.

The above is from their little sound game "chart" on page 63. Montessori Read & Write spends six or seven pages on the sound game. They do include work on words greater than three sounds, but that tidbit is hidden in the description of step five.

One place where Montessori Read and Write disagrees with Dwyer is when the chart on p. 63 suggests that the child begin sandpaper letters after completing level three. This conflicts with the sentence Dwyer put in all capitals:

IT IS ESSENTIAL THAT THE WHOLE 'THE SOUND GAME' IS EXPERIENCED WITHOUT REFERENCE TO ANY SYMBOLS, WHETHER THE SANDPAPER LETTERS, THE MOVABLE ALPHABET OR TO READING, AS THE AIM OF THIS GAME, IS AS STATED BEFORE, TO MAKE THE CHILDREN AWARE OF THE SOUNDS THEY USE IN SPEECH. [Dwyer's emphasis, 20]
Dwyer mentions that when the proper foundation is not laid you can tell when they reach the movable alphabet. The children may not progress or are not interested. She states "When the children do not use the movable alphabet well, it is a sure sign that the preparation has not been well done" [Dwyer's emphasis, 24).

MORE POSTS IN THIS SERIES ON THE DWYER APPROACH CAN BE FOUND HERE.

18 comments:

  1. My purchasing power and time for additional albums/resources is running low. I did not know about the Gettman book and it looks like a good purchase. I have the NAMC albums (bought them used...this may or may not have been a good idea, but I needed something to help me save prep time and I have a good understanding of the Method, just needed it laid out sequentially and explained step-by-step). Do you think that the Gettman will fill in the blanks without requiring me to purchase additional resources for every subject area?

    Thanks!

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  2. Thank you for putting this together. I purchased the reprinted journal with the Dwyer's article and have started using it to rethink my son's home program. He is 3 1/2 and attends school two days a week. The school seems to focus more on reading with the 3rd year (Kindergarten) students. Based on my observations so far there isn't a lot of aural work in his classroom. I look forward to your future posts on Dwyer's reading program and how you put it to use with your boys.

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  3. It seems like I've read somewhere that there is a particular order to introduce the alphabet, but I can't remember where I read it! Is it important at the preparation phase or is that only when you start using the sandpaper letters? Do you know what I'm referring to? Thanks for posting all of this great info!

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  4. Mel,

    There are lots of different orders for introducing the alphabet out there. I don't think it much matters which order. I think what matters is that you have some idea whether you've covered all the sounds or if you are accidentally never using a particular sound.

    What is important is that you don't think of it as "introducing the alphabet" but rather the "40 key sounds" and later the "40 key written symbols."

    I have little wipeoff boards around the house (one out in the family room, one in each boy's bedroom) that show the sounds we've spent time on and what the newest ones are. My husband can glance at these as easily as I can and can see what he can reinforce with the kids casually during story time. This week he saw I had "sh" up there and during his play "battles" he talked about the "sh" sound at the end of "push" and things like that.

    It only matters what order you do the letters/sounds in if you plan to try to introduce the reading schemes before you've introduced all the sounds. I personally don't like that idea, but there are reasons someone might legitimately do that.

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  5. Anonymous, 3:33 p.m.

    The Gettman is really important for an untrained teacher because of the chart in the book that shows how the albums line up with one another. You don't start every album at the same time. Also, skills in one subject area are linked to skills in other subject areas. For example, you wouldn't do the number rods (math) until you've done the red rods (sensorial). This is the most obvious example, but there are many instances of this.

    I would imagine the Gettman would allow you to get your NAMC albums in sync.

    I plan to post on this soon, but I think the Gettman is basically a full set of albums in book form. The only thing it doesn't cover completely is "culture." I don't know why this is for sure, but my guess is that it does cover what "Gettman" would have covered in 3-6. I think it is fashionable to do much more in "culture" now than it used to be. He does cover geography completely as well as quite a bit of botany and zoology.

    If I had to throw all my books out except for the bare basics I would keep the Gettman. If I were allowed to keep one more thing, it would be my Karen Tyler culture albums only. If your NAMC albums cover culture you probably don't need anything else.

    I prefer the Gettman to my other Math, Sensorial, Practical Life, and Language albums because I feel like the other albums have in too many "extras" and are overwhelming. If you JUST did the Gettman activities your child would get an excellent Montessori education. It is always easy to find "supporting" activities along the way whenever you have time or the inclination. I just think if you make/print every activity from the other albums you are making a whole lot more stuff than a homeschool mom needs to make.

    When you get the Gettman you will notice he divides the sequence into "periods" and that he writes out the album pages for nearly every activity through period five, but doesn't for periods six and seven. don't let this deter you. By the time you get to six and seven you'll know what your doing and be much more confident. And, obviously those periods are covered in the elementary albums (free online) because of the duplicate year "6" when you think about 3-6 (primary) and 6-9 (lower elementary).

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  6. Anonymous, 3:33 p.m.

    The Gettman is really important for an untrained teacher because of the chart in the book that shows how the albums line up with one another. You don't start every album at the same time. Also, skills in one subject area are linked to skills in other subject areas. For example, you wouldn't do the number rods (math) until you've done the red rods (sensorial). This is the most obvious example, but there are many instances of this.

    I would imagine the Gettman would allow you to get your NAMC albums in sync.

    I plan to post on this soon, but I think the Gettman is basically a full set of albums in book form. The only thing it doesn't cover completely is "culture." I don't know why this is for sure, but my guess is that it does cover what "Gettman" would have covered in 3-6. I think it is fashionable to do much more in "culture" now than it used to be. He does cover geography completely as well as quite a bit of botany and zoology.

    If I had to throw all my books out except for the bare basics I would keep the Gettman. If I were allowed to keep one more thing, it would be my Karen Tyler culture albums only. If your NAMC albums cover culture you probably don't need anything else.

    I prefer the Gettman to my other Math, Sensorial, Practical Life, and Language albums because I feel like the other albums have in too many "extras" and are overwhelming. If you JUST did the Gettman activities your child would get an excellent Montessori education. It is always easy to find "supporting" activities along the way whenever you have time or the inclination. I just think if you make/print every activity from the other albums you are making a whole lot more stuff than a homeschool mom needs to make.

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  7. Thank you for your comments about the Gettman. I have a hard time reading it. I think it's the small font, but your posts and comments make me want to sit and read it. I will try again.

    wrt the post - do you think I should put hte alphabet puzzle away (my 13 month old plays with it a lot and while he plays I tell him the sound of the letter he is holding. That's kind of like sandpaper letters isn't it? Would it be better for him not to see letters at all until later? I feel I can start from scratch with him...I taught Bear completely hit and miss, not knowing at all what I was doing. She knew all her letter sounds (the 26) by 18 months...but we never played enough sound games. She's bright and picks things up easily so it hasn't seemed to matter, but I'd like to stay as true as possible with J-jo.

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  8. The Gettman is really important for an untrained teacher because of the chart in the book that shows how the albums line up with one another.

    Chart? Are you talking about the lists on pages 23-26 that sort the activities by period? Or is my book missing something?

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  9. Mel,

    Yes, those are the pages I mean. I know, not technically a chart, is it. The divisions are "visual" enough for me that in my mind I think of it as a chart, sorry to confuse you!

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  10. The Girl Who Painted Trees,

    .....Ack. I don't know.

    On one hand, there are letters all around them all the time so what's one more set? Also, my oldest learned all of his alphabetic letters and sounds from puzzles and leapfrog toys before age two.

    On the other hand, it doesn't mesh with the theory as Dwyer presents it unless she just does it as a puzzle and you don't talk about it. Who does that? Despite knowing all those letters and sounds early, my oldest still got stuck and uninterested in reading at the start of the blue series because he didn't know the double letters yet and he doesn't use the movable alphabet as MM intended.

    Ack. Can't help you there. I could pretend to have an answer, but that would just be mean :(

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  11. I have a question about mispronunciation... my boy (turning 4 this week) still can't say several sounds correctly (like r's and l's and th). I'm not quite sure how to play the sound game with him with sounds he can't say because, for example, he doesn't say "thank you", he says "fank you". Do you boys say all of their sounds correctly?

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  12. Kelly,

    I am going to try to write a post about that question. Thanks!

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  13. Kelly,

    I thought of you this week and how I hadn't gotten back to you. In short, I DO play the sound games with sounds they can't make. I do try to avoid those sounds the first several times I do an activity so as to not doom the activity. I'm not sure if I can put this the way I mean it...

    Many children who can't produce those sounds CAN hear the difference, what comes out of their mouth just doesn't match what they hear in their head. Some just simply aren't hearing the difference yet. For both of these types, avoiding those sounds won't help them. Including those sounds will help them. Dont' push. They will discover the difference in their own time. A speech therapist I talked to said not to worry until after age six.

    If a child had a speech or hearing difficulty that is another situation. Here is a post that addresses that:

    http://lifeinthepinktower.blogspot.com/2010/11/sandpaper-letters-and-zen.html

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  14. I am so happy to have found you and your Blog, can’t express adequately how excited it makes me feel. I didn’t know others like you had also discovered Muriel Dwyer and had the courage to “follow the child” with her methods. I can tell you from personal experience it works beautifully and I have developed many materials at home with little expense and fantastic results and am very willing to share anything with you that may help someone else with their child or other students. I am currently mentoring a directress who told me about you, we are all very excited for you and feel you really show a deep understanding of Muriel’s pamphlet. Halleluya! Barbara Furst

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  15. Thank you SO much for your posts. I purchased MOntessori Write and REad after reading your post last year. I've just purchased Dywer's pamplet. It was crazy to post to Australia, so I phoned them. They were so helpful and are just posting the pamplet at the given rate, instead of DHL! So just a hint to others, to just phone NAMTA.

    I found this excellent article on how they changed to Dywer's approach. http://www.jola-montessori.com/psm/85/articles/furst.html And it was actually how Montessori taught her native phonetic Italian. Apparently Margaret HOmfray helped MOntessori develop the English PBG series. Even thought I LOVE Homfray, I can see now how this does not suit my situation, as you've mentioned in your blog.

    Thanks again,
    Tracey

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  16. Tracey,

    Thanks :) I don't know if you noticed, but Barbara Furst wrote that Jola Montessori article and she also wrote the comment displayed right above yours on this post :)

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  17. I have just figured out how to scan one of the simple reader books I have made. I would love to share (free of charge) to anyone who would e mail their address to me. The book I can send is Jet. It is one in a set of 5 books. The set uses all the 40 key sounds. I do not have a blog site and do not know another way to offer my material. If you find the Jet book helpful I will work scanning: Pickup Truck, The Boat, The Tractor, and Travel Fun. Happiness is sharing! Barbara Furst
    r2b2fursts@yahoo.com

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  18. Regarding the speech articulation question (old post/comment, but I know people still read these ;) ) --- I am writing a post that will go up on January 2 (2013) about my son's speech articulation and the mistakes I made in the beginning.
    http://montessoritrails.blogspot.com/2013/01/speech-articulation-and-sound-games.html

    The shortest answer is that MBT says it all :)

    A short answer is that the sound games (along with any of the foundational Montessori work) should be done at the appropriate time, as long as the child's mind is working, regardless of other abilities. Precisely because we adults can not always know the inner workings of the child's mind, we should be careful to continue to feed them. We can easily tell when it is just too much or not the right food. But if it is good food, there could be a wonderful response (we like these!) or no respond (the child is just taking it in and will get back with us later on it ;) ).


    What happens is that these foundational pieces can actually help us identify problems early on - and in many cases the "therapy" for such issues in slightly older children looks a LOT like the Montessori method and materials, albeit presented in a different way. Thus, a child with a particular concern might just need more help in that area, more directed assistance with the materials until the concept is mastered. No new materials necessarily - just more directed work with them.

    With speech issues, it comes down to the child hearing the sounds enough and seeing the adult make the sounds, along with some guidance as they get older (telling them how to make a particular sound and practicing with them) that will help the child eventually correct his own articulation issues.

    I wish I'd known all of that sooner - and found someone who acknowledged my son's issues sooner - so we wouldn't still be stuck with speech issues. However, he can read and write beautifully because by the time we did start the sound games, he moved quite nicely through to the writing stage (reading is another story but that is nothing to do with Montessori!).

    :)

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