Thursday, April 14, 2011

Dwyer Part Five: After the Object Boxes?

Long-time readers are probably aware that we use the Dwyer approach rather than the PBG scheme to teach reading in our home. As I uploaded pictures over the course of the last several weeks it occurred to me that you all might need an update on where Kal-El is in that approach.

In my second post on the Dwyer approach I gave a run down of the first six or so steps of the approach as I understand them.
  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
While we still use our sandpaper letters and movable alphabet almost every day we have past the point where the object boxes and activity word game are useful. We are still working in step six which continues for a long time as we add to the child's collection of sight words. The next step in the Dwyer approach (again, as I understand it which is, I'm sure, far from perfect) is little handmade books followed by a whole slew of phonogram work (starting with the phonogram folders and dictionary as detailed in the Gettman Book).

If you are trying to avoid making the little books yourself by using early readers that you can pull off the shelf at the library you may find, as I did, that your child's success in using those books is highly dependent on whether the author is using puzzle words the child knows or puzzle words they don't know. Obviously one way to get around this is to study the set of early readers you would like to use and pull your puzzle words from those books.

I would rather draw little pictures with markers than sit down and do all of that sorting and list making. However, I don't have the mental energy right now to come up with my own little stories either. My solution was to organize this part of Kal-El's reading using Jessie Wise and Sara Buffington's book The Ordinary Parent's Guide to Teaching Reading.

I don't use the book exactly the way it is intended, I use it as a guide for selecting words, sentences, and stories in an organized way to use with our Montessori activities. I once read that there might be Dwyer materials (little books and word lists) that are available for purchase but have never found anything like that myself.

There is a chance that you are not using the Montessori method to teach your child to read but read this blog anyway. In that case, I want to say that this is a really great book that in 231 ten to twenty-minute lessons covers nearly every little rule and oddity you need to know to read in English. You can view the index of lessons here (on Amazon under the "table of contents" portion of the "look inside this book" feature). Here is a picture of one of the lessons in the book.

The lessons are "scripted" with very little talking and a lot of "doing." While I am not following the scripts because we are using our Montessori activities rather than following the book by the letter, I do find them to be a useful example of the words I can use to explain a reading rule to Kal-El without dumbing it down more than necessary.

What I do is use the script to explain the new idea I want to talk about that day (such as "Now we are going to learn another two-consonant blend. When you place the consonants 's' and 't' next to one another, they represent a sound that you hear at the ends of these words: nest, fast, dust."); then, we use the word list in many different ways depending on Kal-El's choices (he writes the word I say on the chalkboard, or with the movable alphabet, or on squared paper, OR he chooses to read a word I write via one of these methods).

The book then provides little sentences or stories that use that concept frequently. . In the Wise/Buffington book the sentences and stories are not illustrated. This can be a good thing for a while if you have a child that is in a rut of "guessing" what the sentence says by looking at the picture instead of reading it. Dwyer recommends that these types of things be illustrated whenever possible. Kal-El certainly finds reading the most tempting when illustrated.

Wise/Buffington provides stories rather than sentences almost all of the time. On the occasion that only sentences are provided, I make little sentence strips and matching pictures with images from the internet.

Here is Kal-El matching some sentences and pictures this morning:

Here are some closer photos of these. As you can see, we have been working on ending consonant blends like "ct" and "lk."

More often than not, we actually have a little book to read.

I cut up a bunch of printer paper into quarters one day and I just grab paper as I need them and staple it together at the end.

I took photos of each page inside of one I made recently. I am a relatively decent artist, but as you will see I am drawing simply and quickly. I want to make these in five to ten minutes and get my point across. I am not dwelling on each page and doing a full illustration.

I chose this particular book to photograph because it was kind of neat in that it is a "never ending book." For that reason, I bound this one with rings and made no cover so that after the last page you turn directly to the first page again and keep going. I did put a red tab on the first page so he could find it again if he puts it down in the middle. Kal-El thinks this book is rather silly.

This story practiced many consonant blends and introduced the ellipsis. The script provided explains the ellipsis to the child as follows: "This story is fun to read. It ends with a mark of punctuation called an ellipsis. when you see an ellipsis, you know that words have been left out on purpose. When you see the three dots in this story, you are supposed to start the story again from the beginning."

I like how the scripts don't underestimate the child and remind me not to. I might not have used the word "ellipsis" or explained it so clearly if I hadn't read their suggested wording first. I don't read the script out of the book to Kal-El. He doesn't know there IS a "book." All he sees are his activities and the end products of my little books.

He has watched me make some books and now makes books of his own. Usually they steal the plot from one of mine and change the child's name. It's a start. My book "sick Mick" became "sick Awex" in his version. "Awex" is how you spell "Alex" if you are five and still have a speech impediment.

Not everyone will need help organizing their child's reading materials like this. If you are doing a lot of reading together out of regular books you are going to run into all of these things over time. An experienced teacher in a classroom has probably internalized all of these tidbits and has probably amassed a collection of materials that cover all this as they work through them.

I, on the other hand, don't have that experience and was finding that Kal-El was frustrated when he picked out books at the library because I hadn't remembered to point out that "s can sound like /z/" as in "his, is, has, and as" for example.

Like I said earlier, a lot of kids (myself included) learn to read just through reading books with a parent who is taking time to point things out and answer questions. I know some of us are relaxed enough to choose books carefully and let that work. Others of us (me) are little more "type A" and so many homeschooling parents in general are afraid they will "miss something." I wanted to share what I am using to simplify my teaching preparation and give me the confidence that the materials will let the child do the work. I'm sure there are a lot of other ways that some of you out there do this at this stage in your child's reading be it through a series of prepared readers, a spelling program, or purchasing a "scheme." I am just letting you know what is working for us!

We will be working on the Dwyer/Gettman phonogram activities soon. I thought we would start them when then come up in my Wise/Buffington book so that I can use the stories that go with them at that same time.




  1. Thank you so much for all of the detailed posting about how you teach reading! I am so scard that I am not going to teach Bunny o read right. I know that is silly, but I really want to do it right. So thank you for your thoughts!

  2. I think it will be much easier with,“Me Too”! Be patient with yourself as you transition to Muriel Dwyer's approach.

    How is “Me Too” progressing in the 6 steps of 'I spy"? It is important for “I spy” to remain fresh and inviting. I found it helpful myself to analyze the sounds in the names of all objects in the environment and make sure each sound is represented in the name of something in the classroom. The aural activities are so important in connecting some objects to the sounds.

    Also, after all steps of “I spy”, when starting the sandpaper letters, THE CHILD can easily reference something in the environment having that sound in it. You and your child might go on a treasure hunt of things in the environment which have the sound in it. Make it fun and enjoyable and allow discovery on the child's part.

    We spent lots of time doing activities with the sandpaper letters they know. One activity was to ask the child to bring all the sandpaper symbols they know to a rug. We then asked them to trace and tell us the sound that goes with the symbol. We told the child he may trace these anytime he wishes and share it with others.

    Another game was asking the child to put all the symbols he knows into groups of colors. Then we the played the game: “One pink symbol and some blue or green symbols”. We picked one pink and some blue or green symbols. We set the one pink symbol by itself and sounded it out. Then we set one vowel next to it and sounded out the results. The child was invited to say the blend with us. The child was invited to continue with other blue or green symbols and blend them with the pink symbol for a friend to hear. The child was observed and progress with sounds were documented in our records.( We tried to write observations when the child was not aware of our record keeping).

    Another game was to start with a blue or green symbol and to try different pink symbols with it. Another game was to ask the child to bring all symbols they know to a rug. Then we selected 3 symbols which, when combined, would make a word. We blended the sounds until we almost said the word but not completely. When the child said the word, we repeated the word and tried to relate it in a sentence. Then we allowed the child to explore on his own. We started with the single letter symbols when blending a word but soon used the two letter symbols. There was a natural movement into the moveable alphabet when we needed a certain sound more than once. For the two-letter symbols we took a small piece of black yarn and put it under the two letters in a loop shape signifying these two letters make one sound. There was no need for a separate moveable alphabet.

    I’m sorry if this is too much. Not sure if you want this long of a response or just what you would prefer. I have lots more but will wait to follow your lead as to your interest right now. I love this method and how it works for the child, it is a beautiful thing to witness.

  3. Thank you Barbara!

    I just caught up with your sweet comments on a couple other posts yesterday and hadn't had a chance to reply. I welcome the input and will have to point my readers to the help given here in the comment section!

    It is apropos that you ask "How is 'Me Too' progressing in the steps of 'I Spy' " because I wanted to specifically ask you about that. He's not. We talk about sounds all the time. I point out things in the doctors office, in a book, at the dinner table, at the playground...he likes that little "apple, apple a..a...a" song. If I put a single object in my hand (alligator) and say "I spy something in my hand that starts with 'a' ." he can do it (of course). If I put TWO objects in my hand and do the same thing, he gets it wrong more than I thought statistically possible. If I ask him "what sound does 'aaaalligator' start with?" He says /k/. He is NOT progressing in I Spy. I have tried showing him every way I can think of and he doesn't seem to understand that I am asking for a sound the word makes. He has not noticed any relationship between the sound we are talking about and the sounds at the beginning of the word we are talking about. I'm not sure he understands what I mean by "starts with." I've tried explaining, I've tried lots of different ways of asking. He is familiar with all the key sounds but can't find any of them in any word.

    He is obsessed with the sandpaper numbers which is telling me I should do the sandpaper letters RIGHT NOW, but he can't complete any word analysis.

    I was hoping you might know what to do? I wasn't worried and wasn't worried because I thought he would understand when he was ready. Now he is almost four and clearly is interested in feeling the letters.


  4. The way you speak of your child and his experience with the stages of I Spy reminds me of a couple of children that I have worked with.

    One of the first things I would suggest was to get their ears checked, just in case their is an underlined issue.

    Through my observations I found that some children who were second born were more laid back within the classroom. They seemed to be content and absorbed in other areas in the classroom and had no interest in what "I" thought they should be interested in due to their age. I also found that the more I pressed the issue (b/c I was seeing all the signs) the more their interest dulled. Children are so intuitive and they know what your up to. They can feel the failure and frustration more than we can as adults.

    One thing that I did was let it lie for a couple of days. I would allow this child to observe I Spy being played and if they wanted a turn I would ALWAYS set them up for success. In your case placing the object in hand or stating an object on their body that was just emphasized prior to playing. "b,b, bow...Susie I see something on your head that begins with a b you know what it is? If the child cannot find it I would repeat while touching the item and them ask. I would not proceed until the child is asking for it (BEGGING FOR IT) but I would model it through the children around him/her. If your other children have mastered I spy then allow them to be the "master" of the game and you can model.

    I also found that taking walks and collecting nature worked well too. That way they didn't feel so much pressure. So your child picks up a leaf. "L,L,Leaf...I spy something in Jacob's hand that begins with you know what it is?

    Just have fun! He sounds like he needs the repetition in the stage that he is most comfortable with. He will get it. You just have to believe and give the control to the child. I understand that he is showing interest in sandpaper numbers. That is great! He could also do the touch boards and other sensorial lessons that foster this.
    The child that I worked with was the SAME way. Then all of a sudden I was running to catch up with her.

    I love this approach and it truly allows each individual child to unfold as they need to. Good luck and remember most of all HAVE FUN!

    Lindsey Werner

  5. I am sure Kal-El just enjoyed the word "balligator".(tongue in cheek) Maybe some of the sandpaper letter games I mentioned would be fun for him as you introduce the two-letter symbols.

    I'm thinking "ME Too" is probably right where he needs to be. Our sometimes difficult job is to "follow the child", observe, and trust his inner guide.

    I have an article about Muriel Dwyer on the Jola Publication site. There my phone number is listed. Call if you wish to exchange e mail addresses. It might be better if we want to discuss details about Kal-El and "Me Too in greater privacy. Thanks

    I'm enjoying your enthusiasm and thank you for letting me play in your sandbox. Barbara Furst

    Lindsey Werner (someone I know) has some great suggestions.

  6. Thanks for this. ALthough generally I am type A, Bear's reading instruction has been haphazard at best. In spite of this she has internalized a lot of rules just by what you mentioned - me talking about rules and patterns and rule breakers as we read together. We often read books just above her level and I help her with harder words. I looked at the Jessie Wise (I am fortunate that my library has it) and couldn't see myself using it as is. I like how you made it work for you. It makes me think I'll put the book on hold again.

  7. I am responding late, I know! But I wanted to drop by and say I love your blog, I follow and stalk it! I too started with the PBG, but as you know it is too time consuming. Also, my first one D (4) is all done with the pink scheme and we had just begun the blue series when I stumbled upon your posts about Muriel Dwyer's approach! Voila.. just what I was looking for. So for now we do a lot of reading, I am working with the blue cards and materials that I had already printed out, but I am trying to complete the 40 sounds. At this point, D is a bit bored with just reading words and I faced the same unknown sight words issue with the readers from the library. Just as I was wondering what to do, I see this post from you! I had checked this book out and have it with me right now! Long story short, thank you for the wonderful posts on the progress you are making with Kal-el, it is help so many of us!