Thursday, April 5, 2012

Grammar Sequences

Today I just wanted to record a few thoughts about differences in approaches to Montessori grammar.

I am going to say this right away up front:  I could be quite wrong in my interpretation.  I am going to tell you all what I think anyway.  Just keep in mind that I am not an expert.

I have looked at maybe ten different primary and elementary Montessori albums.  What I saw made me believe that there are two different ways to approach grammar.

The first approach is to march steadily straight through all of the works for each part of speech in a linear fashion until complete.  The idea being that you want to get grammar finished before the child loses interest in grammar.

The second approach is cyclical.  You cover all of the parts of speech three or four times.  You repeat the "key experience" and certain other elements each time, but follow it up with different work each time to keep it fresh.  In a traditional school this might mean revisiting each part of speech each year.  In a homeschool it could mean the same thing, or alternatively, just starting over at the beginning whenever you get to the end no matter what the calendar says.

I believe this is why you will see six year-olds or even primary students working with grammar boxes in one classroom/homeschool and nine year-olds working with them in another.

I have thought about it carefully, and have decided (at least for now) that the second approach is right for our family.  At least for Kal-El.  One person suggested that we should have both approaches in our bag of tricks and use the approach that is right for each particular child.

There are many reasons I lean strongly toward the second approach.  The first is that we are homeschoolers.  In a traditional Montessori environment the children have repeated exposure to the grammar materials before and after they do the work due to the work being accomplished by the other children in the environment.  I believe that this repeated exposure is valuable, but as homeschoolers we need to find another way to accomplish it.  A cyclical approach fits the bill.

Another factor that I am sure influences me is my affinity for the classical method of education.  Classical educators will be the first to sing the praises of cyclical revisiting of a topic at increasingly deeper levels.  Also, I'm sure it is no secret that a classical education involves grammar practice for many, many years.

I own the Montessori R&D grammar album and they address this beautifully, if not somewhat cryptically with the following chart:

This page could be interpreted to be making an analogy to Seguin's classic three-period lesson, used so prevalently in Montessori education.

In some albums the grammar presentations at the primary are very sensorial and the name of the part of speech isn't even given.  As Meg puts in her language album (available through Montessori by Hand) the grammar work at the primary level is "a series of sensorial introductions to each of seven parts of speech...this area is not teaching grammar directly, rather bringing to the child's awareness that there are certain kinds of words that have functions in a phrase."  She describes it as "dealing with the parts of speech, but not with definitions of parts of speech."

In other albums, grammar presentations at the primary level are identical to the elementary presentations.  This kind of album was the only kind I was familiar with for some time and what lead me to skip the primary presentations with Kal-El because it seemed like he would get them in elementary anyway.  Me Too by contrast, will have the opportunity to cycle through seven parts of speech four times because he is receiving the primary presentations.  There have to be some perks to being the younger brother!

Despite espousing a cyclical approach, the Montessori R&D albums are still organized by part of speech.  This can make it look just like another album's linear approach. It doesn't help that they throw this chart in the front of the album and don't say anything about it. However, if you read carefully the album does let you know that certain presentations are to be given each year.

Anna, at the blog The Broad Stair, has done a lot of work studying the cyclical grammar sequence.  The album she uses is either an older version of the Montessori R&D albums or nearly identical to them.  She has done a series of posts on the topic.  Here is a link to just one of the posts.  It is not the first post in the series (and you should go and find them all and read them through) but it the one that gives an example of just a few of the charts she has made that give a general breakdown of which works the child might do for each part of speech in a particular year.  She is by no means saying that this is "law" and is a quite experienced Montessorian who would naturally adjust her theoretical "on paper" sequence to fit the needs of any particular child.  Her charts are just an example of what the breakdown might usually look like to use as a jumping off point.  She doesn't have all of the charts on the blog, but will e-mail them to you if you ask her nicely :)  The post I linked to is nice because even though you don't to see every chart for every part of speech, you get to see one chart that shows what each part of speech might look like for the child across one year and a second chart that shows you what one part of speech might look like across three years.

At any rate, if you have been waiting excitedly to see us start our command boxes and grammar boxes you had better stop holding your breath.  We won't be getting to grammar filling boxes for about two years!  I will try to make this the best place I can to get a glimpse of what the cyclical approach can look like at home.  Go to The Broad Stair to see what the cyclical approach can look like in a traditional Montessori school.  If you would like to see the linear approach in action, go take a look at my bloggy-friend Cherine's blog Making Montessori Ours.

I won't go through all the albums, but here is a short run-down on which approach you can expect to find in a few particular albums:

Karen Tyler
Keys of the Universe (Jessica's album. She disagrees with this categorization.  See comments.)

Montessori R&D
Montessori by Hand (but only covers primary)
"Montessori Materials Research Foundation" (Anna's albums, possible an old name for Montessori R and D?)
Mid-America Montessori (probably the best explaination)


AMI primary guide (online)
Montessori for the Earth
Cultivating Dharma (Seems cyclical to me, but I won't go as far as to impose the category.)

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  1. Speaking from the AMI side, it is definitely cyclical. But it is not a liner - by this I mean that the entire set of grammar lessons are not completed before perhaps you begin the second round.

    Granted, I had a Pan-American trainer, we did lots of farm and noun through verb work in Casa - no prep, adv, conj, interjection work. We named the room, each other (learning what to capitalize and when), and the children would dictate kinesthetic command cards for adj and verbs (including nouns in the sentences).

    AMI always gives the definition of the words even to the Casa students. IE: noun comes from the ancient language of Latin. The Latin word for NAME is nomen. So your nomen is"John." Every object has a nomen. It has a name. What is the name of ________ (pencil)?

    The child should write down in their notebooks - top of the page - NOUN. Underneath it - Latin = nomen = name.

    Depending on the age I'll ask the child to write down their conclusion (ie: everything that has a name is a noun). I don't have children who are not in the sensitive writing period or are not in their second writing wind write this down.

    Just to throw the wrench into you life - what it is vs. what it does. Noun vs. subject. This will get much more complicated as your guys get a little older. The lines will blur. - I'm good at grammar but I can get turned around with this. The boxes deal with understanding the what moving into the job. That sounds confusing. But I would caution you to not move MeToo into sentence analysis too early. It requires several steps in logic to do sentence analysis.

    Just some random thoughts.

  2. Wow! What a great explanation, you always have the right words to say and speak!! Totaly agree about the two ways to teach grammar.... I'm taking a little bit of these and a little bit of that!!lol .... I love the cyclical.. but I do think that the grammar boxes put a little bit of "emotion"..."adventure" and "interest" and make perfect "complete" work. (I don't know if I expressed wright, remember I think in Spanish!!lol). I do love Cherine work with the boxes!!! She's a rock star!!! But I'll use just one instead of one for every grammar symbol... like her I prepared little boxes with the cards...(just for storage) and as my princess flow with the work, I will take out the cards.... I'm making a post of our grammar shelves..... But as I said, I LOVE THIS POST! it's a great explanation, and veeeery helpful!!! Thanks for this post!!!

  3. Eavice,

    Thank you! I hope I was clear in my post, that in the cyclical version you don't do every lesson each time through. You might do each part of speech each time through, but only certain lessons for each part of speech. So, the first time through they learn the symbols for everything, label the environment, the miniature environment, and write things in the notebook. I don't THINK they do any sentence analysis the first cycle through. That should help keep me from running into trouble with Me Too. But, I'm glad you warned me because I can't guarantee some sentence analysis wouldn't crop up in a lesson and I just haven't noticed yet. And, just like you pointed out Me Too isn't ready to write down everything in the notebook that Kal-El is. Kal-El is writing down more.

    Thanks for the comment, it was helpful and it feels good to know that I'm on the right track in the way I'm differentiating for the two boys. NOT looking forward to all that confusing noun vs. subject stuff you mentioned. Looking forward to the moods of verbs in upper elementary even less.

  4. Is the album you showed from MR&D the elementary first language album? Seems the same as the last early childhood language album, am I mistaken?
    thank you.

    I am currently sorting out information about elementary grammar too, and being primarily french speaking (and lacking cruelly material in french) is makes the job a notch harder truth be told.
    Thanks for this recap! I appreciate it

  5. Neptune,

    The album page was from Montessori R&D "Language arts elementary manual volume 1."

    In general I am finding that some albums have no overlap between primary and elementary. They intend that you would just use the primary albums until finished in language or math and then start the elementary albums when ready. The albums that DO feature overlap when you buy a elementary set almost always have just repeated the last album from primary as the first album of elementary. In the case of Montessori R&D for example, the first elementary album is a reprinting of the entire primary math album with a different cover slapped on it. That seems fine for math. I was a little surprised that the presentations for primary grammar would be identical to the first year elementary presentations. So, I looked up the table of contents of early childhood, vol. 5, on their website. The primary table of contents is a LOT shorter than the elementary and only includes a few presentations for each part of speech. Which is how I think it should be. FYI, The lowest age range given in my Elementary Montessori R&D manual starts at age 6. It is possible they put that cryptic chart in both albums. It may also depend on the age of your album.

    Meg's Montessori by Hand language album (free) is a good read if you are interested in comparing the approaches for adjusted primary presentations.

    My Karen Tyler primary grammer album, in contrast, is very similar to my elementary R&D album. And, I would think a little much for a primary child. The presentations are adjusted somewhat in that what is one presentation in my elementary album is five presentations in her primary album. The "noun game" for example is split into at least three parts.

    I am picking bits in pieces from FOUR albums to differentiate my presentations for the boys, so I promise things will get confusing.

  6. Karen,

    Thanks! I will watch what you are doing with interest. I think grammar has been the only area that has prompted me to "album hop" and take a bit from here and a bit from there. I'm glad I'm not the only one. Part of the problem is that I'm differentiating for two different kids. The other part is that I want to use a cyclical approach, but some of my fav presentation write ups are in linear albums.

  7. Just to post a correction (and I'll go back and see how this addressed in my albums so it's clear for others) - Keys of the Universe albums are a cyclical approach. As eavice points out that AMI is cyclical and my albums are straight from AMI training.

    For the sake of album organization, you'll have album pages grouped together by topic, but the idea is as follows (for any subject area, including grammar) :

    -introduce a topic (a new album page)
    -proceed ahead as long as the child's interest and classroom/homeschool circumstances allow
    -move to the next topic or move to another subject area altogether
    -return when appropriate, reviewing as needed and proceeding ahead on that album page or in that album section
    (it could be going back and forth for quite a while; or going through all topics in that area before coming back to the beginning --- the emphasis is on following the child of course, along with considering family/school circumstances).

    For the record, on a separate topic, I am only using the elementary grammar lessons with all of my co-op children, ages 3 and up - maybe it's because I know the primary presentations so intensely, that I intuitively adapt for the littlers (I don't expect them to remember the name of the part of speech; but I do expect the elementary children to remember).

  8. Jessica,

    Make sure you read this comment hearing my voice with the happy, interested in discussion tone that is in my head as I write it rather than with a grouchy, rude tone that we sometimes interpret writing online with!

    I don't agree that your albums are cyclical. While its true that they say that you should revisit a part of speech "when necessary" it does not require revisiting annually which would be an actual cyclical approach. They also state that if I child needs to revisit a part of speech after year one, the guide should come up with alternative activities which implies they will have finished all of the other ones. No activities are "saved" for subsequent years.

    Also, in the lower elementary sequence each part of speech has a long list of activities. The last and most advanced activity on that list are the grammar boxes. Your materials actively promote getting through the list and to the grammar boxes quickly. You state: "Remember to start this work very early on in the elementary classroom – it can begin almost immediately. Children who have had function of words in the primary are building upon that experience. Your goal is to be finished with the grammar boxes by the time the children are 8 years old – so they need to begin early to accomplish this goal." Somewhere in the materials or on your blog you have even mentioned getting to the grammar boxes in primary. The cyclical approach as I am defining it has the child repeat the key experience each year but only do a certain subset of the "list" of works. The first year they do the "labeling" works. The second year they do command boxes. The third year they will do grammar boxes. Most children will not be as young as eight by the end of their third year.

    Also, you are the person I am referring to who mentioned that some children will want to do "every activity" before moving on to the next part of speech. You mentioned perhaps going through materials a second time, but that's very different than planning on going through each part of speech four times between primary and lower elementary and saving some works intentionally to keep it exciting through each pass.

    Honestly, I felt like your album was the least cyclical of all the albums I read. Some of that impression may come from the your experience with children actually completing the primary albums. If you have expected that the primary child will have made it through ALL the activities one time in primary, and then will complete ALL of the activities in your album the first year of elementary, and "maybe" might revisit them their second year of elementary that probably does seem cyclical to you. But it is different than what I mean by the word "cyclical" when I refer to the other albums.

  9. Thanks for linking to my blog. I am still working it all out and potentially changing my mind!

    I got a few things wrong, more in execution than in order. For instance, I allowed children to take the command cards and work on them as an independent activity. After a ver short while I regretted that and returned to the album, only to find that they are all presentations. I also neglected to read through all the commands and make sure that there were materials available for them to follow the commands with! I will be sorting that out over the holiday.

    I am generally finding that the key experiences and introductions to extension works in the first year need an adult to guide the child through first but that the extentions can then be repeated independently by a child or group of children.

    The command cards need at least two children because many of them require one child to give a command to another child and this caused much disturbance in my classroom as one child would distract another from their work to be commanded!

    I definintely go for the cyclical version of events. I have lost count of how many times I have had a situation where a child or group of children were previously completely au fait with a part of speech and all the variations (such as different types of nouns) and had enjoyed all that work very much, but had, in the intervening time become completely absorbed in something else completely unrelated and then professed utter lack of knowledge on the subject when we returned to it, me with the intention of continuing. This, of course, is natural and normal and a key lesson later, all memory has miraculously returned!

    At some point it seems to stick permanantly, although it depends on the child as to when that happens!

  10. My Boys Teacher,

    I appreciate your response! It definitely helps to see what should be better clarified, or even re-written. I've had more discussions on the geography section than the other albums, so this is a good time to go through the others to make sure the set up is clear.

    I will definitely be looking into adapting the background information for this work, because I don't want anyone to stress out that they "have" to follow any particular order except their own child.

    The albums are set up to follow the child; which may look more linear, or may look more cyclical; depending on the situation. My son, for example wanted to do most of the noun work before moving on to other parts of speech; but then we didn't go as deep with those ones before moving along to the next. Then we came back to the noun and went through most of the work (again, in some cases; quite a bit of new stuff) in his second year. It's only now he's starting his third year of elementary that he himself is really getting into the grammar boxes - and he still has a couple of noun exercises to do; but there are certainly children who will get to them in year 1 - at least some of them. Now that my son pretty much only has the grammar boxes left, he will likely go through them pretty quickly (a couple of months)

    Some of my co-op children are anxious to move on quickly - they are not ready to get as intense with the noun study, for example, before learning the the rudiments of the other parts of speech. They may not even see a grammar box until year 3; I have one 6 year old that just thrives on them. So it's all over the spectrum in following each child :)

    And many of those children won't do the final noun presentations until upper elementary - just because that is where they are.

    That's why we don't have a "required" revisiting - because some children just get it the first time through and move on; other children are either deeply interested or just need additional practice (or they were busy with other interests earlier on); so they'll keep working on grammar into older ages.

    Now, I am also seeing something else I should clarify in the album write-ups - that in a classroom, there may be less returning to the exact same work except as a quick review, since there will routinely be other children working with it and the others will have a sort of visual reminder; in our homeschools, we definitely want to do a full review each year (can be quick, but should cover all concepts) before adding on the next activities within that album page or section - because they won't have that same visual reminder.

    In regards to grammar boxes in primary, I have not yet formed an actual opinion on the matter; just suggesting something I had a seen a handful of times. These children were truly language gurus though, and could already speak multiple languages fluently - and they were older 6s (so could have been in the elementary classroom at that point). I've not personally experienced it with any of the children I've had.

    I do know that I've presented the grammar boxes to children who had not yet done "all" the album page activities for that part of speech - since that is what they needed, it worked out fine.

    I'll look into these album pages some more to see what can be adjusted.

    Thank you for bringing this up!


  11. Thanks for being a good sport Jessica! I'm having SO MUCH fund discussing grammar with you all! I am SUCH a nerd! My husband will be so happy I am getting this topic out of my system elsewhere and I won't have to endure his glazed over expression while tries to pretend to care :)

  12. Forgot to add:

    I would love your feedback on what else could make the album pages more "homeschool-friendly". I am entirely open to ideas :)


  13. Great post on this!!!! I think that like you said, using the cyclical approach is a good one for the home. I know that with Bunny I can see her "forgetting it all" like Annicals describes! Doing a bit each year would probably be the best for her! I am looking forward to watching what you do! Since Kal-El is a couple of steps ahead of Bunny, it make my work easier since I know what is next! ;) Thanks for writing this all down for the rest of us!

  14. My album is arranged linearly. My elementary album says: "Functions of the following parts of speech are usually presented in the first year of elementary class, between 6 and 7 years old: noun, article, adjective, verb. The remainder of the functions of words will be presented in the second year, between 7 and 8 years. This spacing will allow the child more time to practice and fully understand the function." Then the three stages are written up under each function: key experience and miniature environment (R&D's 1st period), then "dramatic" commands (R&D's 2nd period), then "analytical" grammar boxes (R&D's 3rd period). However, Jessica and Annicles are so right that review is needed after spending time on other functions! So in reality, one ends up approaching the grammar lessons "cyclically" anyway. I like your arrangement. It's kinda how I feel about the moveable alphabet and golden beads. Do them A LOT and the next stage comes so much more easily. If you spend much time using your miniature environment and "real" environment, then the basic concepts will be quite solid and Kal-El and Me Too will get just that much more out of the next phase. As an aside, my AMI primary language album overlaps my AMS elementary album exactly, minus commands and grammar boxes. That probably didn't add too much to the conversation, but for what it's worth, there you have it :-)

  15. THanks for your reply.

    Sorry, I still have a question though. Would you day that MR&D is equivalent to Meg's albums? Or does MR&D goes more in depth then Meg's?

    Thank you!

  16. Thanks for another great post. I agree that a cyclical approach has advantages and, for home educators like me at least, it means that there can be a closer fit between presentations/materials and the child. I had only ever seen this material presented in albums in a linear way, but for me it's more intuitive to take an interactive approach - and it's not just in this area, but in aspects of geography, history and science too where the sensorial experience or impression preceeds the detailed ins and outs and more complex vocabulary and concepts.

  17. Neptune,

    I don't own the primary R&D album, I only looked at the table of contents online. If you own it you are in better position than I am to compare it to the contents of Meg's album.


    Well put!


    Yes, I have some pretty specific suggestions and will e-mail you privately.

    Beth H.,

    Thank you for putting your two cents in. It is really interesting to hear about what everyone has and does. It is just usually not practical to own every album (it's kind of a wierd coincidence that led to me having so many complete grammar albums at my disposal.) but it is only by reading several through a couple of times that it starts to come together for me. The more we can all talk about what we are finding, the better.

    Is that the NAMC album? I am sure I read those sentences somewhere this week :)

  18. Hi, My Boy's Teacher,

    As I am reading through your grammar discussion, I do have a question. Do you think for the elementary age you will "bounce around" to different albums for different ideas, or do you think you will find one you primarily like?

    I ask because I really like Cultivating Dharma's albums, but not being able to see other albums I wonder if I am missing something... :). Cultivating Dharma also refers to MR&D so I have been toying with the idea of buying some of those. The third one in the mix is Keys of the Universe. I wish there was a store where I could physically hold these things and figure it out! I am curious on what your thoughts are with the different albums.

    I have been leery on asking you through the comments because I do not want to put you on the spot for saying what you do and do not like given the fact that a lot of people read your blog. So, if you are comfortable would you do a post, or maybe email me? I actually have specific questions that I don't want to post directly about some of the albums... hmm. Thanks!

    andysarahf @ gmail . com

  19. I love your posts because I learn so much from the comments as well as the post itself!

  20. I have found this post very beneficial and all the comments very interesting. I have used the cyclical approach to grammar with Little-N and he has really benefited from it. He has just revisited nouns for the fourth year and I am pleased that he remembers all the previous work. We are now working on the grammar boxes. You have inspired me to put together a photo post of Little-N working with grammar materials over the years and will gather the pictures and post soon. I'll also link to this post if that is okay.

  21. Learning Ark,

    Thanks for commenting! It is really helpful to hear from someone who has done this no matter whether similarly or differently and hear about what worked well.

    I look forward to your post!

  22. Hi there,
    First of all, I'd like to thank you for your most wonderful blog. I've learned so much from you. :) I am interested in the R&D Language Arts manuals (both elementary and primary) for my children and since you already own them, I was wondering if you could tell me if they contain lists of words and/or nomenclature for each lesson that I can copy? I was also thinking of purchasing the Grammar bundles from Montessori Print shop but wasn't sure if the albums already had that information and I'd be wasting money in doing so. Thanks so much in advance and for all that you do.

    1. Yes, you will find lists and nomenclature to copy in the R&D albums.

  23. Thank you so much for your help.