Friday, May 17, 2013

Word Study: Two, To, Too

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Both boys have been reading for long time now.  I think we are about two years past Dwyer at this point.  That doesn't mean there isn't still more to learn about reading.  When you've finished the Dwyer pamphlet, or the reading section of your AMI or AMS album, work begins in the elementary language albums.   Most of those albums deal with grammar, not reading.  However, they do begin with a *few* word study presentations.  These typically cover suffixes, prefixes, compound words, word families, synonyms, and antonyms.  NOW does the child know everything they know about reading?  No, but it can seem on the surface like what one might call specifically "reading work" stops here.

In reality, the work doesn't stop there.  My understanding of the Montessori approach is that the fourth Great Lesson, the history of writing, spurs continued work in this area.  This lesson keeps returning the child to the study of etymology and that the study of the origins of words takes care of a lot of the spelling and reading issues that remain.  The party line seems to be that as long as the child is provided with real (not dumbed-down) reading materials, a notebook, and the freedom to make and record observations, most of this will take care of itself.  It is also my understanding that the directress is supposed to pay close attention and make sure they ARE covering what they need to cover through these explorations.  

Kudos to quality directresses that manage this with up to 30 children because when I was honest with myself I realized right away that I was going to drop the ball with my two children.  So, while I trust the method when implemented well to do the job, I honestly knew I was not going to implement this well.  I am too lazy.  I was going to forget.  I was not going to pay close enough attention.  I've talked about this many time in the past, but I thought I should mention again that this is one of two purposes for which I bought The Ordinary Parent's Guide to Teaching Reading.  I didn't use it to teach my children to read, they learned to read using the Dwyer approach and traditional Montessori works.  However, when I was looking for readers that used single and double-letter key sounds, and not 500 sight words like most of the "easy" books at the library, I made some from the OPG.  It is also working well for reminding me about all the little weird things they need to learn about the English language, for spelling purposes as much as reading, and prompting me to make sure they are exposed. Frankly, most adults myself included need a little reminder of what the rules of this language actually ARE.   

I don't sit down with the book and say "let's do a lesson out this book."  I make a word list that we read together and hope that they make their own observation about what those words have in common.  I might make a couple green cards to add to their ever-increasing collection of sight words that we began with Dwyer.  Then, they read a little book that I have made using text from the OPG that practices the rule or observation at hand.  That is usually it. I could have them record the observation in their journals, but I haven't been.  I don't think that what we are doing is terribly different from what the Montessori procedure for this kind of learning is.  What IS different is that the experience is manufactured.

For example, recently Me Too did a word study of "to," "two," and "too."  He already knew how to read all three of these words but he needed to learn when and how each is used.  This is the type of thing that is from one perspective just "missing" from the Montessori albums.  It isn't truly "missing" from Montessori because etymology, wide-reading, and guided observation "could" cover this.  However, if you are expecting everything your child needs to know to be in those albums, it just isn't.  

What I did to manufacture an "observation" moment with Me Too was to hand him three new green cards for his sight word/puzzle word collection:  to, two, too.  He, of course, noticed that they all said the same thing.  He was super bothered by this.  He has been reading those words in context for a long time but had probably never seen them side-by-side all at once.  I explained what each is used for ("two" represents the number, "too" can be exchanged with the words "also" or "very", "to" is used the rest of the time).  Then, he just did some simple sentence to picture matches using sentences that had these words in them.  We observed that different spellings were used in the different sentences.

Afterward he was ready to decide which spelling to use for himself.  I provided him with sentences with a blank where the to/too/two should go and little cut-out words to use to fill in the blank (check out Kal-El in the background with his fraction circles and fraction charts!).

Here you can see he is part way through the work.  I wanted to leave this work on the shelf for him to repeat independently so I built in some controls.  First, I only provided the right number of each word.  If he gets to the end and he has the wrong to/too/two for his last sentence he knows he made an error.  Second, I did make a control chart with the answers.

We did our last to/too/two activity on a different day when I wasn't taking photos.  The last activity was a sentence and picture match in which the sentences had multiple versions of to/too/two in them.  For example:  "My uncle went to the store to buy two umbrellas.  I wanted to go too."  (I think I provided a picture of two umbrellas.)

So, you can see through all of this Me Too is not getting a sit down lesson out of a scripted book (Although the scripts are very helpful when you need help articulating the rule in clear words that a child of this age will understand.).  However, I didn't have to remember on my own that Me Too needed to learn this. I didn't have to think of examples for a word list by myself (That sounds silly in this instance, but is less silly when you are doing something like studying the schwa sound.), I didn't have to invent my own sentences. I didn't even think of the fill-in-the-blank activity myself.  I just tweaked it to have Montessori-like controls.

And the whole time Kal-El was just plugging away on fractions.  He loves the fraction charts and stares at them like they are a picture book.


  1. You are such a good mom and thorough teacher! I am one of those lazy moms who trusts the method and does not do the observation needed! Luckily my daughter is so motivated and can learn all the nuances by herself and remember it well! She is constantly reading and writing and all I do is let her know if there are mistakes when she shows them to me. Dwyer addressed the reading portion really well and she is progressing well on her own chosen path to word study. We are doing FLL level 3 now, which coincides well with the sentence analysis portion and also does some word study. Hopefully we should not have any loose ends.

    It is great that your son loves the fraction charts. For all the effort you put in to make those, I am glad that it is well used!

    1. Well, now if you trust the method and observation of your daughter tells you it's working then you're not being lazy are you! I wish that the boys would pick up the nuances and the spelling but they aren't at all. Kal-El can read almost anything and it can decode really REALLY well. His encoding stinks. Last time I checked his reading level he came out at 8th grade or Fountas and Pinnell level V...but anything he writes down has EVERY. WORD. SPELLED. WRONG. I want his writing to be about writing, so word study is my current plan of attack. That would be so cool if he was retaining and using those things like your daughter is.

      Probably the answer is that Kal-El is only in elementary year one. There ARE six years. Maybe it's just going to take him longer. I just have NO faith right now and if we get to the end of the six years and he still spelled EVERY word wrong and I hadn't done anything about it I would feel really bad.

  2. Thank you! You completely answered my question about what happens after Dewer? I really appreciate your blog.

  3. I shouldn't worry! My experience in the classroom is that every child learns to spell in their own way, or they don't! The ones that do - simply be reading and writing and somehow absorbing it, are the ones you don't need to worry about. I have a range of other children who for some reason find spelling very difficult and the best thing to do with them is to go back to the old fashioned green material lists and work over and over at the spelling rules, putting them into context and so on. Dictation is often a good way to get them into context, as you can devise sentences about subjects the child is interested in. I have a child who has three sentences to learn each week and it is the only way for him to retain spellings. Simply learning them for a list does not work - there is nothing to support the words, in his mind. He has a much greater chance of keeping the words in a dictation. Joined up (cursive) writing also helps. The words flows and is less of a ploddy, letter by letter affair that could go wrong at any moment! Some children are not ready to learn to spell until about age 8 or even 9.

    1. Thank you Annicles! I always picture these Montessori schools full of children dreamily moving about the classroom choosing and returning works, with big dreamy smiles, writing poetry in joined up cursive with perfect spelling. It is good to know that they might be writing poetry in joined up cursive with a big smile on their face, but it might also be all spelled incorrectly :)

    2. I have some children who can spell every work correctly for a test or out of context but in written work get every single word wrong. It is a matter of processing. In the UK spelling in creative writing isn't marked until 16 as it is the creative writing that is being marked and spelling words correctly would get int the way of the flow of the writing!

  4. Something to make you feel a bit better about the super powers of a directress ;)

    Some of the children will be killer-spellers from the get-go; they just pick it up through their reading (so why bore them with tedium when they get it already - hence the lack of required "keys" here).

    Then the other children (as well as the good spellers) help each other out during group work, or ask one another and someone will share a tip on they're/their/there or the other word rules. They also read the (album-portions of) word study to one another and write out the words with the movable alphabet and later on paper; they can use the phonogram cards in just such a way which is a GREAT tool to keep from the primary language album and use into lower elementary as long as needed - use as spelling lists for the children to dictate to each other.
    (note to others - this is the "dictation" briefly noted in the Dwyer booklet ;) )

    By the time the directress has to work with a child, the problems are down to the deepest ones; but the fewest ones.

    And something from a Montessori homeschooled boy:

    Being at home with one (in my case) child who (despite the odd reading experiences we had) has had a consistent Montessori writing experience, is an atrocious speller at 9. He has improved SO MUCH - most of it in context; but if he were in a class of 30 students, I think he would be doing MUCH better. He still avoids capitalization whenever possible even though he *knows* how and when and why. After I made a point to only read what he wrote, not what he intended to write, and he got over his frustration with me for doing that and chanting, "If you want me to read it, write it in a common language", he finally started coming around. I've let him do a FEW spelling games online which was a nice treat for him; and he uses the dictionary a LOT.

    So for you to bring in an outside resource to take the place of the 30 other students - you found a perfect one! ;)

    1. Oooo...thank you for all the tidbits about how the kids work on spelling in a classroom setting. I wouldn't have any other way of knowing that. That's a good tip on not trashing all of our primary reading materials until I can figure out what we can use for spelling. Dwyer doesn't use phonogram cards, but I have other things I might be able to use like the puzzle word cards.

      Also, thanks for the moral support...I feel slightly more competent now :)