Wednesday, October 2, 2013

School Days: Language

The boys really kept me on my toes this week.  In the above photo above I am alternating dictating spelling phrases for Kal-El to write down (All About Spelling) and calling out what lowercase letter for Me Too to transform from a "magic c" (Handwriting Without Tears...transformed "c" into "a," "o," "d," "g," or "q.").

Above the boys are doing their copywork from Writing with Ease.  As I mentioned in a previous post, WWE is working perfectly for us this year because each lesson provides two levels of copywork.  Me Too copies the easier sentence and Kal-El copies the more difficult one.  The elements that WWE provides (narration, dictation, etc.,) can easily be incorporated more naturally in the traditional Montessori work...and is supposed to be.  The child would do copywork if they make their own booklet by copying a definition off of a three-part card.  They might listen to a Great Lesson or an excerpt from good literature and you might ask them question about what they heard and ask them to respond in a complete sentence.  You might ask them what they remember from a story or work and record their answer for them on paper.  All of this can be recorded directly in their language notebooks.  We do it all on separate paper which we punch and put in a language binder.

All of these steps are important preliminary skills that children, particularly boys, need before they can just "write something."  The most common reaction to a child who is having trouble writing these days seems to be to have them "write more."  Writing a story or report means that the child is able to remember what they heard or read, form that memory into a complete sentence, and successfully copy the sentence they see or is in their mind.  Multitasking at its finest.  Kids who don't want to write or are having trouble doing so are probably having trouble with one or more of the smaller steps which can be addressed specifically.  As I always tell the boys, "You can do anything if you just make the steps small enough."

All of these things are habits that you have to practice in order to organically incorporate it into the "curriculum."  I wasn't doing a very good job with that so I am using the book to direct this...for now.  I hope that I will improve my skills as "guide" and not need the book eventually.  It would be so easy to do this as we work "off the shelves."  I'm just not doing a good job training them to do it.  In the meantime, the book works like a  personal Reading Rainbow for us.  Our family has gone on to read the complete work of all the excerpts thus far...except for Pinnochio (I want to wait a year or two due to the maturity level).   We alternate spelling/handwriting days with narration/dictation/copywork days (Writing with Ease) so that that they don't have to do too much teacher-controlled writing on one day.

We are still using The Ordinary Parent's Guide to Teaching Reading to direct our word studies.  I have posted about that many times in the past (just put "word study" in the search box), but basically I borrow the idea of what to cover as well as any word lists, sentences or stories and then put them together for the boys using traditional Montessori activities.  I wrote a post about how I use the OPG and some of the kinds of activities I generate from it.  You can find that post here.   Kal-El is only 20 lessons from the end of the book (it has taken us about three years to go through it).  When we finish, we will review many of the later concepts with traditional word study lessons from our elementary Montessori language album.  I just finished making/organizing all of the traditional elementary word charts and can't wait to get those into action.  In the photo above Kal-El has just learned the rule "change the 'y' to 'i' and add 'es'."  He followed this up the same day with "change the 'f' to 'v" and add 'es'."  

I like the OPG for the same reasons I like WWE.  There are things that the guide is supposed to make sure is "covered" but that an inexperienced guide (like myself) might need help thinking of in the first place, much less organizing and implementing.  In addition to the plural rules above (which I would have remembered to cover) Kal-El covered a few other reading tidbits this week (which I would not have remembered to cover):

  • "d" and "di" as /j/ (educate, gradual, etc.,)
  •  "our" as /ur/ (as in journey, courage, etc.,  Sorry, I don't know how to put the "^" on top of the "u" in "ur."), "ci" and "si" as /sh/ (special, tension, etc.,),
  • and "s" as /zh/ (measure, treasure, etc.,).  

We also covered a bunch of things that would and will be covered by the traditional Montessori word studies:  possessive words, contractions, etc.,  The end of the OPG is mostly about compound words, endings, suffixes, and prefiexes which dovetails nicely for us.  I will use that as motivation to transition out of OPG and quickly through the traditional Montessori word studies in my albums.

Me Too is about 100 lessons into the OPG.  We are basically reviewing Dwyer reading folders right now (I like to start elementary year one that way).  He recently reviewed the common spellings for the long-A (ai, a-e, ay, ea, ei, ey), long-E (ee, e-e, ea, ie) and long-I (i-e, ie, ye, i,).  We spend some time on sounds found in more than one category.  When does "ea" say "ee"?  When does it say "ai"?  It is fun to redo the exercise with the Dwyer folders in which you mix up all the sound cards and have the child sort them to the proper folders.

Kal-El has been interested in his Research Skills book again.

He is also showing evidence of being super-ready for the Story of Language with his interest in other alphabets.  This week he was very interested in braille.  He created his own project by looking up the braille alphabet in our encyclopedias (love them!) and then using the pin-punching set to write me notes in braille.  I was impressed that he was able mirror the letter in his punching so that it comes out with the correct orientation when you flip the paper over.  I was able to read all of his messages.  I explained that real braille doesn't puncture the paper like our pin punching set does.  Kal-El declared his version "close enough" and said, "we don't need to buy special equipment Mom, I understand the difference."  Strangely logical that one.


  1. Nice post with good info and great work by you and your boys.

    You inspired me to find some encyclopedias on craigslist. I just picked them up today.

    My husband has a blind student in choir and music theory this year (and last year), so he has been learning a lot about braille and braille music notation too, though I don't think he did any pin-punching :)

    1. I haven't thought about braille music notation in YEARS. Thanks for the reminder. Enjoy the encyclopedias!

      Your husband might enjoy knowing that my husband is teaching a completely deaf student to play the euphonium this year :)

  2. MBT,

    Thank you for sharing Writing with Ease. There is definitely a path to travel before a child is able to write a paper about what they have learned, and I often get the impression (from the little that is available about Montessori elementary) that it seemingly just happens, or that they are so inspired that they are driven to begin writing about what they have learned about. There isn't much out there that details the path one can take to help guide children towards becoming great writers. I believe this book is exactly what I was looking for. Thanks for sharing!

    I was wondering... I noticed that the author of WWE also wrote a book called The Story of the World. I was wondering what your thoughts were on that book, and would you consider integrating it into the boys studies.


  3. Cristina,

    You are so welcome! I understand exactly why you would have that impression. A LOT of guides say exactly that, "it just happens" and it is because not every guide fully understands their own curriculum. To them it DOES seem like it just happens. They don't realize that it is the booklet making, copywork in their journals, and recording of work that leads to it. What is extra sad is that if you don't understand that is what makes it happen and let those elements of the environment drop then it WON'T just happen. Like I said, it can happen without the book. I was just guilty of letting those elements of the environment drop and need help training myself to incorporate them.

    I love SotW! I think I like ALL of Susan Wise Bauer's books. I don't really use them the way they are intended as they are intended to be used in a very formal, teacher-directed way. However, in the Advanced Montessori Method Maria Montessori mentioned that while the children were drawing or otherwise making art that this is the time during which they should learn their history via the guide telling/reading them historical stories. We are using SotW for just that purpose. Last week I started the cd at random times when I catch them creating art. This should be just often enough to get through the book in the year. I have the supplemental activity guide as well. I don't plan to put them through it rigorously, but thought it would be handy when something catches their imagination so that I don't have to use MY imagination to quickly think of an activity for follow-up work.

  4. MBT,

    My daughter loves making booklets based on what we are learning. My son, on the others, always wants to make booklets about on ninjas, superheroes, and dinosaurs!


  5. I love the reports in the Magic School Bus books. I think they are an example of how a simple report for kids in lower elementary might look. Some of the reports are 2-3 sentences, while others are 2 pages long.