Thursday, January 14, 2010

Homfray Video: Introducing Letters to Children

I finally had an opportunity today to watch another one of the Homfray videos. I watched the one titled Sandpaper Letters. This was extremely helpful for me. I wish there were one for absolutely everything I need to teach.

The most important thing is that I finally found an explicit answer to my question of when to correct and when not to correct. When to correct and when not correct errors when using the Montessori method has been a slippery topic for me to understand. If you have been reading my blog for a while you know this because I have posted about it many times, most noteably here, here, and here. There were a beautiful couple of minutes in this video where Miss Homfray spoke specifically to this question and gave an answer that sits very well with my instincts and how my boys learn. I went ahead and wrote a transcription of that portion of the video, but it fits better toward the end so you'll have to read on.

There were a lot of other things I found interesting.

Several (not many) of the albums or literature that I have access to suggest that you teach 2-3 sandpaper letters a day and that the next day none of the letters should be repeats. This is not how I did it with Kal-El. It is how I have been doing it with Me Too and it has not been working. Homphrey starts with two and they reappear the next time when you add a third. It is not said explicitly, but it seems they would reappear the next time when you add a fourth and so on. She says something akin to "the fun increases as the number of letters grows."

Also several albums and literature I have looked at, the same ones that tell you to use fresh letters everyday, say to ignore it if the child gets the sound wrong so they don't get a sense of failure associated with something as important as reading. It is this type of thing that has left me lost in teaching Montessori, some things are not self-correcting. This approach relies on subsequent presentations to eventually make the correction. Not only am I not convinced this always works, this would become extremely lost if the child is given fresh letters every day. Homfray specifically mentions correcting the child if they get the sound wrong because they must get it right from the beginning.

I was also interested in her presentation style. There is quite a bit more talking and repetition going on than I have had explained to me to date. Generally I have seen an emphasis on as little talking as possible. There is a stark difference in Homfray's demonstration (40 minutes into the video) and Tami Elliot's. If you look at these, also notice what strong strokes Tami Elliot uses to feel the letters. Homphrey makes the point that they should be felt very gently so that it will lead to handling the pencil gently when they learn to write. Speaking of correcting, she has an adult student sitting in pretending to be a child receiving the presentation. After the student feels the letter for the first time Homfray asks her to feel the letter more gently. This is the type of thing I find that I have to do with my boys. I had been frustrated by the idea that I should be simply "showing" them again a la the "inner game of tennis" and they will eventually start doing it the way I do. The reality in our home is that twenty repetitions later, they are still practically digging a hole in the letter! I have found it much more effective to just tell them what to do differently. I have always felt like I was "cheating" when I did this. This is not a license to "correct at will" in a way that would make them dependent upon a teacher for correction.

Why is this important? Obviously I am my children's mother and teacher and why do I need Miss Homfray to tell me whether or not I should correct them when they are holding the letter K upside down and calling it an S? The reality is that I probably don't. The answer she gave me is what I have been doing. However, when you have chosen to follow a specific method of education that has reasons for everything you do and in which everything is interrelated and intentional, the answers to these questions are more than just a practical one. Also, the correction or self-correction of errors and the autonomy of the child are somewhat central to the theory not just a peripheral question.

Some of the best parts of the videos in this series is the time at the end where Homfray answers the questions of students in the class. For example, what to do when they are using the sandpaper letters by themselves and have it turned upside down. And best of all, "What happens if I ask for B and he gives me a K?" (at about 1:15:00 in the video).

I don't want you to think you can never correct...because nobody can learn any new subject without making many mistakes...and it would be quite wrong to get the child to think that he learned things correctly the first time without'd give him a very false impression and he'd be in for some bitter disappointments in life. ..and so if he makes a mistake we correct him if the correction is going to help...there are some early pieces of material, if he is learning to judge size or color, our correction wouldn't help him because nobody can teach you to judge size. So, as far as possible those materials are made self-corrective...but these other things we correct to a certain extent but our corrections must always be politely see it's the way we correct that matters. And learning is never for haste or for speed.... [but]...A child who has a teacher that doesn't correct when necessary is a very frustrated child....He relies on you to put him right and he knows he can't learn if you don' you have to know when it's helpful to correct...but don't be afraid of correcting a child provided you do it in a positive fashion...

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  1. Ahh brilliant post!! This is something that I have found confusing as well. Being a musician and flute teacher I'm always concerned with motor memory. If a child is left to repeat the same thing over and over the wrong way the body will memorize that movement. It's the same with the letter sounds. It's much harder to correct something that has been repeated wrong over and over than after the first time.

    When I started introducing the sandpaper letters to L I always included the previous ones in with our new ones and this worked well for us.
    I was also surprised with how much interaction, correction and talking the directresses did at the Montessori school I observed. It was really helpful to see how they do things.
    It's hard for us Montessori moms who are going at it with no formal training. There are so many confusing, conflicting theories.
    Thanks for taking the time to do these posts so we can all learn from each other.

  2. A very nice summary. I knew you would like the videos! I am looking forward to hearing (reading) your thoughts on more of them.

  3. Thanks, this is very helpful!!

  4. Thanks for this enlightening post. I haven't had the chance to watch all the videos so I appreciate the summaries!