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Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Making Friends with Non-phonetic Words

Even if the following exercises seem somewhat pedantic, their aim is to demonstrate how a competitive traditional group exercise can become a cooperative one. Refusing to fall back on competitive models can change he entire demeanor of a classroom.

Although we Montessorians focus on the phonetics of English, there is a subtle disclaimer thumbing its nose at the children as they pass by their cubbies: their own names. I have already written a little about the phonetic materials, sandpaper letters {“How Terry and Tracy learn to write in a Montessori classroom,” April 10, 2010) and the moveable alphabet (“The Moveable Alphabet,” July 30, 2010). These are the main parts of Montessori's language program, linked to each other and both phonetic. Of course, there is that non-phonetic aspect to English and for this most Montessori classrooms have a great variety of three-part matching cards, made up of one card having a picture with a label, a second having just the picture, and the third having only the label. Lessons are given using these cards, then children may take them out to match them by themselves. Many of these cards are connected to nomenclature relating to materials the children work with in the classroom. And there are yet more ways we can introduce the children to non-phonetic words. When we are sitting as a group, we can play games of word recognition.

Phase one: On a day in September I am sitting with the children in a circle on our rug area, not expressly for the purpose of lessons but because we are waiting. Three children are assembling the room for lunch, and the rest remaining in the circle are taking turns to wash their hands. Sometimes we play games or sing. But today is a time for a practical game of word recognition, in this case their own names. I hold up a name card. I read, “Joseph Katz.” Joseph stands up.
I say, “Joseph, please come here and look at this name card. I want you to be sure this is your name.”
Joseph walks to me and looking directly at the name card, he says, “Yes that's my name.”
I ask, “Can you read it for us, please?” as I hand it to him.
He looks down at it and reads, “Joseph Katz,” hands it back and walks to the hand washing stand.

This reading exercise, like the Montessori hand washing exercise, is a practical one. It enables every child to find his own cubby because each name card is as it appears on the cubby. Each is written on a strip of lined writing paper which any child can copy during class time to practice name writing, his own or even a friend's. I am using the names from this exercise, holding them up one at a time to call each child to wash. In the beginning of the year, I read each name aloud as I show it, then the child named rises to wash his hands. Since two-thirds of the class has been exposed to this game the previous year, before very long we are advancing to the next phase of my showing each name in silence. This can happen when I am certain that at least half the class recognizes their own names. Then I show the names without reading them myself but ask each child who stands to read his own name.

Phase two: It is early November now and we are again sitting in a circle, preparing to wash our hands. I show a name card, Anda Somer, that no one responds to. I say, “If you can read this name, very quietly raise your hand. We do need someone who can read this name. But please don't speak it out loud. We need someone quiet to help its owner read it.”
Several children volunteer by raising their hands. I choose Rollie. “Rollie, can you please take this name card and walk around the outside of the circle and hand this to its owner? Then whisper her name in her ear.” Rollie does and returns to his place.
I look at the whisper's recipient and ask, “Did he say your name?” The recipient nods. “And what did he say?”
“Anda Somer.”
“Was he right? Does this look like your name?”
“Now can you tell me what this says?”
“Anda Somer.”
“Anda, you may go to wash your hands.” She hands me the card as she leaves.”
This exercise works because the name cards are the same as those they see every day on their cubbies.

Fast forward to January and here we are sitting in that hand washing circle waiting again for lunch. Yesterday we sang and played musical games but today we are playing a different kind of word recognition game, this time with high frequency non-phonetic Dolch words.

I begin by holding up a Dolch word and saying, “This word is 'the,' a very useful word. Who would like to hold 'the'?” A hand goes up. “Sandy, can you hold 'the' for us and remember that it says 'the'?”
I continue the same way passing out “to,” “you,” “of,” and “was," our first five Dolch words.

“Now Sandy, look at your word, and if you can remember what it says, very quietly hold it up.“ Sandy is holding up his Dolch word. I say to the group, “If you know what it says, raise your hand, and Sandy will pick someone to say his word.”

Sandy picks Rafael who says, “The.”

I say, “Sandy, Is he right? If he's right, please hand Rafael the “the.” Sandy nods and hands him the card. I say, “Good, Rafael!. And Sandy, you can go to wash your hands.” And we proceed in a similar fashion with the next word “to,” and continue through the remaining three words, giving everyone possible a turn.

In my class we have thirty-three Dolch words that are available on the language shelf as an exercise or for reference. As a group we gradually work through them until we are saturated.
The other Dolch words are:

he, she, they, be, we
said, for, all, there, some
have, little, do, could, one
when, what, where, were, would
my, are, come, very, over
want, two, by

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