On Monday, I discussed the how Montessori teachers introduce reading skills to their students. They begin by introducing the sounds letters make and then combining the sounds to make words with recognizable meaning. Montessori students make their way through the Pink series–two and three letter phonetic words–and then through the Blue series–four letter words that include blends. Today we’ll get to a whole new color: Green. The Green series is where reading begins to get tricky. It’s also where memorization, rules and word groups become more important than phonetic reading.
Okay, let’s back up because I want to make sure we’re all on the same page about what a phonogram is. For teaching purposes, phonograms are the letter combinations that change the way we pronounce vowels. These include digraphs (sh, ch, th) the long vowel sounds (i-e, a-e, o-e), r-controlled vowels (or, ar, er) and vowel combinations (oa, ea, and ow). For example, adding an “e” at the end of a word often means changing a short vowel sound to a long one. You’ll often hear us telling students that the “e” makes the vowel “say its name.” That’s the difference between hid and hide. Here’s a short list of sample phonograms in the Green series:
- a-e (e.g., late, cape, date)
- oo (e.g., hoop, roof, tool)
- oa (e.g., boat, soap, coat)
- i-e (e.g., bike, mile, fine)
When students begin work on the Green series, the teacher isolates the phonogram. The rules for a-e and oo are not introduced at the same time. Rather, the Montessori student will focus on one phonogram using a variety of material (Green card, Green Box, a book that uses lots of oo words). Gradually, in the same way that the students acquired the sounds, they begin to acquire the phonograms. And they can read more and more.
Of course, the English language doesn’t make things that easy. There are more exceptions to rules than you can shake a stick at. Ow can make an “o” sound as in “slow,” but it also makes an “ow” as in “cow.” Though and through have entirely different sound endings. The blending of many different languages makes things even more confusing. Despite this, I’ve seen the Montessori system work time and again because it gives students an amazing foundation from which to take off on his or her reading. When everything clicks, it happens at lightning speed, and it’s a joy to see.
Sometimes, Montessori students move to other schools and their parents are told that their children don’t know how to read. If the child’s parent spent any time in the Montessori classroom, he or she will know this isn’t true. The child could likely read sixteen page books–phonetically. Should those sixteen pages be discounted because they’re phonetic? Is it fair to say that a child can’t read because one school’s system of teaching reading is different from another? I don’t think you’ll be surprised to find that my answer to that question is no.