During a few of the conferences on which I sat in on, spelling
came up as a topic of interest. There is a Montessori spelling component in our training and albums; however, I have found that every school teaches spelling a bit differently. And, as with most things, these differences vary along a spectrum of structured spelling workbooks by grade level to leaving spelling abilities to develop naturally without instructions. I believe a balance approach is necessary and based on some basic research with Joe Keegan, a colleague in Ohio, we are implementing spelling in the following manner. I will first discuss the basis for what we do and then describe the process.
In both the private and public school settings, Joe and I implemented required spelling workbooks. In some instances we were able to designate levels based on student ability rather than grade level. In most instances, we discovered that the good spellers got better and the poor spellers remained stagnant. We also found that students did not retain the correct spelling in their every day use and writing. Test scores in spelling also showed these discrepancies.
In a few settings we also experienced situations where spelling was not taught and students were expected to naturally emerge from phonetic spelling into correct spelling with little to no intervention. We saw the same results: good spellers got better and poor spellers retained their phonetic spelling skills.
Working together in Ohio, Joe and I implemented spellinginstruction using the language material that is now in classrooms here at LMS and by connecting spelling to student writing and work. We found that this approach allowed us to individualize instruction and provide meaning to the task. We saw that students retained the correct spellings in their everyday work and writing as well as saw an increase across all levels on standardized tests.
As the teachers grasp curriculum pieces of a Montessori class and the implementation of this curriculum, they will begin to use these methods for teaching spelling.
As students work with the movable alphabet and begin sounding out their words, Mary and Stella pay close attention to their phonetic spelling. For instance, if the word is “duck” and a student lays out “/d/ /u/ /k/”, they will take one of two routes (or both).
Correction: One route is to gently correct the spelling:“Duk.
Yes, that says duck, but the ending sound is actually spelled “ck”. Often this kind of correction will correspond to the child’s introduction or work with the phonogram in question, /ck/. If there is a control with the word printed out, Mary or Stella may ask the child to check their work and make appropriate
Re-teach: The other route is to leave the letters out and to
allow the child to copy this onto paper, if that is the follow up assignment. Then, at another time, Mary or Stella will re-introduce the phonogram in question, /ck/ in this instance. As the child continues working with the moveable alphabet, they will observe whether this re-teaching worked or not.
Many students are continuing to work with the moveable alphabet in lower elementary and may experience techniques above. In addition to these, the teachers have phonogram work that covers many of the spelling rules and is color coded. For instance, the following phonograms make the long /a/ sound: ai, ay, a_e, eigh. Through exposure and work with these words and phonograms, students absorb spelling words without the need for direct instruction from a workbook or teacher.
In addition and later down the road, students will use the
reading lists / spelling lists (a total of 59) that highlight the phonograms. For the long /a/ sound, there are four lists, one for each phonogram: ai, ay, a_e, eigh. As students move through this work, the teachers will observe their writing. When seeing incorrect spelling for words which a student has had exposure and experience with, the teachers will either correct or re-teach.
In addition to the Montessori curriculum and materials, the
teachers use a few traditional tools as well. Students can create their own dictionary for reference. Often students want to know how to spell a word. With the use of an individual dictionary, Quickword, students can turn to this simple dictionary for spelling and add words that they often use to it;
thereby, personalizing it.
As students use the Quickword and work through the Montessori materials, they become aware of spelling rules and exceptions in a structured way.
Not all students will have spelling rules down upon entering Upper Elementary; although that is a goal we have for those entering Lower Elementary this year. Quickwords can still apply to these students; although they often become self-conscious about pulling it out and using it.
Through the use of the NEOs, simple word processing laptops, the students can see when they have spelled a word incorrectly and make necessary changes. With written work, an effective tool has been post-it notes. By correctly writing down the misspelled words on a post-it note, the student has
the necessary information at hand. Based on different levels of spelling ability, the words can be written on small post-its next to the misspelled word; or written on a larger post-it in order of appearance on the paper; or randomly. As students increase in their awareness and ability, they can make the necessary changes accordingly. I have used this simple technique for years and seen all students improve their spelling on standardized tests and more importantly continue to use the correct spelling in later work.
What I have witnessed over the last nine weeks with all teachers is an understanding of how to take the Montessori lessons, sequence and materials and adapt them to fit each child’s need. This is something usually observed in teachers who have been working within Montessori after 2-3 years at
least. If you find that Mary, Nicole, Ashley or Jennifer are adapting these techniques, rest assured that I am aware of it and that they have most likely hit on a perfect adaption. Or perhaps, one of the assistants, Stella, Marty or Peggy, has hit on it. They are a remarkably talented group who collaborate and cross-pollinate every day!
Lastly, no method is ever 100% effective all of the time with all of the student body. That being said, the structured and meaningful approach found within our school will help all the students improve their spelling skills. It may not seem like work or drudgery (hopefully not); and therefore, at times it will seem that they are not being taught spelling. Rest assured that they are and feel free to discuss this with your child’s teacher or observe!