Lately, I’ve been interested in how Montessori schools teach reading and writing. One promising approach is outlined in a NAMTA (North American Montessori Teachers’ Association) Journal article by Muriel I. Dwyer called “A Path for the Exploration of Any Language Leading to Writing and Reading”. The article can be purchased from NAMTA for $7.00 plus shipping here. Also, a good summary of this approach can be found for free at the Kingdom of the Pink Princesses blog here.
At the core of the Dwyer approach is phonemic awareness, which is the ability to hear, identify and manipulate the smallest units of sound. In her article, Dwyer provides 40 key sounds for English and suggests exposing children first to just one graphical representation for each sound. For example, her approach would start children off using the letter ‘a’ to represent the sound of short a and the letter team ‘ai’ to represent the sound of long a. This allows children to form any word, even before they can read. For example, a child could form the word ‘play’ with ‘plai’. They can also participate in word formation even without any knowledge of handwriting by using sandpaper letters or some other type of movable alphabet.
Thus, the approach does a lot to encourage the encoding of words, even among pre-readers. By focusing on phonemes first, it reduces the set of information to memorize to just the phonemes and a single graphical representation for each. At later stages of the Dwyer approach, children learn alternate graphic symbols for each sound and begin to receive spelling corrections for their written work.
Although Dwyer spoke of 40 phonemes in her article, the approach should also work with a slightly larger set of the key sounds of English. I propose working with 44 phonemes consisting of 18 consonant phonemes, 5 consonant digraph phonemes, 16 vowel phonemes and 5 r-controlled phonemes. Plus, 4 blends. In the charts below, I’ve listed out these phonemes and blends. To align with the Dwyer approach, the charts include a primary graphic symbol that could be used for each phoneme or blend. Plus, the charts include the alternate graphic symbol or symbols that would eventually need to be covered.