In deciding where to begin my discussion of language, I had a difficult time on where to start. Writing technically comes before reading in the Montessori curriculum, but there are many sound games and other pre reading activities that come before writing. In addition to that co-mingling of areas, the spelling approach we use intertwines with both and starts even before a child can do either!
Spelling wins, which means I'm actually starting with a non Montessori curriculum for my in depth look at our blended curriculum. For spelling, we use Words Their Way, a developmental spelling program that covers early childhood through adult spelling for less than $100... for as many students as you can think to use it with. No supplemental materials needed. Ever.
The most expensive book is the main manual and it outlines the method and approach. It has instructions on how to assess the level a speller belongs in and how to present the materials. There is a lot of great information... far more than I can share here. That being said, I didn't buy this book because Tim took a 2 day training course in using this spelling method and said I didn't need it. I honestly haven't missed it, but I might feel differently if I didn't have his brain to pick!
The first level, Emergent, is for pre readers and writers. Caleb is in this book. This book focuses on pre reading skills like rhyming words, word families, beginning sounds, sequencing, and word directionality. It is different from the other books because it includes not just sound sorts, but poems and nursery rhymes, and connections to literature.
A sound sort is exactly what it sounds like! The curriculum provides a set of pictures and then the speller sorts them by the sound that they begin with (or end with in the case of rhyming word sorts). Sorts grow in difficulty throughout the levels- progressing from pictures and sounds to words and spelling rules, but the principles remain the same. I like this approach because I don't have to buy (and store) 8 million phonetic objects for the sorts and boxes in the Montessori method, but my kids still have the advantage of working with a manipulative material to learn their sounds and spelling rules.
After Emergent, comes Letter Name Alphabetic. This is Aidan's book right now. This book reviews consonant sounds, introduces short vowel sounds (at the beginning and in the middle of words), blends and digraphs, contractions, and -r driven vowels. The beginning of this book is done with picture sorts and the end transitions to word sorts while introducing the concept of an "oddball" word. These words look the same, but sound different!
Letter Name Alphabetic also introduces the idea of a unit assessment. This is not a weekly spelling test, but rather a brief assessment after a number of sorts on a related topic. Some units have only 2-3 sorts and others have more. I think there were about 20 sorts in the unit on blends and digraphs!
From there the program moves onto Within Word Patterns (primarily long vowel rules), Syllables & Affixes, and Derivational Relationships. Students naturally progress at their own pace with the materials being appropriate for a wide range of ages. Tim (in his 4th-6th grade classroom) has students in 3 or 4 books at the same time, with the majority being at Within Words and Syllables and Affixes. According to the research, many adult spellers are still in the Syllables and Affixes level!
One thing I have done with the Emergent sorts is to create pink construction paper envelopes (to go with pink series materials- more on that in reading) to store our letter sound sorts in. Instead of printing out a new page for each level, I have a pink envelope with 2 sounds on the front and all of the cards for those 2 sounds are inside the envelope (printed on card stock and colored instead of b&w on regular paper). They are displayed in a small vertical file holder so they can be used freely. Caleb does use these during choice work time on occasion, usually in conjunction with the sandpaper letters. He will bring out the two letters he is working with and sort the pictures onto the letters. I started out with only 2 envelopes at the beginning of the year and now all of the letters are represented.
We have also had fun creating little art projects with the nursery rhyme pictures. Nothing like a little cutting and glue action to make spelling even more fun!
This curriculum has been an absolute gem of a find. I can easily see that the boys are progressing in their understanding of spelling and sounds without regular testing and pencil/paper work. They adapted very naturally to the use of picture/word cards from their experience with the Montessori materials. There isn't much record keeping due to the nature of the program, although if you have state requirements, the unit assessments could certainly become a part of a portfolio of work. In regards to planning, Aidan is working with a new sort each week... repeating a sort more than once before moving on. Caleb has one lesson per week introducing either a new sound sort or another concept. I anticipate both boys will finish the book they are in before the end of the school year and will move up to the next book in the fall. This is ahead of the recommended pace, but because of the Montessori approach it makes more sense to start the Emergent level in preschool than to wait until Kindergarten as recommended.
One thing I didn't talk about is SpellQuizzer. I will talk about our use of that product when I talk about reading, although you can read what I had to say about it here. I like to make things intertwine a little too much to consider SpellQuizzer a part of our spelling curriculum! That would just make too much sense, wouldn't it?
If you have any questions about Words Their Way or our approach to spelling, be sure to leave a note and let me know!