I am fairly certain that new technologies are anathema to many purist Montessori types. I am also pretty sure that Maria herself would probably have been less dogmatic about the whole thing. I have been using what I believe to be a great new tool and I wanted to share how I have incorporated this technology into my presentation sequence.
I do not believe that this app replaces the tools I already have. I do believe that it is an engaging way for a child to practice and reinforce what they have already learned. I think that is fits nicely into a modern Montessori classroom because it fits the following criteria.
1) It is self correcting i.e. the child must get the letters correct or the program will not allow them to go on, although after three incorrect attempts at a letter, the app will help.
2) As closely as is possible in a virtual format, the app follows Montessori principles, such as the three period lesson, clean and attractive aesthetic presentation, no external rewards; just the satisfaction of getting the correct answer.
3) The designer has taken care to match traditional Montessori colours and fonts and so the look of the app is immediately familiar to a child who has already worked with the concrete manipulatives.
The child I have been working with on this most recent presentation is four years old. She knows her letters, and has been working with sound pouches, a moveable alphabet, and has started practicing printing words that she has spelled with the moveable alphabet (we use felt letters). This week’s words were chosen by picking one word that seemed ” Hallowe’eny” and then brainstorming with friends to think of all the words that rhymed and seemed thematically linked. We then cut out felt shapes to represent each word, and she spelled them with her moveable alphabet, sounding out the individual letters as she went.
From this practice, we moved on to the app on the iPad. I like using this device because the screen is big enough that the letters are big. I also believe that the direct cause and effect feel of a touch screen is much more developmentally appropriate for a preschool age child than a mouse. Also, in keeping with the idea that children should work in whatever position is physically comfortable for them, the children can work with an iPad at a table, in a chair, or lying on the floor.
The company, Montessorium, has a number of apps which all look good. The one we are using in this sequence is the alphawriter which you can check out here:
It has four parts. In the first, called simply “phonetics”, the child is presented with a screen which has a picture of an object, a moveable alphabet across the top, and grey rectangles below the picture; one for each letter in the word. The app clearly says the name of the object once, then repeats it slowly by sounding out each constituent letter. If the child touches the image, the name is repeated. If the child moves a letter, the app makes the sound of the letter. If the grey rectangles are touched, the app makes the sound of the letter that belongs in that spot. When the child moves all the correct letters into position, they are presented with a new object.
I worked with the child, as you would with any new manipulative, showing what all the buttons did, demonstrating, and then watching as she tried it. She loves using it and was doing so proficiently by the second word. Two advantages it has over the real moveable alphabet is that the letters make their correct sound when tapped if the child is uncertain about the sound, and also, it won’t allow her to spell the word incorrectly. Because she had already used both the real letters and the virtual platform successfully with an adult, the child was comfortable practicing spelling alone, and was happily engaged while I worked with a younger child on a different activity.
The app also has a kind of word sound “I spy” game, which has proved popular, a phonogram section which some of the older children are working with, and a creative storyboard section that allows the children to make a picture with the objects that they have been naming, and add words to it with a moveable alphabet. Of course, the story that the child probably has in their head is much more complicated than anything they will conceivably write at this stage, and so I think that after the child has finished and saved their story, it is good to have them dictate the longer narrative to the teacher and have that saved along with their work.
For example, she chose not to add letters to this storyboard but had an elaborate story to go with the picture, and very much wanted to have her story with her picture so that she could keep it somewhere.
“There was a nut tree by an ant drinking late night tea, and under the ant was the moon, waiting for sunlight to come so it could go home. Meanwhile, under the moon and the ant were lots of animals drinking late night tea, just like the ant, and they loved and loved to live there, but they did not like to live under the moon and the ant. They wanted to live on top of the moon and the ant. Meanwhile, fish lived under all the animals, except a goat who lived with the fish. One night the fish could not reach his tea. All the animals could not survive without food and water, so they dug a hole up to the top of the ground and then jumped above the moon and the ant and lived happily ever after. The end.”
Thank you, Montessorium, for a great app!