While her memory is amazing and amusing, it posed some real issues concerning Bea's reading. What happens is that she relies on her remembering how the words were formed and said (by someone else before) instead of blending the sounds of each individual letter in a phonetic word and discovering for herself what the words say and convey. The tendency is for her to get confused. So, because she has encountered the word "nap" before, she knows how to read n-a-p as nap, but when you give her p-a-n, she'll still say it's nap.
Reading is a skill, and just as any other skill, learning how to read requires a set of sub-skills first. These reading sub-skills were discussed in detail in a book by Carmen Mcguiness and Geoffrey Mcguiness called Reading Reflex: The Foolproof Phono- Graphix Method for Teaching Your Child to Read, and I want to focus on two here.
One is that we have to know the codes, which are actually the letters. Children first experience sounds, the spoken language through the people around them. Sitting them down and showing them the codes/letters which represent these sounds is an obvious prerequisite. In a Montessori classroom, there is more emphasis on letter sounds (like a in apple, buh as in bat, guh as in gum-- so we don't use ice cream for the letter i) than on letter names (like how we sing the normal alphabet song with the letter a pronounced as 'ey'/long a--and then bee, cee, dee, ee, ef, gee, eych--that's for the letter h--I'm just amusing myself here). In class, we don't usually sing the usual alphabet song (the one that ends with "Now I know my a, b, c..."); we sing SSRW's ABC Song (which focuses on the sounds and goes "A, a, apple. Buh, buh, ball. Cuh, cuh, cat, etc.). Below are the letters and the words that begins with their sounds (these are the ones in the song):
a - apple; b - ball; c - cat; d - doll; e - egg;
f - fan; g - goat; h - hand; i - inchworm; j - jam;
k - kite; l - lamb; m - monkey; n - noodles; o - octopus;
p - poodles; q - quilt; r - rail; s - sun; t - tail;
u - umbrella; v - vase; w - wagon; x - box (ks); y - yarn; z - zoo.
Here's Nigo, 2.5, with the Sandpaper Letter b and the Alphabet Bucket. Inside
the bucket are little replicas of objects that begin with the letter sound b (buh).
The children listen for the buh sound in the beginning of every word. It also helps the
children see that the code/letter b represents a sound, the sound they hear when they
hear ball or boat or butterfly. It helps them connect the symbol and the sound--so the
symbols and the sounds are not taught in isolation. This activity also builds vocabulary.
the sound for the letter a. The children can work in pairs and they can
play a little guessing game. One will hide an object in the bucket, the other
will guess what the hidden object is.
Any good Montessori material must have a Control of Error. In this case,
auditory discrimination/harmony serves as Control of Error. The teacher
on the sandbox. The Sandpaper Letters are made with sandpaper (thus the name)
and they are made that way so the the children can feel the code/letter and establish
a certain muscle memory. Obviously, this is also preparation for writing.
Bea, because she has excellent memory, knew all the letter sounds and their symbols. That's also why dyslexia was thankfully ruled out.
So we go to another sub-skill; and I found, after working more with Bea, that this was where her challenge lied. Another sub-skill is looking at the codes from left to right (at least as far as reading in English is concerned). Training the eyes and the mind to go from left to right is so critical that in fact, beginning Montessori Language presentations involve patterning and sequencing all of which are done from left to right. Practical Life activities such as pouring, spoon or tong transfers are also done from left to right. Most Montessori presentations are precise and purposeful (how they hold the Knobbed Cylinders, with the pincher/three-finger grip, is actually indirect preparation for writing).
This was the reading sub-skill that Bea was not able to master. She got used to and caught up with how they were taught how to read in her old school: They had the children remember ending sound combinations like -ag, -an, -at; and just add and change up beginning sounds to form different words like b + ag = bag; r + ag = rag, and so on.
I printed a mat like this, laminated it, and used it with the Movable Alphabets.
Blue letters, which are consonants, go inside the blue boxes; red letters, which
are the vowels, go inside the red box--that's Control of Error. Bea can take any
blue and red letter from the box, and place them over the mats, she will then
blend from left to right (1, 2, and then 3--so they're numbered). Of course, she'll
end up making non-sense words like yiy, wiy, zic, etc. It's fun and funny and I like
it because then I'm certain that she is not just memorizing how the letters were
put together and how they were read. By putting random c-v-c letters together,
Bea would encounter "words" she couldn't have heard before.
the materials I make are grand like The Bead Stairs with Clay or
Ordinal Numbers in the Barn. Some are as simple as this mat. But
regardless of the scale, when you make a material to address a child's
learning need, you will see that if it works, the benefit is profound.
That's why the role of a teacher as an observer is important. As Maria
Montessori said, "The teacher must derive not only the capacity, but the desire,
to observe natural phenomena. The teacher must understand and feel
her position of observer: the activity must lie in the phenomenon."
moving from left to right, and blending. Since her memory is good,
sight words (such as the, with, have, etc. and some verbs, adjectives,
and adverbs) were easy for her to remember. Now that the school is over
(for this part of the world), Bea is now reading phonics story books that have
c-v-c, c-v-c-c, s/l/r-blends, and sight words. This is why I never hesitate
to make a material, no matter how small or big, even if it's just for one child.