Wednesday, January 2, 2008
Code Breaking and the Moveable Alphabet
After several weeks of just amazing work with the moveable alphabet by two of my older five years olds, I introduced puzzle (also called "sight") words to the classroom today. I had spent several days over the holiday piecing the material together ( I don't have a set of those lovely purchased cards) which required finding a nice box, as well as little purses in an assortment of colors, and laminating the individual words.
I was pleased when it all came together and sat on the shelf. I was intent on getting the puzzle words to my older children as so many of them had taken off with their story writing. One of my students wrote rows and rows of words that at first left me puzzled. But, after some quiet effort on my part, I was able to "read" everything he wrote. What it really required was a lot of code breaking. As I looked at the string of words and all of the letters that he had laid out, I began searching for consistent letter usage in smaller words that I was having the most trouble translating. Here is an example of one sentence: zn ve vr frnz. First I replaced the v in my mind with w. So now I could read zn we wr frnz which instantly I knew to be zn we were frnz. The z in zn I now knew was his writing for the th sound. He had used the same z letter sound for nds which I believe he heard as a plural th sound. He had written "Then they were friends." I read it out loud to him and he smiled and acknowledged my correct reading.
After several more rows of words, this same child wrote a final sentence: "I got it." A wonderful declaration of his feeling of success. Only one thing, he had used all of the i so he used l instead. When composing another sentence, he ran out of a and used lower case q instead. That took a few minutes to figure out. Again, it required code breaking techniques - the yqk sqt on q hqt = the yak sat on a hat. The consistent use of a substitute letter for a repeated singular vowel allowed me to see that he wanted to continue his story and made what he saw as a suitable choice for a replacement letter to continue. To me this was simply a classic case of a child instantly adapting. No lower case a, so I'll use lower case q instead. No big deal.
Adding to this story and the wonderment I found in viewing this child's work was that when I first looked at the simple sentence: zn ve vr frnz, I was spellbound by the thought that perhaps his German lessons, which are given in the afternoon by another Montessori teacher who has a strong German accent herself, had influenced his selection of letters to phonetically spell. I asked her to stop by and look at the child's work which I allowed him to leave out so that he could continue his story the next day. When she arrived in my classroom and saw his writing, she let out a laugh and asked, "Do I sound like that?" She does.
Returning to the child's writing with the moveable alphabet, he also wrote wnz for once. This is being remedied by a recent presentation of the puzzle words. When he saw that it was actually spelled once, he thought that that spelling was much more odd than his own wnz.
The challenge I see for the adults in the environment regarding the use of the moveable alphabet is, at least for this post, two-fold. First, taking the time to "decode" a child's writing. I was actually very impressed by the child's story after I figured out his use of consonants and vowels and even found the story quite funny. Next, listening closely to our own accents so as to understand why a child might be hearing a word a certain way. In this case, I returned to the phonograms for the th sound, as well as several others, and to the puzzle words. I am waiting to read his next story and to see if he has made any changes.
Ultimately, this singular material, the moveable alphabet gives us adults the amazing gift of visually witnessing the evolution of a child's acquisition of language. It is the earliest tool for self editing. How wonderful the concept of a moveable alphabet is in regards to simply that. That is that you don't have to stick with the first draft, the second or even the eighth. The child can move the letters around until they serve what she/he wants to express. How liberating!