Early childhood education is the key to the betterment of society. -Maria Montessori
Teaching children to read is tough! Let's face it, it's one of the toughest responsibilities facing our PreK-2nd grade educators and parents in terms of content. We know from continuous research that a child's ability to decode and read fluently is a strong indicator of future academic success. So what's the problem? Why are so many of our children matriculating through grade level after grade level without the ability to quickly recognize words and read fluently? The simple answer is: children are not receiving systematic, explicit phonics instruction in PreK-2nd grade. This results in children entering grades that demand reading complex text to learn new information, but are stuck in still learning to read.
Maria Montessori began the work of phonics instruction through her development of sandpaper letters. When the Montessori philosophy came to the states, the pink, blue, and green series were created in order to meet the demands of our complex English language. The creation of the pink, blue, and green series was based on knowing that students, especially students with learning disabilities, needed to receive systematic phonics instruction. Not only was phonics instruction designed to be taught in a specific order, there was still the foundation of knowing that students needed to experience instruction from concrete to abstract, resulting in the sequence of instruction being: object/word, picture/word, and word/word. Let's take a deeper look.
The Pink Series:
Pink series introduces students to CVC words with short vowel sounds. Examples include: cat, pen, pit, mop, pup. Students first begin decoding words with the CVC pattern beginning with short /a/. As students move through the pink series phonics boxes from concrete to abstract, they should also be practicing decoding words in context in a decodable reader. I know many Montessorians who love using Bob books for this because they follow the sequence of phonics instruction in the pink series. Students will move through all vowels, in order, each time decoding the words in and out of context (/a/, /e/, /i/, /o/, /u/).
The Blue Series:
After students have mastered the pink series (CVC words) in and out of context, they move to the blue series where they begin decoding consonant blends. Blends can come at the beginning or end or the word, or sometimes both, and all words still contain short vowel sounds. Examples include: block, clip, frog, spin. Again, students move from concrete to abstract and should be decoding words they are learning in context as well.
The Green Series:
After students master the blue series, they move to the green series (phonograms). Examples include words with ai, ar, au, ch, ee, er, i.e., oa, oo, or, ou, oy, qu, sh, th, and ue. Once students are in the green series, you should see fluency building, as well as automaticity in decoding words. This is where the reading explosion occurs (I love seeing this in action!). Again, students work from concrete to abstract and are decoding words in and out of context.
While students are working in the phonics boxes, they should still be learning high frequency words (words that appear in every day language). Examples include: the, are, in, am. Teaching both phonics and high frequency words simultaneously provides opportunities for students to read decodable readers and build fluency.
To end, I would like to touch on the word explicit. In Montessori words, this means the key experience lesson. Students should not simply be assigned a phonics box, as we know that students don't magically learn to read. Students should receive instruction in the phonics box first, through the three period lesson, and then it can be added to their workplan. As a student moves through the boxes, they should continue receiving lessons. Lessons should also include, segmenting, blending, substituting, and isolating sounds to help build word recognition and analysis.
So let's build some rockstar readers! If you don't have the pink, blue, and green series, don't worry! There are tons of free resources. All you need is a color printer, laminator, and some scissors!
Montessori for Everyone
Stephanie Stephens and Holly Fitzharris are both Montessori educators- collectively with over 30 years of experience in education.