Julia Volkman. 4/10/2018. “Using Scaffolds to Measure Optimal Performance in Preschool Literacy.” In International Objective Measurements Workshop (IOMW) at the annual American Educational Research Association (AERA) conference. New York, NY.Abstract

In typical spelling assessments, 3- to 4-year-olds get lower scores than 5-year-olds. Are these lower scores a result of typical development or aspects of development unrelated to spelling (i.e., lack of motor ability to write letters and working memory limitations)? This study compared two preschool spelling assessments: (1) a typical handwritten assessment that included a working memory scaffold, and (2) a movable alphabet assessment that included both a motor and working memory scaffold. Results indicate that:

  • Preschoolers scored higher on the movable alphabet spelling assessment
  • Movable alphabet scores were a significantly stronger predictor of developing literacy than handwriting scores
  • Children were more willing to attempt to spell words with the alphabet assessment
  • Assessment scores were not closely tied to age or measures of behavior
Julia Volkman. 11/16/2017. “Montessori Spoken Language Lessons.” Melrose Montessori School Webinar Recording (Video). Article URLAbstract
This webinar presents key spoken language lessons that can be offered by anyone in the school. Ideal for Montessori primary classrooms and school administrators/support staff. Recorded at Melrose Montessori School.
Julia Volkman. 11/2017. “Scaffolds and Spelling in Preschool: Using a Movable Alphabet to Measure Early Literacy.” Harvard University Extension School.Abstract

Understanding young children’s spelling abilities may provide unique insight into

their overall linguistic development as well as assist in identifying children at risk for

reading difficulties in ways that typical reading assessments cannot (Chua, Rickard Liow,

& Yeong, 2016; Clemens, Oslund, Simmons, & Simmons, 2014; Hofslundsengen,

Hagtvet, & Gustafsson, 2016; McBride-Chang, 1998; Ouellette & Sénéchal, 2017). Yet,

spelling assessments are not commonly conducted before Kindergarten (age 5) and no

normed instrument exists for 3- to 4-year-olds.

When spelling assessments designed for 5-year-olds are administered to younger

children, young children get lower scores (Clemens et al., 2014; Puranik & Apel, 2010).

These lower scores may reflect their less developed spelling ability (typical development)

but they may also be influenced by aspects of development unrelated to spelling: lack of

motor ability to write letters, working memory limitations, poor word choice of items to

be spelled, and/or insensitive scoring systems (Apel, Wolter, & Masterson, 2006;

Clemens et al., 2014; Diamond, 2013; Puranik & Apel, 2010). These latter possibilities

raise the question of what would happen if we controlled these factors. Would a

preschool spelling assessment that did not require handwriting and that minimized

working memory demands result in higher spelling scores than a handwritten

assessment? Specifically, is a movable alphabet spelling assessment a more reliable,

valid, and sensitive way of measuring spelling abilities in children younger than 5 than is

a handwritten assessment?

The present study employed a within-subjects quasi-experimental design in which

the spelling of 3- to 4-year-old children was assessed using a movable alphabet and

handwriting. Results indicated that (1) preschoolers scored higher on a movable alphabet

spelling assessment than on a handwritten assessment, (2) word choice did influence

results, (3) movable alphabet spelling scores were a significantly stronger predictor of

phonemic awareness and letter knowledge scores than handwritten spelling scores, (4)

children were more willing to attempt to spell words with the movable alphabet than with

handwriting, and (5) assessment scores were not closely tied to age or measures of


To date, few if any other studies have specifically evaluated the influence of

different tools on capturing the spelling abilities of preschoolers. This study expands

current knowledge about the influence of motor and working memory scaffolds on the

word-building capacities of 3- to 4-year-olds.

Julia Volkman. 10/10/2017. “A Guide to Normalization.” Maitri Learning Pedagogy Blog. Article URLAbstract
We all want our children to normalize and blossom and yet many of us run into similar stumbling blocks. We know that before the children will thrive in our prepared environment, they have to feel safe, welcome, and socially connected to us. So, we begin by forming a friendly relationship with each child. But, once we have established this, there are several common areas that often give us trouble:
  • The Physical Environment
  • The Daily Routine
  • The Procedure for Giving Lessons
  • Our Precision in Giving Lessons
  • The Sequence of Lessons (with an emphasis on Preliminary Exercises & Grace and Courtesy)
Juila Volkman. 3/8/2017. “Intervening with Tough Behavior.” Maitri Learning Pedagogy Blog. Article URL
Julia Volkman. 1/2/2017. “Which font? Print, Italic, or Cursive?” Maitri Learning Pedagogy Blog. Article URL
Julia Volkman. 12/2016. “Accommodations in Primary (Preschool).” Montessori Public, Winter. Article URLAbstract
Learning variability is present at all ages. In preschool, there are specific approaches educators may take to support dynamic development and encourage it along a skillful path. Topics discussed include challenges with social interaction, processing, sequencing, internal order, reading, and negativity. 
Julia Volkman. 10/17/2016. “Word webs & reading circuits: Going deep with spoken language lessons (preschool).” Maitri Learning: Pedagogy Blog. Article URL
Julia Volkman. 9/21/2016. “Fade and observe: Scaffolding without intruding.” Maitri Learning: Pedagogy Blog. Article URLAbstract

"I was observing in a primary classroom the other day when I saw an utterly enthralled 4-year-old boy doing the hand washing work. His hands were in the beautiful blue and white basin and he was smiling as he turned the water over and under each hand.... "

Julia Volkman. 5/27/2016. “Setting up the prepared environment (primary).” Maitri Learning: Pedagogy Blog. Article URLAbstract

"I've been working with Libertas Public Montessori School in Memphis. One of our many projects is to open a new Primary class. So, I've been investing a great deal of time in looking at material suppliers, thinking about plants, and measuring heights for tables and chairs. Since I know I'm not the only one doing this work, I decided to post my thoughts and discoveries here so we can all benefit..."

Julia Volkman. 5/23/2016. “Mind, Brain, and Education: A Crash Course for Teachers. [video].” CALL & the Brain: JALTCALL 5/23/2016. Video URLAbstract

What does our growing neuroscientific knowledge of cognition teach us about teaching? We know that education materially changes the brain but do we know which practices result in skillful or unskillful changes? This talk will present the overall view of Mind, Brain, and Education as a transdisciplinary approach to learning. It will present ways to address diverse aspects of human biology as supports for optimal understanding and skill mastery. The talk will touch on plasticity, dynamic skill development, attention, memory, learning variability, mirror neurons, social biology, and more. Concrete and actionable suggestions that arise from this body of research will be presented. Attendees will leave with strategies they can immediately incorporate to improve student engagement and outcomes.

Julia Volkman. 5/20/2016. “Parent-Teacher Conferences.” Maitri Learning: Pedagogy Blog. Article URL
Julia Volkman. 5/13/2016. “The avocado & the stick: How nature can open the door to learning.” Maitri Learning: Pedagogy Blog. Article URL
Julia Volkman. 4/24/2016. “What you'll see in a great Montessori school.” Maitri Learning: Pedagogy Blog. Article URL
Julia Volkman. 4/2016. “Montessori training challenges and online solutions.” Annual Meeting of the AMI Scientific Pedagogy Group. Amsterdam, The Netherlands.Abstract

Dr. Annette Haines and Judi Orion invited me to attend this meeting to discuss the possibilities for extending the reach of the Association Montessori Internationale (AMI) via online/hybrid learning. There is currently an inadequate number of AMI training centers/courses available to meet global needs. Considering these options is part of the AMI's Bold Goal initiative. The main suggestions presented were to:

  • Record theory talks by experts in the field: These might be included in an online-only Montessori Foundations course that could be undertaken before formal in-person course work begins and/or as separate professional development sessions
  • Create a distance option for annual conferences: An on-site staffer would monitor live chatboards during each workshop so that distance students could have a real-time voice in the on-site dialogue
  • Create a pilot Satellite (hybrid/regional) training course: A trainer would conduct their course as usual in their home training center; Several prepared Assistant Trainers would create prepared training environments in geographically-distant locations; All regional centers would join the home center live for daily lecture and presentations; Assistant Trainers would supervise practicum in their regional center; This model may be incorporated as part of a "Train the Trainer" seminar thereby building capacity for future expansion
  • Connect with all current AMI trainers to gather handbooks, rubrics, case studies, and other course materials that might be leveraged as part of a unified online effort
  • Add in more 'flipped classroom' elements to all training efforts
  • Develop a standardized online classroom webstructure: This could be used for traditional and/or experimental training programs by providing a means of online assignment submissions and standardized grading rubrics; This may also include resource bundles (e.g., recorded talks, research links) to encourage further, optional exploration and study of topics of interest to students
Julia Volkman. 3/20/2016. “Reading & Dyslexia: A Neuroscientific Perspective.”. Video URLAbstract

This video is meant for anyone who is interested in dyslexia, a form of human variability that confers challenges as well as gifts. This includes a brief history of language development, a review of typical reading development/pathways, and a discussion of the neuroscientific research on dyslexia, possible causes for the different types of dyslexia, and suggestions for interventions. I recorded this talk in preparation for a section I offered on this topic in the Neuroscience of Learning course. You can find a list of resources about dyslexia and language development/reading on the dyslexia research page of my website.

Julia Volkman. 1/9/2016. “Montessori sound games: Teaching phonemic awareness.” Maitri Learning: Pedagogy Blog. Article URL
Julia Volkman. 10/28/2015. “Phonograms made easy (preschool).” Maitri Learning: Pedagogy Blog. Article URL
Julia Volkman. 9/2015. “Public school practical life: Breakfast as snack.” Maitri Learning: Pedagogy Blog. Article URL
Julia Volkman. 8/31/2015. “Preschool Parent Orientation: Brain Development & Why You Care. [video].” Alfred G. Zanetti Montessori School: Springfield, MA. Article URLAbstract

Preschool Parent Orientation Part 2: Brain Basics
This is the second 20 minutes of the orientation program we run each August for new preschoolers and their families at Zanetti Public Montessori School in Springfield, MA. We start with introductions and details about arrival/dismissal, breakfast/lunch, rest-time, and school communication procedures.

The second part of this talk (this video) is where I get into key aspects of brain development and how we parents and teachers have an extraordinary potential to influence the physical architecture of the child's brain. 

While I'm talking with parents, the children are meeting one-on-one with their new teacher, getting introduced to their classroom, and learning a few key things (bathrooms, cubbies, and a few things that they can do when they arrive on the first day). 

After the grown-ups meet with me, they head down to their child's class to meet one-on-one with the teacher while the children are invited to take a little walking tour of the building with me (that's herding cats at first but by the end, they're walking in line like a pro).