The mission of Laramie Montessori School is to support the development of the whole child through an authentic Montessori environment that honors the child’s intrinsic motivation to learn and supports each individual’s unique intellectual, physical, social and emotional development.
One of the tasks we have set for ourselves as a staff and within the Accountability Committee of the LMS Board is to examine how we measure each child’s development in all areas. The area that is often highlighted is intellectual, especially through state standardized testing. We are required to take the MAP testing fall and spring for all grades and the PAWS (Wyoming’s state proficiency test) each spring for grades 3 – 8.
As we have accumulated data from these test scores, we are looking for trends and feedback regarding our instruction. We are focused on providing a Montessori education with awareness that we need to incorporate strategies for answering test-like questions and to prompt students to think abstractly in certain areas. Much of the math curriculum in a Montessori classroom revolves around the concrete materials and a sequence through those materials. Often students are mastering a higher level of understanding of these mathematical concepts through the hands-on work, but the abstract ability evolves differently than in accordance with these standardized tests.
One simple example of how we work to blend Montessori education within the confines of test performance is the sequence in math of the four operations: addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. In Montessori multiplication is usually taught after addition because of the commonalities between the operations. In tradition schools, subtraction is taught after addition. Due to the need to be aware of the progression of these operations on the standardized tests, many Montessori schools, including LMS, will teach subtraction after addition.
Currently Wyoming is in a state of flux with the adoption of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) for Math and Language with pending adoption of the Social Studies and Science CCSS while looking at other standardized tests that are aligned with CCSS. Our focus within this shifting arena is to provide students with a high quality content curriculum along with strategies and skills for doing well on these tests.
As we continue to discuss, strategize and implement these modifications and/or additions to our Montessori curriculum we continue to focus on maintaining an authentic Montessori school – one in which Gary, Charles or Kathy from our training program will observe as a true Montessori school. So far we are moving in the right direction and able to use their guidance to balance any overuse of worksheets, drill activities or teacher-centered activities.
However, we must also focus on the emotional, social and physical needs of our students as well. We are looking at methods to obtain data / information to reveal the levels of social awareness and emotional intelligence that our students exhibit. We hear from parents and observers about the high level of questions or observations that students make here at school and at home. How can we capture that information in the way that we capture academic progress?
Maria Montessori established four goals of learning related to a student’s success:
· The ability to concentrate
· Need for and Enjoyment of Work
· Ability for Self-Discipline and Self-Regulation
Betsy Coe, principal of a Montessori junior and high school, School of the Woods, director of the Houston Montessori Training Center and an AMS Board member for 20 years focused on the Habits of Mind (Art Kosta’s work) to reveal the social/emotional attributes and skills that Montessori students develop:
· Managing Impulsivity
· Listening with Understanding and Empathy
· Thinking about Thinking (reflection/metacognition)
· Striving for Accuracy
· Questioning and Posing Problems
· Applying Past Knowledge to New Situations
· Thinking and Communicating with Clarity and Precision
· Gathering Data through all Senses
· Creating, Imaging, Innovating
· Responding with Wonderment and Awe
· Taking Responsible Risks
· Finding Humor
· Thinking Interdependently
· Remaining Open to Continuous Learning
These Habits of Mind were used with all students aged 2 ½ through age 18, stressing the process of learning rather than just the content. As students got older they were able to identify these traits within themselves and provide evidence of such or realize that they were not exhibiting a trait and as seek ways to incorporate the trait.
As we work with the Common Core State Standards, one of the main components is to establish successful models of thinking for students rather than a heavy emphasis on what content must be taught. Both Habits of Mind and CCSS are focused on how students thinks rather than what subject is being taught.
At LMS we use a curriculum with a sequence that develops a scaffold for student learning throughout the different subjects (Math, reading, writing, biology, zoology, botany, geography, science). In addition the method fosters the Habits of Mind and four goals established by Maria Montessori.
As we continue to develop as a school and a staff, we are excited to be working with these concepts toward a way to document each child’s progress within the areas of intellectual, emotional, social and physical development. We are asking the questions: What does “proficient” look like? How do we assess a student’s progress in writing or scientific understanding? How can we improve? While Montessori includes methods of assessment, we are re-tooling those ideas to improve consistency between classes and to provide better ways to communicate that to parents.
In the past I have worked with Pam Dunbar, Head of School at the Montessori Academy in Arlington, TX. She and her staff have developed the Portrait of a Graduate. This served as a way to communicate the development of the whole child and highlights the outcomes important to their school and community. Some of these are:
· A confident, competent learner
· Academically prepared
· Critical and creative thinker and problem solver
· Socially responsible
· Able to handle external authority
Yesterday she sent us their rubric for “A Peacemaker” using four levels of development: Dependent, Independent, Interdependent and Leadership. We hope to collaborate with Pam and her staff in the development of our Portrait of a LMS Graduate and to focus on student outcomes that transcend test scores.
Why should you observe?
1)You want to know what your child is doing. While an observation can give you an insight into your child’s day, it won’t give you the whole picture. We schedule observations for 45 minutes, and within this time, your child is not
going to get through math, reading, writing and cultural works. But, by observing the whole class, you can see what types of work are available to your child. On our observation guide, we ask observers to look at the lay out of the shelves. The work on the shelves is indicative of the curriculum because work is laid out from left to right, top to bottom revealing the sequence of each subject at that particular time. By knowing what “work” your child is doing on the shelf, you can develop an idea of where he/she is in relation to the entire spectrum of ability in the class. This does not reveal his/her aptitude or mastery of standards, just where he/she is at the moment within the sequence.
2)You can observe the social interactions between children and between children/adults. This is often the area that many people remark on because the social interactions are often respectful, but also honest. One of my favorite parts of Montessori is the time allowed for children to develop the ability to honestly solve conflict with their peers. This can be challenging, but instead of the adults swooping in to fix things, students honestly state their feelings and opinions, and then work toward a solution. When adults are the ones fixing the problems all the time, the result can look organized and focused, but the students are not able to discover their own voice and powers of resolution.
3)When you observe you have an hands-on description of why you have chosen to send your child here. One of my favorite Montessorians, Jack Blessington, spoke at a Montessori Head’s Retreat, and the focus of his talk was
honoring Montessori parents because of your bravery. You want something different for your child. When you observe, my hope is that you will walk away with confidence in your decision and an ability to relate to others why you have
made this choice. It is one of the most important choices you will make. Why not see what it looks like and how it works in practice?
4)If you are able to observe in all three age levels(recommended time is 1 ½ - 2 ½ hours), you will be able to see the entire spectrum and how the curriculum works from K through 6th grade. At this time, the entire spectrum of Montessori is not reached in our classrooms because of the nature of our school– taking in older children without Montessori experience, but you will witness a portion of where we will be in three – six years. Observing the whole school also exposes you to the students and teachers throughout the school and to the larger community.
5)Along with your observation, I also suggest watching the videos available through MRX. This will generalize your observation and provide a larger context for your understanding.
6)As you observe, you will invariably make comparisons to traditional education and perhaps to other forms that you have seen: Waldorf, other Montessori schools. It is my experience that no school is perfect, but following your observation, does your comparison still lead you to see our school as the best choice for your child? Why / why not?
7)Lastly, an observation makes real what is still a pre-conceived idea. While working with the teachers this summer, I had to regularly assure them that the three-hour uninterrupted work cycle did not mean that they could not
interrupt the students for a lesson during the morning. As I have said in a few other memos, there are many versions of Montessori out there based on the make-up of the school and the type of school (private, public, charter; small, medium, large; newly begun, long history; credentials of the teachers, etc.). What makes us what we are is based on our being a public charter school, newly opened with an interesting mix of students and with state-certified teachers just beginning their Montessori training. Rather than reading about what
Montessori is in a general sense, I suggest you visit and observe what Montessori looks like at Laramie Montessori School – it is a great place to be.
1)We ask that you schedule observations in advance at least 24 hours. This allows us to prepare the students for a visitor and to prepare ourselves mentally. It is a bit stressful when someone is watching what we are doing. This is true of students and adults alike.
2)We also ask that the observation is made during the morning, unless there are extenuating circumstances. In the afternoons, classrooms have specials and large group lessons. We won’t change what we are doing because of an observation.
3)When you arrive for your observation, please sign in and collect the observation clipboard. On this clipboard are Guidelines we ask all observers to follow, especially the one that asks you to not interact with the children. When you are observing, your presence already changes the classroom, but when you interact with the students, the change is even more pronounced. And if we have several observers and they each speak with a child, interrupting the child’s work cycle, we are allowing the children’s sense of serenity and purpose to be
4)Once seated, there is a sheet with “look fors” that direct your attention to certain aspects of a Montessori classroom. Please read through this and “see” the order, structure, freedom, respect and concentration that exist
throughout the room.
5)The third sheet is not laminated and provides an area for your feedback. We do ask observers to take the time to fill these out during or after the observation. We do read these and share these with the teacher.
6)When your observation is over, either Craig, Bronwyn or myself will come get you, if you haven’t already come to the office. At that time, I will go over your observation notes and answer any questions you had. This short (or long) meeting is important for our benefit because it provides feedback and
closure to the observation. It can be important for your own benefit because questions or concerns can be addressed immediately.
v. Traditional Education
While organizing my files, I came across several charts comparing Montessori education with traditional education. One of the differences arises from the viewpoint of the educational system: child-centered or teacher-centered
Montessori Environment: Child Centered
Children complete works
Children learn by doing
Children choose their materials
Children set their own pace
Children work out of joy and curiosity
Children stimulated by curiosity and love of learning
Children free to work independently
Children help each other
Emphasis on self-control and self-discipline
Traditional Environment: Teacher-centered
Children interrupted by teacher or end of period
Teacher as source of answers
Teacher chooses curriculum
Teacher sets pace for entire class
Teachers tells children to work
Teacher motivates children
Teacher stimulates children to learn
Teacher guides children
Teacher helps children
Teacher as disciplinarian
When working within a Montessori classroom, the teachers are trained and reminded to think of ways to remove themselves as obstacles to the child’s learning; whereas in traditional classrooms teachers are the bearers of the information to be learned.
The way traditional schools are set up, with textbooks, testing, grades and traditional modes of implementing and thinking about education; can lead to teacher-centered classrooms. The way that Montessori schools are set up, with manipulatives, self-paced learning and individualized work; can lead to child-centered classrooms. However, I have been
in Montessori classrooms that are teacher-centered and in traditional classrooms that are child-centered. These black and white comparisons leave little room for the reality of teaching: It is always a mixture of the two types of systems.
Please keep this in mind when thinking about the
As we continue into our second year as a Montessori, child-centered school, I witness the ways that the teachers are
quickly making the adjustment from teacher-centered to child-centered education. A large part of this has been due to the training they received over the summer. As some parents have realized, this training is intense. During the summer it
was three weeks of 8 hour days and has continued for four weekends with many more weekends and another three weeks next summer to come.
Part of the training is learning the use of the materials, the sequencing of lessons and the mechanics of Montessori. The deeper part of the training shapes one’s thinking to enable teachers to create materials for student use and how to touch the inner spirit of each child to enable them to re-awaken their own motivation. Additionally, we have daily conversations about how to be “Montessori” and child-centered within our setting and situation.
With many students coming from a more teacher-centered environment and perhaps adult-centered homes, we have seen some students struggle with things like setting their own pace or working independently. As we continue to provide the support needed, students are re-claiming their love of learning, ability to work independently and with a renewed motivation. Additionally, some students struggle because it may have felt or been easier to work in a teacher-centered environment where they didn’t have to make a decision, keep themselves focused on a work or resolve conflicts with each other.
There are many expectations put on our students to be able to have the freedoms offered in a child-centered environment, but as they are able to live up to these expectations, we see the students become what Maria Montessori called the normalized child. The characteristics of a normalized child are:
. Love of Learning
. Love of Silence
. Concern for Others
These goals can be realized in a Montessori school.
What can you do to help your child in this environment? Look at ways to make your home life child-centered. Just starting
with an awareness of whether the ways things are done in your home promote the goals listed above can begin to change your thinking, routines and daily life. As always, I stress the need for balance. Allowing your children the freedom to be independent should not abdicate your own right to make family decisions and your role as the parent; just as we, as teachers, don’t turn over control of the classroom to the children in all situations.
Many people learn visually. We invite you to observe and witness our child-centered environment over the course of the year. I think you will find our staff and students continuing to move from one end of the spectrum to the other, but keep in mind, that nothing is static. At times, and in certain circumstances, we may move closer to the teacher-centered
characteristics, when the situation calls for it. Throughout the year, we discuss among ourselves and with the students how we maintain a balance between the needs of each student within the community of the classroom.
During a few of the conferences on which I sat in on, spelling
came up as a topic of interest. There is a Montessori spelling component in our training and albums; however, I have found that every school teaches spelling a bit differently. And, as with most things, these differences vary along a spectrum of structured spelling workbooks by grade level to leaving spelling abilities to develop naturally without instructions. I believe a balance approach is necessary and based on some basic research with Joe Keegan, a colleague in Ohio, we are implementing spelling in the following manner. I will first discuss the basis for what we do and then describe the process.
In both the private and public school settings, Joe and I implemented required spelling workbooks. In some instances we were able to designate levels based on student ability rather than grade level. In most instances, we discovered that the good spellers got better and the poor spellers remained stagnant. We also found that students did not retain the correct spelling in their every day use and writing. Test scores in spelling also showed these discrepancies.
In a few settings we also experienced situations where spelling was not taught and students were expected to naturally emerge from phonetic spelling into correct spelling with little to no intervention. We saw the same results: good spellers got better and poor spellers retained their phonetic spelling skills.
Working together in Ohio, Joe and I implemented spellinginstruction using the language material that is now in classrooms here at LMS and by connecting spelling to student writing and work. We found that this approach allowed us to individualize instruction and provide meaning to the task. We saw that students retained the correct spellings in their everyday work and writing as well as saw an increase across all levels on standardized tests.
As the teachers grasp curriculum pieces of a Montessori class and the implementation of this curriculum, they will begin to use these methods for teaching spelling.
As students work with the movable alphabet and begin sounding out their words, Mary and Stella pay close attention to their phonetic spelling. For instance, if the word is “duck” and a student lays out “/d/ /u/ /k/”, they will take one of two routes (or both).
Correction: One route is to gently correct the spelling:“Duk.
Yes, that says duck, but the ending sound is actually spelled “ck”. Often this kind of correction will correspond to the child’s introduction or work with the phonogram in question, /ck/. If there is a control with the word printed out, Mary or Stella may ask the child to check their work and make appropriate
Re-teach: The other route is to leave the letters out and to
allow the child to copy this onto paper, if that is the follow up assignment. Then, at another time, Mary or Stella will re-introduce the phonogram in question, /ck/ in this instance. As the child continues working with the moveable alphabet, they will observe whether this re-teaching worked or not.
Many students are continuing to work with the moveable alphabet in lower elementary and may experience techniques above. In addition to these, the teachers have phonogram work that covers many of the spelling rules and is color coded. For instance, the following phonograms make the long /a/ sound: ai, ay, a_e, eigh. Through exposure and work with these words and phonograms, students absorb spelling words without the need for direct instruction from a workbook or teacher.
In addition and later down the road, students will use the
reading lists / spelling lists (a total of 59) that highlight the phonograms. For the long /a/ sound, there are four lists, one for each phonogram: ai, ay, a_e, eigh. As students move through this work, the teachers will observe their writing. When seeing incorrect spelling for words which a student has had exposure and experience with, the teachers will either correct or re-teach.
In addition to the Montessori curriculum and materials, the
teachers use a few traditional tools as well. Students can create their own dictionary for reference. Often students want to know how to spell a word. With the use of an individual dictionary, Quickword, students can turn to this simple dictionary for spelling and add words that they often use to it;
thereby, personalizing it.
As students use the Quickword and work through the Montessori materials, they become aware of spelling rules and exceptions in a structured way.
Not all students will have spelling rules down upon entering Upper Elementary; although that is a goal we have for those entering Lower Elementary this year. Quickwords can still apply to these students; although they often become self-conscious about pulling it out and using it.
Through the use of the NEOs, simple word processing laptops, the students can see when they have spelled a word incorrectly and make necessary changes. With written work, an effective tool has been post-it notes. By correctly writing down the misspelled words on a post-it note, the student has
the necessary information at hand. Based on different levels of spelling ability, the words can be written on small post-its next to the misspelled word; or written on a larger post-it in order of appearance on the paper; or randomly. As students increase in their awareness and ability, they can make the necessary changes accordingly. I have used this simple technique for years and seen all students improve their spelling on standardized tests and more importantly continue to use the correct spelling in later work.
What I have witnessed over the last nine weeks with all teachers is an understanding of how to take the Montessori lessons, sequence and materials and adapt them to fit each child’s need. This is something usually observed in teachers who have been working within Montessori after 2-3 years at
least. If you find that Mary, Nicole, Ashley or Jennifer are adapting these techniques, rest assured that I am aware of it and that they have most likely hit on a perfect adaption. Or perhaps, one of the assistants, Stella, Marty or Peggy, has hit on it. They are a remarkably talented group who collaborate and cross-pollinate every day!
Lastly, no method is ever 100% effective all of the time with all of the student body. That being said, the structured and meaningful approach found within our school will help all the students improve their spelling skills. It may not seem like work or drudgery (hopefully not); and therefore, at times it will seem that they are not being taught spelling. Rest assured that they are and feel free to discuss this with your child’s teacher or observe!
A few weeks ago, I mentioned the need for balancing limits and choices through responsibility. As students show that they understand responsibility and use it wisely, their choices increase and boundaries expand. At home, the same can be true.
Children need to feel important at school and at home. One way to develop a grounded sense of self is through properly executed household chores. At school the students are responsible for classroom jobs. These jobs are explained and modeled by the adults, so the students know what the expectations are and how to complete them. Jobs are assigned and rotated, allowing everyone to know who is responsible for what. Through this process children are allowed to practice responsibility, gain ownership over their environment, and contribute to their school community.
Implementing this at home will provide benefits for your child in both family life and school. I suggest first having a family meeting in which “jobs” are discussed, defined and listed for the family. Then a discussion, with your child(ren)s input, about who does what, when, and if there will be a chance for rotation. There are many tools that families have developed over the years.
Some examples are:
A bucket or jar with the chores listed from which family members (adults too) draw items
A spinner system with the chores around the circle and family
members spin to determine their chore
Assigning jobs based on desire
Rotating the jobs each week so everyone does each job
Based on the ages of your family and the jobs you would like to see done by the family (as the adult, you do get to veto items or add items), you can determine the best method for this important first step.
Once everyone is on the same page and expectations are clear, you can determine when the jobs are done. Is it every day? Once a week?
Then determine who assesses the completion. We often start with the adults doing the assessing and modeling this for the students, but we move toward the students assessing each other. They need some guidance in this but can be very adept at it.
Joe is responsible for the bathrooms; Sue is responsible for doing the dishes.
Bathroom and kitchen area will be checked by mom for two weeks. Then, Sue will check Joe’s work; Joe will check Sue’s. Mom or Dad will continue to monitor, and if things start to slip, a family meeting is called to discuss what is going on. It is very important for the children to be able to state how they are feeling and what is going on with the jobs. Once they feel heard, they are more likely to be amendable to continuing their hard work.
In the above example, I focused on a family dynamic with mom and 2 kids. All families are different, but one rule that should remain consistent throughout the family dynamics is that all family members participate in the discussions and the work based on their responsibilities elsewhere. If someone is working two jobs, perhaps they do less around the home, but they still do something: ensuring there is toilet paper and milk in the house, two items they
can pick up on the way home.
What evolves is a realization that everyone contributes to the
family. Each person’s contribution is important from ensuring there is toilet paper to vacuuming and doing the dishes. When your child feels that his/her contribution is important and acknowledged, he/she is more likely to continue enjoying the work.
How these contributions are acknowledged are grounds for another family meeting. Perhaps you will do allowances or payment for each chore. I suggest that contributing to the household and community is the responsibility of all involved and does not necessitate or require a reward system. In fact, a reward system may detour the real purpose so that chores are done based on the reward instead of an expectation to contribute. Acknowledgement can be nightly or weekly thank-you or acknowledgements. How many of us simply require a
genuine, heartfelt thank you to feel appreciated? Children delight in knowing they have made a positive difference just by being thanked. If a reward system has already been set up, continue with that until you can find ways to move away
A handout is coming home today with a list of jobs that children can do based on their developmental ability. This comes from Kathryn Kvols, author of Redirecting Children’s Behavior. This is a great read and is used in parenting classes. In today’s parent memo, I’ve only touched on the role parents can play in helping their children learn to be responsible for the home environment and realizing that their contributions are important. You may find obstacles that prevent you from implementing these suggestions. I am happy (really) to talk to anyone about how to help their children becomeresponsible and capable within the home.
This is a common phrase used within Montessori schools and can be applied to many different situations. Often when asked to describe Montessori, many people will describe it based on the polarities of these words:
“Students get to choose what they want to do and when they want to do it.”
Lots of exploration, not enough instruction or structure
“There are many rules and procedures, and the students are only allowed to do the work as they’ve been shown.”
Lots of structure and instruction but little exploration
Looking at Montessori in these two extremes often creates images or ideas about Montessori that are not grounded in the theory or practice and belies the balance that the teachers always seek. We look at our environments and seek ways to define the limits in order to offer the most freedom to the
For example, in the classroom, the use of workplans or schedules can help guide a student to look at how to organize his/her time in order to accomplish sufficient work or to complete a project. Depending on the child, the guidance given by the teacher is in relation to the child’s ability to work
independently. Some students will develop the ability to plan their day and work through all subject areas and stretch their own learning. Some students need more direction and this is accomplished verbally, with workplans and at times with communication between home and school. The goal is to provide the right balance of limits and freedom for each child in regard to staying on task and choosing challenging work.
Our curriculum provides another limit from which students can
explore, again maintaining a balance. There are definite lessons that we present, a scope and sequence that we follow as well as assignments or follow-up work that students must do. This lays the groundwork for teachers and students, ensuring that students are following a sequence of lessons (using materials) that has been tested over time and that students are staying on track to meet or exceed state
Another Montessori phrase, often misused, is “Follow the Child.” “The Montessori curriculum”, as one Montessori Living Legacy, Michael Dorer, stated, “follows child development.” The lessons and sequence we follow is geared to the latest brain research and child development, meaning key concepts
are organized to follow developmentally appropriate interest levels and to provide organization of concepts in a sequenced fashion. If the teachers were to follow each child’s interest or whims throughout the year, there would be a maze of lessons through which no delineated line or curriculum stream would be able to go. However, to follow a curriculum lock-step also does not allow the children to be creators of their own learning, so our staff work very hard to follow the curriculum, using it as a compass or guide, and as student interest
explodes in certain areas, to follow that tangent, keeping it tied to the curriculum concept.
Further tangential learning occurs when special events occur. We have started off the year studying North American biomes, political geography and biology; however, through the opportunity to study Antarctica thanks to Dr. Ken Sims, we are also looking into the biomes, biology, geography and history of Antarctica. This can tie in nicely with the rest of the curriculum and still provide excitement. At other times, special events may not tie into the curriculum and we have to make the thoughtful choice of whether the time spent on the tangential topic is relevant to what we are doing in class and the overall learning that needs to take place in class; otherwise we can jump from topic to topic, losing the thread provided by our Montessori curriculum.
Another way to look at this phrase, “Freedom within Limits”is
through the lens of classroom management. We want to provide student with the opportunity to learn to think and do things for themselves. Often this can lead to freedom within the classroom; however, the limiting factor is whether than
can do these things responsibly. If a child is not ready to solve a conflict independently and in a responsible way, the adults must step in to provide the scaffolding to help a child move from dependence on the adult toward independence. This takes time and is part of a process of gradually moving from
limited independence to more freedom. When a child shows he is not capable of some of the freedoms, those freedoms get limited, and the adults guide the child until he/she is able to do it on their own responsibly.
Lastly, my favorite concrete example of this results from a teacher wanting to allow students to listen to music and dance for a period of time. When the music started, things were
fine; however, as the students started to push the boundaries of what was acceptable, some started to run and move about the entire room. My suggestion was to set a concrete limit using rope – as long as the students stayed within the boundaries of the rope and did not harm others, they could dance. When a child left the boundaries of the rope, they were asked to stop and watch the other students. When the child was able to resume dancing within the limits, he/she could do so.
Is there a balance of freedom and limits in your home? Do the
freedoms permitted to your child come with a sense of responsibility?
As we move forward in establishing a strong relationship between teachers and parents, ideas regarding a strong home-school connection always surface. Some of the typical ways that is done work well in a Montessori school, and some don’t. As we consider some of these ideas, we do reflect on how these efforts fit within the framework of a Montessori education.
We would like to invite all parents for a night of Montessori curriculum on Thursday, Oct 25th.While this night will provide just a brief overview of language and math, the method of teaching may make sense just a bit more and why worksheets, homework and direct instruction are not components readily utilized in a Montessori school.
To prepare for this night and future events, observations, and parent communication with the teachers, I’d like to touch on the Montessori method of education as it relates to the teacher, the environment and the student. This is quite different from what one experiences in a traditional school setting.
In a traditional educational setting, the teacher utilizes the textbooks provided to cover material tied to state standards or assessments. The goal is to impart knowledge to the student. Additionally, most teachers are able to cover certain portions of instruction as designated by grade level. Assessments are administered through chapter tests from the textbook and teacher created tests and quizzes to determine student retention of information. Occasionally, and yet increasingly each year, tests include written response anessay questions; however, the primary assessment method is multiple choice and fill-in the blank.
While this method has some advantages, especially in providing test scores, grades and what is considered hard data; the Montessori method provides a more holistic approach to learning that is supported by current academic research and brain research.
So, how does it work? We start with the Montessori curriculum as the basis for what happens in the classroom. Through training, our staff is learning the sequence of lessons and the manner with which to present curriculum to students. The Montessori curriculum is contained in several albums (3-ring binders) and was founded in Montessori’s lectures, notes and training programs over 50 years ago. Despite revisions to update the curriculum/albums by university training programs, the core of the curriculum remains the same. Using this as the base, teachers are able to incorporate technological advances, new information and creative ideas into the classroom. This also ensures that from year to year and school to school, students are exposed to a tested curriculum scope and sequence without the changes often seen in traditional settings when programs (reading, math,
science, etc.) change.
The more adept Montessori teachers are with the foundational curriculum, the more they are able to adapt and provide creative lessons. As we begin this year focused on this foundational piece, we are looking to our greater community and specifically to the graduate students through the Teton Science School, to enhance our curriculum with their creative ideas and knowledge.
Over the years, I have seen teachers, including myself, adapt these foundational Montessori lessons to ill effects. My belief, founded on these experiences, is that what has been created for us, honed over decades and proven through the success of Montessori alumni should remain intact as much as possible. Rather than straying from this curriculum, teachers may enhance and enrich it with their own creativity and knowledge.
The next layer inherent in the Montessori process is the materials. While these are the visible emblems of the Montessori classroom, their value is present when the teachers understand the curriculum and work within the multi-age classroom community that develops. The majority of the materials in the Kindergarten class were designed by Maria Montessori herself in her schools. She drew from her own scientific research as a physician and the research of her contemporaries, specifically Freud and Sequin. You may notice that many of the sensorial works are designed with mathematical concepts of one through 10 in mind. The movable alphabet that provides the basis for reading lessons was also developed by Maria herself. As we move into the
elementary classroom the materials were either designed by Maria herself, her son, Mario Montessori, or based on their lectures and previous models. Many of these are now mass produced through Montessori companies with the intent to
carry out the intended purposes of developing self-correction, exploration and hands-on, kinesthetic learning.
As the materials and curriculum are taught in training, teachers develop an awareness of how the materials provide a concrete method for the student to obtain important skills and move toward abstract understanding. One of our goals for
Thursday night, 10/25, is to show how the language and math materials can do this. The magic that happens in our classrooms stems from the child’s interaction with the specifically designed materials following a sequence that moves toward abstraction. Often students will inform inquiring
adults that they are teaching themselves. In many ways this is exactly what is occurring. The strength of Montessori lies in the teachers understanding of how to implement the curriculum and materials in such a way that each child is provided with what we call a match: match of ability and interest to the skill/material. While this process resembles discovery learning and constructivist learning – where the child constructs his/her own meaning through discovery. What
Montessori offers within this approach is a structured curriculum and materials developed within a scientific context that scaffolds learning year-to-year and from class-to-class. For example, as the students work in Kindergarten with the geometric solids or botany cabinet, they will be exposed to these same materials on a different level of understanding in lower elementary and again a different level in upper elementary; likewise the math materials provide a visual awareness of this progression. Each year a child is in our program, this understanding of concepts develops at deeper and deeper levels.
The third layer within the framework is the classroom community. A great deal of research has been done revealing the importance of collaborative learning and peer teaching. Montessori promoted this idea through the creation of multi-age classrooms, typically three years span. She based this on her theory regarding planes of development (0-6 years; 6-12
years, 12-18 years; 18–24+ years). Again, remember her contemporaries at the time were also establishing these theories of development: Freud, Erikson and Sequin. The goal in our classrooms is to create a community of learners that
work spontaneously to assist and learn from each other. By fostering a non-competitive environment (largely due to the lack of grades, quizzes, tests and student awards), the teacher guides the students to develop a microcosm of learning with their peers. Instead of imposed collaboration or peer-teaching, our goal is to empower the students to ask each other for help, to step in kindly with a correction or teachable moment, and to choose to work together on a project. As children learn to ask each other there are times when they may say, “My teacher doesn’t help me.” This actually might be true, as we guide them to persist at a problem we know they can solve or suggest they ask a few
classmates for help before the teacher. As students become comfortable with this, they feel empowered in their own learning and are able to assist others as well.
When I observe in the classrooms this year I am delighted to see teachers giving short, specific lessons to students based on the Montessori curriculum and based on student needs. As teachers are working one-on-one or in small groups for these short lessons, the rest of the students are intent on their own work and operate as a community of learners who are empowered to work independently. This is what I have come to expect after 6 weeks into the school year at more established Montessori schools. To be able to see this in our emerging school is testament to the hard work of our staff and the support we’ve received from parents, as well as evidence that the children enjoy being here.
As we continue in the school year, we ask that you come to our parent education nights and observe in all the classrooms.
The Montessori approach is very different from what most parents have experienced elsewhere, and there are many misperceptions concerning what is Montessori and how it works. Through these weekly memos I hope to define and
provide clarification for what we do, how we do it and why. While these only provide a brief overview, conversations with your child’s teacher along with observations can provide details concerning your own child’s development within this method of education.