Saturday, January 12, 2013

Initial Thoughts About Teaching Montessori in a Public School Classroom

As crazy as it sounds, I've been thinking about going back to public school. I know that's where the kids need me the most and where I can make the biggest difference, I just have to convince administration that I'm a professional and that they can trust me to make professional decisions. I'm not sure how likely I am to find an administration like that, especially in Kansas.

Although there was some unexpected and unprecedented news out of Seattle yesterday, when an entire high school decided not to administer a standardized test. There may be some hope yet. I just don't know how much I want to fight. I'm only 24, but I feel as though my activist years are coming to a close.

Come what may, it may be time for me to finally step up and take a class of my own under my wing. For better or worse, I have chosen teaching as my career, and I need to stop beating around the bush and answer my calling.

All of these thoughts have led me to think--if I COULD run a classroom anyway I chose, without administration breathing down my neck, how would I do it?

Montessori style.

And, for the record, I'm talking MY Montessori style, not traditional with all of the approved and endorsed Montessori things. You don't need to spend thousands of dollars at Nienhuis to have a quality program, and I don't plan to. That's not what Montessori is truly about. Honestly, I plan on taking my Montessori training (I DID enroll in a Montessori training program, did I mention that?) and mixing it with little bits and pieces of whatever I feel is beneficial, no matter where I end up.

At any rate, here are my initial thoughts about teaching Montessori in a public school.

To begin with, I'd like to have a regular routine of work periods in which children can decide what to accomplish for themselves.

Because there will be many activities occurring simultaneously, it will be expected that the volume-level of the classroom remain low, so that everyone can concentrate--not an easy task for a traditional public school classroom.

I would probably have to rely on a menu system, as in the Montessori school I volunteered at for a semester. I couldn't find a link explaining it, so basically, the guide and individual children cooperatively decide what objectives need to be met, lessons need to be learned, and works need to be practiced for a week or set period of time. It sounds like a daunting task, but I see it as necessary. Eventually the children and I will get into the habit of it.

Similarly, I will need to teach reflection skills and how to document and be responsible for one's own learning. So not only will they help to choose what they need to work on each week, the students will record their progress and how well they met those objectives.

As far as teaching itself goes, I will probably be expected to teach from a specified curriculum, no matter how wonderful administration may be. Obviously, some children will not be ready for information, and they will not learn at that point even (or perhaps especially) if I made them sit down and listen to it. Thus, every child will be responsible for learning the material on their own terms. I will give the lesson once at a time specified on the board at the beginning of the week, and the children will be welcome to join me for it or not. They could alternatively read the material on their own, with a peer, or have a peer teach them at a later date. I DO hope to inspire a lot of peer teaching, somehow. That's something else I will have to look into how to create.

I will maintain that the students join me for morning circle, however. It's an important time to build the classroom, give important updates and news, and discuss anything that needs to be discussed.

And, of course, there will be what is referred to currently as "specials," (P.E., art, music, etc.), recess, and lunch that will be at determined times, but other than those and morning (and perhaps closing) circle, all other times will be work time. (Uggh, I can just imagine now how disruptive fire and tornado drills will be for this kind of setting.)

And then there's the environment--a classroom designed for highest efficiency by the children. Several small areas for different activities, walls showing off posters and projects the students use to document learning and teach peers about their own learning, a large classroom library, a number of laptops (perhaps supplied by a grant? I could do that, I think), a water cooler with individual student cups or water bottles, a small fridge with snacks of fruit or other healthy snacks brought in by students and provided by me...

So, walking into my classroom during work period, you'd see students working quietly on a number of activities:
* a small group with me learning a new lesson from mandated curriculum
* one child tutoring another in a lesson he is unsure of
* a child researching information on the internet and writing a cited report of her findings
* two children working on a project to present to the class
* a child watching others work to familiarize himself with a work before attempting it himself
* a child practicing by himself a skill learned earlier in the week
* a child writing a story
* a child writing a self-reflection about her own learning
* a couple of scattered children reading to themselves

A lot going on. A lot of responsibility and a lot of learning. I'm thrilled at the prospect. I hope I get a chance to make it work.