As a Montessori Mom I've recently reached one of those "plateaus" where I feel like I am doing most of the things that I know to do to the best of my ability. I am ready to try to do some things better. This relates quite a bit to what I had to say in my post about becoming a Montessori Mom in stages and raising the bar only as it become desired and comfortable. One thing that these "plateaus" always mean for me is that I have realized anew how much I don't know.
There are many things on my list of concerns lately, all of them are related to my job as "guide" in the classroom. Just about all of my concerns fall under one of two categories. The first is mistakes and their correction, which I already blogged about briefly, and will blog about again soon. The second is properly pacing the sequence and/or coordinating the materials within and across subjects to maximum effect. I still feel like I've waited too long to present things most of the time, and wonder if materials are too advanced the other half of the time.
I have studied Montessori for 1-3 hours a day nearly every day for two years. I feel like I have reached an understanding (at least for the primary level) of most things that is at least workable. For example, I feel I am well-read in the areas of the history, philosophy, and structure of Montessori. I also feel prepared (most of the time) when giving lessons, following the child, the materials and the sequence. There still seems to be a lot about the day-to-day running of a classroom that I don't understand and haven't read about anywhere, things I need to know even though my classroom consists of only two students that happen to be my own children.
Based on some of the advice I have received in the past, it appears that many of the problems I have to overcome are considered to be the result of the small student to teacher ratio and the lack of other students modelling the work. I don't think this is pointed out to say "put them in school and you won't have that problem" I think it is meant that I need to step back and not "hover" so much because we know that children in an actual Montessori school achieve good results despite mistakes that are made when the teacher is not looking. I also think they are simply acknowledging that, yes, it is more difficult to get them interested in some materials when they are available at all times and don't have that "coolness" that comes from the anticipation of having to wait your turn to get it and seeing another kid use it.
That's great, but ultimately for all of us that home that is not going to be good enough. We will never breed fast enough to significantly change the number of students within a three-year age bracket. We are going to have to come up with some way to address the fact that color box three is sitting on the shelf, untouched, and no phantom "cool kid" is going to work with that box thereby inspiring our own child to be "just like him." We have to find a way to maximize the benefits of the extra personal attention the at-home student receives and deal with the impact this has on the method as Maria Montessori lived it.
I am also acutely aware that not all of my situations fall into the "it's because you're at home" category. It has occurred to me that the type of reading material I need right now might be titled "When Montessori Goes Wrong: All the Things That Can Possibly NOT Go According to Plan and What the Teacher Will Do and Say."
So, I hit the books again last week. An alternate title for this post could have been "My Struggle to Train Myself." Most of these were the second time through for me, but quite a few I had not read.
Since last week Monday I have read:
Angeline Lillard Montessori: The Science Behind the Genius
Maria Montessori The Absorbent Mind
Paula Polk Lillard Montessori Today
Paula Polk Lillard Montessori from the Start
Elizabeth Hainstock Teaching Montessori in the Home: The Preschool Years
Heidi Spietz Montessori at Home
Last night I read parts of: Montessori Read and Write
Still in the pile for this weekend/week are:
Paula Polk Lillard Montessori-A Modern Approach
Maria Montessori The Child in the Family
Elizabeth Hainstock The Essential Montessori
(Yes, I'm a fast reader.)
I have to say, I am completely re-inspired, excited, and totally frustrated.
First of all, I am confused as to why I found The Absorbent Mind the least helpful book of all the Montessori books I've ever read. My only explanation is that I have been reading Montessori books, blogs, message boards, and other sources every day for about two years. In that time I have been blessed to read many absolute gems of pieces written by others on these same topics already. My theory today is that while Maria Montessori was so gifted in what she created for children, but it's possible that there are others who have been more gifted than she at putting what she did into words. I often come across brilliant sentences (usually quoted in another work) but in context I just seem to lose the thread. I also find it humorous that every time any book by Maria Montessori is mentioned as a "difficult read" two other books by Maria Montessori are mentioned as better books to start with. I think I've seen every book on the "difficult" list and every book on the "easier" list several times by now.
There were a couple others books that were a bust this week. For example, I was way beyond the Heidi Speitz book, but it would be a nice read for someone just starting out. I've been through the Hainstock many times already and probably didn't need to read it again, I just wanted to make sure I hadn't missed something. I put her second book The School Years on reserve through inter-library loan though. Paula Polk Lillard's Montessori Today made me interested in reading more about Montessory elementary for 6-12.
Paula Polk Lillard's Montessori Today was the big winner this week. I really loved it and was excited and inspired by it. It was also completely depressing. It made me so excited about Montessori Elementary education. It also really drove the point home that group work is one of the linchpins in the Elementary classroom. I was really inspired by how the Montessori system from infancy to adolescence conspires to create an intrinsically-motivated human being. The book talked quite a bit about how free choice is so important in creating that and how working with the multi-aged children in their group provides the checks and balances to lead them down paths they may not have otherwise chosen and keeps them interested in all areas of the curriculum. I cannot afford Montessori school so I want to provide a Montessori education at home. However, my two boys alone will never be a "group." So now I am questioning if it is really possible to offer an elementary "Montessori" education at home at all?
Another great read is going to be Lynne Lawrence's Montessori Read & Write. I've skimmed the whole thing already and know I'm going to have to buy this one. I wish I had read it a year ago. It presents many things much clearer than in the Gettman book. The "I Spy" steps, for example, are laid out much more clearly. It gives a lot of detail that helps the at-home-teacher understand how to pace the sequence to follow your child. (Things like signs that your child may be ready for a certain material, such as beginning sandpaper letters as soon as they can do "level three" of the "sound game" and are intensely interested in touching things. It also made it clear that a child can be working with the sandpaper letters and learning about their sounds without being terribly successful at tracing in the proper order or writing in the sand tray.) It is really going to help me with my "pacing" problem. Me Too gets the short end of the stick in most things (poor second kids) but I will be able to do my job as his teacher much better the second time through.
I also really enjoyed re-reading Paula Polk Lillard's Montessori from the Start. That was a surprise because I hated it two years ago. I think it was a bit much for me as it relates to the child's first year of life. This time I basically ignored those sections and really found her "day in the life" descriptions and "scripts" of interactions between mother and child very helpful. I picked up a lot of things I can change about how I speak to the boys and their level of independence. With Me Too I've been basically doing what I used to do with Kal-El. It was fun to read about his stages again because now that I'm comfortable with what we already have implemented I can take that to a new level and try to do it even better. It also made me aware of many day-to-day activities that I am not involving them in that I could be. I'll try to post about those things as they come up.
I just found out about a book I didn't know about today, Paula Polk Lillard's Montessori in the Classroom. One of the Amazon reviews described it in this way:
A diary account of the day by day occurrences in a Montessori classroom. What is truly fascinating is the way this teacher closely observes the children and know when (and when not) to help and give assistance. I highly recommend this book to anyone who is confused about how the Montessori classroom operates.
I think that bodes well because it is the diary-like segments of Lillard's books that I found so helpful and inspiring this week. I hope there is not too much overlap between that book and the diary chapter that is included in Montessori Today. I also hope that what I read can be tailored to fit home use. It seemed clear in Montessori Today that in the classroom each child was spending some time every day doing math and language activities in addition to any other "projects" they might be doing. At the same time, the book heavily emphasized that the children always chose their own activities. No where is explained how and why this happens. I hope that I can find some more answers in Montessori in the Classroom.
I am very excited about the video series of lectures by Margaret Homfray that I just heard about this week from The Wonder Years and Walk Beside Me. It seems that there are at least 23 videos in the series and each video is between 30 minutes to one hour long. Who knows, maybe after watching those I'll find what I need. It makes me wonder what else is out there on you tube and elsewhere that might be helpful. (I already have watched many of the Tami Elliot Expert Village videos.)
I am also wondering what I might find if I looked through back-issues of the NAMTA journal. I haven't had a lot of luck with the Montessori Teacher Training blog. There are probably some posts in there that may address the things I need to learn about, but I can't find them in-between the articles about dancing around maypoles and how the druids studied trees.
At the same time, I am already thinking about the possibility that the things that I don't know about Montessori are things that are just not written down anywhere. If that turns out to be the case, I can only imagine that these things are learned in teacher training. (Although I'm skeptical, because I know that non-Montessori teachers learn to teach by teaching and from other teachers, not in school.) So I am trying to come up with ways to learn the things that are not in the literature, and not in the albums.
What if I became trained? I obviously cannot go through traditional teacher training without stopping the teaching that I'm doing. Sending the boys to school so I can learn to teach them at home just doesn't make sense. I know there are online courses, but I am concerned that an online course will essentially be a duplication of the work I have already done. I could wind up spending a lot of money to re-read books I have already read, acquire yet another set of teacher albums, and still not answer the questions that I need answered to apply this method at home to the best of my ability.
My next thought was, "well, maybe I should go to teacher convention." Boy, that is not as easy as it should be! I've been to plenty of teacher conventions. I've always had more than one local choice at different times of year. In my former field, if I were willing to travel, I could find lectures or conferences to hear any month I wanted.
I looked online at my local Montessori training facility. They offer their regular training program and that is it. A multi-summer version and the usual. No teacher "refresher courses," no lecture series, no conferences. If I want to spend $1000 I could travel to California and stay in a hotel and attend the national conference this November (that includes the convention fee and hotel stay, but not even airfare). The last time I attended a convention it was $120 and was local. I can't afford $1000 and was really dismayed at article that Katherine Von Duyke wrote about doing exactly that. Apparently she wasn't very welcome. It is hard for me to imagine the experience that she had. There are Montessori teachers with whom I communicate "online" that I really consider "friends" even though I have never met them. They have never been anything but absolutely and unselfishly generous with their knowledge.
I apologize in advance for any undue strangeness in this post. As I was writing this I blanched and froze a half-gallon of eggplant, a gallon of carrots, a gallon of red and green peppers, and a gallon of cauliflower. I may just be in a vegetable induced haze. I'm sure there are many of you out there who have answers, many who think I'm crazy, many who are feeling my pain, and unfortunately many who might have been offended. First, don't waste any mental energy on being offended by my ramblings. Second, bring on the comments!