Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Borrowing Montessori

The boys are sick! Too sick to take to BSF today, so we stayed home. Two little boys, who would have been too sick to go to school outside the home today, completed a FIVE HOUR WORK PERIOD!  Three-hour work period, we scoff at you!  They started at 8 a.m. and worked until I made them stop to eat at 1 p.m.  This is not even counting the hour of art they made from 6-7 a.m.!

Kal-El was in the school room immediately after breakfast calling out..."Mommy...come help me learn all about geography!"  Hmmm.  That's not what *I* had planned.  *I * had planned to start with math today.  I even made a list (very unusual behavior for me). I decided to help him with geography because telling him he couldn't do geography but must do math was only going to make him grumpy about the math.

I thought my plans were truly blown when I glanced at the clock for the first time THREE HOURS LATER and realized we were still doing geography.  Right about that time, Kal-El started putting away his geography and was literally begging to do math.  In fact, "a lot of math" was his specific request.

The flow of our day today is a good illustration of why I am not in favor of classrooms in which any number of children are required to engage in the same activities at the same time; and in which the subjects are categorized, separated from one another,  taught by different teachers, and assigned an onset and time limit enforced by a bell.

A lot of time is spent talking about "bad teachers," but I feel the majority of the classrooms have adequate teachers and yet our country is disappointed with the performance of our traditional schools.  I argue that the problem is rarely the teacher but rather the way the school is structured.  Research shows that Montessori principles work.  Montessorians aren't the only ones who have seen the Science magazine article, public school administrators have seen it too and they are making some changes.  The problem is that public schools, like our government, are such a machine that it is nearly impossible to make any real changes.  What administrators do instead is cherry pick some ideas, pay lip service to the "latest in educational research, while really changing nothing except adding to the list of hoops the already overloaded teachers need to jump through.  Later everyone is surprised when the test scores don't really change, or go down.

Here are some classic "borrows" I've seen in our own school district:

They hear:  Montessori schools don't separate subjects.
They do:  Keep the subjects separate, but ask the teachers to add a few lessons a year that "connect" their subject to a different subject.  Another popular variation is to force all of the students to "write" in every subject rather than allow them to "write about other subjects" when in "writing class."  Maybe remove the talented scientist who has been teaching science only for 20 years from the science lab and have them teach language arts next year instead so that the kids can have him for a "different subject" magically bringing the two together in their young minds.

They hear:  Montessori schools allow children to work in groups.
They do:  Require the teachers to make the children to work in groups of the teacher's choosing, on an activity for the most part chosen by the teacher, certainly at the time allowed and for the length of time allowed.

They hear:  At a Montessori school a child may work for several hours on a single project.  There are no bells and time limits.
They do:  Lengthen the class periods of certain subjects to several hours. The subject is still separated and assigned a time's just longer.  Our district cut the amount of hours spent on science and social studies in half so that math and language arts could now be two hours apiece.  They will graciously eliminate the bells though...but not the time limits.  You still have to change locations at certain times, it's just harder to know how long you have to get there.  While they are at it, they may institute "learning targets" to make sure you put your blinders on and don't learn anything extra on accident.

They hear:  Montessori school have mixed age classrooms and many different stages of learning occurring simultaneously.
They do:  Ask the teachers to "differentiate" but the class structure and resources remain unchanged.  This will only allow the teacher to "differentiate" is as much that they are able to offer slight variations of the activity at hand to accomodate different learning styles.  They can't truly accomodate different ability levels because the "exit standard" for the time period that they have the students remains the same.

They hear:  Vocabulary is best learned when used across subjects.
They do:  Require all teachers, regardless of subject taught, to spend a certain number of minutes each day or week drilling vocabulary from other subjects whether or not it relates to the subject they teach.  Then, require all teachers to administer a test to the students each quarter and give the teacher an evaluation based on the scores on those tests.

They hear:  Montessori students choose their work.
They do:  Increase their electives offerings tenfold so that the students can now choose to "yo yo" or "build with legos" for one period a day rather than play in a band, sing in a choir, or learn a foreign language.

This post is completely impromptu today, so these are just what I came up with off the top of my head.  I'm sure there are more.

What I didn't do above is explain the true intention and benefits of the Montessori ideas borrowed and compared and contrasted them with the "borrowed" version.  I'm sure those of you who have boned up on your Montessori theory were cringing in your seats when you read some of these versions of how the Montessori ideas were actually implemented.  Did I use the words "lip service" yet?

In the interest of "making change" in our school districts, the next time your superintendent brags about being on the "cutting edge" of educational theory with their "bell-free" school that advocates "choice", "learning blocks", "differentiated learning," and "integrated subjects" find out what that really means in the classroom.

Is it possible that some of these ideas have to have the support of a certain type of school structure to really work?

Hey! if you just came here to see what we DID all day, I have a ton of pictures!  I started to tell you all about it but then I decided to add a few little sentences about how our day didn't conform to a traditional school day.  Next thing I knew, my ole' windbag-self had blown myself onto quite a tangent.   Stay tuned!

Oh dear, as I finish this the boys came downstairs from their "quiet time" and the first words out of Me Too's mouth were "Mommy, let's do some more geography."

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  1. It sounds like a wonderful productive day!
    The public system in our area is not great, and sadly under-funded. I agree… in that there are wonderful teachers …but unfortunately they are working in a system that has failed them, and our children. That being said… I know there must be some amazing public schools out there…somewhere?
    In one of Dr. Steven Hughes videos he remarked that there have been some attempts at innovation in the class room, and showed a picture of all the desks placed on a “slant” (or something like that)…made me giggle a bit…but what really made me giggle was when I dropped Xander at his French/Spanish classes and the coordinator was boasting about how forward thinking the “hosting” public school was, and she directed all to view a class with the desks placed in some funky pattern…BEST laugh I’d had in a while I must say....

  2. It's hilarious and infuriating at the same time. I saw the same thing back when I was subbing in the public schools.