As part of a professional development day, our art department took part in site visits to other schools to get a wide variety of ideas on ways to change and improve our own art curriculum. We divided and conquered- Meaning we split our visits and then came back together to share what we saw.
I was lucky to be able to visit a Montessori school, ages 4-11. Talk about something different! I was especially interested, because we study Reggio Schools in the class “Rethinking Kindergarten” so I wanted to get an idea of the differences in approach between the two, and watch little ones use their own creativity in new ways.
Part 1: Visiting Montessori
Background and Observations
Upon our visit, we learned a little more about the background of how the Montessori schools started. Maria Montessori started the schools in Rome, Italy. Her previous experience with working with special needs kids, and a science background, led her to believe that students worked best with hands on activities, and that young students, if learning in natural ways, need no external motivation, for they are naturally curious and motivated given certain conditions. There were three elements to learning: The learner, the prepared environment and the trained adult.
The Montessori Environment
- The Montessori environment is very aesthetically pleasing. Materials are all placed on very low shelving and are clutter free.
- There are no teacher materials in the room at all. (ie filing systems, book storage, and not even a teacher desk.)
- Students are in multiple age groups, for example, all 3-6 year olds share a class and room. The teacher stays with the students for all 3 years.
- Materials are “real”- Real wood, real dishes, items from everyday life, which teaches students to respect materials.
- Class sizes are small. The 3-6 year olds had 10-12 in a class, one teacher and an assistant.
- The upper ages 7-11 had only 5 students and one teacher! Imagine that!
Look at the shelf. This is an example of a math shelf. Students will have learned some of the activities on the shelf, and can only use those. The work gets increasingly harder as you move along the shelf. Students can move on to a new lesson once they have mastered the previous lesson.
We were able to observe the morning’s 3 hour block. Students in Montessori are given a 3 hour block of uninterrupted work time (anyone drooling?). This helps them to not have interrupted work flow and builds stamina and discipline. (Because we know stamina and ADHD are a problem with our students thanks to many things, including quick moving video games, right!)
Students work through activities during this 3 hour block. They choose the activities they want to do, but can only work on something they’ve already had a “lesson” on. They work in a specific order on the shelf.
There are no specific time allotments. No “math time” or “reading time” – All activities spiral and connect to one another to cover all the disciplines.
- Interacts with students 1:1 while they are working on their chosen activities. The teacher formatively assesses the students and makes notations to document the student learning, asking questions for clarification.
- The teacher will teach a new lesson to the student as they need it, 1:1
- The teacher may need to “lure” a student to a new activity to encourage a variety of learning experiences, but for the most part, lets the student guide his or her own learning.
- The parents seemed very involved at the Montessori school. The school had viewing windows so parents could come in and observe the students anytime! I like this open relationship they had between parent and student and school.
Ah Ha Moments:
Here are some of my “Ah Ha” moments or things I won’t forget after visiting this school.
- They do not introduce technology until 4th grade. Is this a mistake or a blessing?
- Montessori starts teaching cursive at the age of 3.
- Students were encouraged to take responsibility for their own actions. They must “restore” their own work environments by cleaning them up themselves.
- Students worked on small rugs when pulling a floor activity from the shelf. (see photo above). The activity stays on the rug, and no other student is allowed to get into your space on the rug. It’s your time to explore. Students rolled up the rugs when they “restored” their activity before going on to the next one.
- Structures are explicitly taught. It’s the most structure I’ve ever seen in a classroom as well as the most freedom I’ve ever seen in a classroom.
- Students ate lunch all together. They used cloth napkins and real glasses. The school is a community. The teachers eat with the students.
One of the main things I noticed while visiting the school is the atmosphere. It was SO much more laid back then the chaos I feel my art room exudes. Quiet music was playing, most students were engaged (Of course there were a few stragglers who wandered and had a tough time choosing an activity). The smaller class sizes seemed so manageable. Students were not always shouting out for the teacher. Students were so independent. The teacher spent very little time prepping and cleaning, because students took care of this in learning responsibility.
That’s a lot to take in- I hope you have gotten a feel for what a Montessori school looks like. I know for me, this was all new learning, and I am excited to share it with you.
Stay Tuned! In Part 2 : Visiting Montessori, I will explore how we can connect the structures and leanings of Montessori to the art room and go deeper into some of the materials I observed students using, that I think you might like to try.
What questions do you have for me about the visit?