Friday, March 13, 2009

Mixed-up order

Montessori works are notorious for having a "right way" to do them. As a teacher, I present this "right way", and then expect that the kids will follow it. Sometimes they do, sometimes they don't. The trickiest part, for me, is knowing what to do when they don't.

Example- the "numbers and counters" activity. The first step is to lay out the number cards in order from one to ten. Then the little counters are placed under each number. But when a student refuses to lay out the cards in order first? And insists on laying them out in "mixed order"? The key in this case is knowing the student. I have observed my kids long enough that I am learning what is really going on in those little heads. In this particular instance, either I could have gone along with it, let the student lay them out in irregular order, but still asked them to lay out the appropriate counters. It could have been a way to increase the challenge of the activity. And in that case, it would have been okay and I would have gone along with the change. The point is, after all, to make sure they can lay the counters out. And I would have only done this if I knew the student COULD have laid out then number cards in order.

However, in this particular case, I realized that this student wasn't really ready for the order demanded from the activity. What was really wanted was a chance to play with and sort the counters. That is what I so appreciate about Montessori. Everything in order, even in the order of materials presented to children. Practical life activities are always presented first, way before math and language, and these include many sorting activities and chances to handle small, enticing objects. The kids can get their fill of that kind of thing, and get it "out of their system" so to speak, before moving on. However, practical life also includes learning to follow directions. Even in the sorting, spooning, tonging and pouring work, there are certain rules to follow. The materials are not completely open-ended, just not as complicated as those that follow. So, the ability to follow directions is honed at the beginning as well.

Well, what if that ability to follow directions needs more fine-tuning? Well, that is something that all the kids are working on. And something, perhaps, that I need to learn how to teach better as well. All of them insist, in their own ways, on HAVING their own way when it comes to using certain materials. And that is where I struggle a little. It is important for the kids to use the materials appropriately...that is the point. Otherwise they may not learn what the material intends to teach. But, is it just that they don't remember how to use it? Or is it that they choose not to remember? All the kids have their stubborn, sticking points, and it is my job to choose which battles to fight.

From anyone reading this, I would appreciate hearing any feedback you have on how to teach children to use materials correctly. Should I insist on correct use and threaten to take the material off the shelf if not used the way it is intended? When I have done this, I notice that the material is usually just avoided for a period of time instead of used correctly. A silent protest, I think. But also an indication that the child was perhaps either not ready for the material, or too advanced for it...

4 comments:

smith said...

I am so glad I stumbled onto your blog today. I am working on starting Montessori preschool in my home (don't have it together just yet, still reading/researching) and I think I need to make sure I don't overestimate what my child can do. There are times in practical life that he outright defies me--seemingly. Then I realize he is simply not able to complete the task at hand yet. Thank you for reiterating this, because once you understand what is actually happening, frustration lessens for both mom and child.

Amber said...

Hi :) This is a great post & some great questions. I wonder about these finer details too. I look forward to some more learned comments (than mine ;).

Susanne said...

Hi! Your post deal with one of those key aspects of teaching the Montessori way. When observing a child do a work, not quite the way it was presented, what I tell my assistant is to ask herself "Is the purpose of the material being fulfilled?" If it is, then the child may continue to work with it, if it isn't then the child is invited to put the material away and directed to do what it seems like they were trying to do with the material. For example, if someone is building with the color tablets instead of matching or grading them, I ask them to put them away and suggest working with building blocks. We try to review the purposes of each material as we put them out each week to be clear on what the child is intended to learn from that material. Thanks for a great post!

Koko's mama said...

I've struggled with the same issue in our home. I wonder if this is more of an issue in a homeschooling setting. My friend who is a Montessori teacher always told me to just let them be, but always make it a point to present it again. But if they are obviously misusing the material, (I can't think of a good example) I do take it away. I've found that it really helped to put all the Montessori equipment in a separate room that only has "quiet" toys. And also, just plain old time. After a while, my oldest understood the "rules."