Montessori Method – An Introductory Workshop

I went to a workshop on raising independent learners using the Montessori method. I have heard about the Montessori method, and tried to read a book on it, but I was not exactly sure what it is about, until after attending the talk. I came away with a better understanding of it.

I must thank Ting from Miracule for helping me to communicate with the organizer to get the free tickets I had won in her giveaway. My emails did not appear in my account and I had missed the deadline.

I was overwhelmed by my visit to Suntec City. So many changes had taken place and I nearly could not find my way.

sarah tan A selfie!

When I finally managed to get into the room, the first speaker mentioned that the google founders went to Montessori schools when they were young and they credited the curriculum for divergent thinking.

speaker 1

He also talked about the Montessori founder, who was a female doctor that faced discrimination during her time. After earning the highest awards in medical school, she was sent to look after neglected children. She came up with an education system that reached children who had disadvantaged backgrounds.

The main thing Montessori teachers do is to observe the child to see what they are capable of and then make informed decisions on what they should do for the children. At the same time, they want children to make independent decisions. They would follow the children and take care of their emotional and physical needs.

Montessori schools prepare the environment to let the children feel at ease. The furniture is child size, and the children have freedom to move from stations to stations. All these take place within limits, so that the environment remain safe.

The speaker mentioned that in conventional schools, students like to ask the teachers whether the assignment is graded. That brought a wry smile to my face as my students had just asked me the day before whether the listening comprehension practice was graded.

In a short video we watched, the narrator mentioned that a parent who could not afford to continue sending her child to a Montessori school said the light in the eyes of her son diminished when he went to a conventional school. That is so sad.

In the classroom, teachers move around from children to children. Older children teach younger ones as they are grouped together. In elementary and middle schools, they group children in classes with three different ages. The best part is that children have ownership in learning as they take the initiative, and have self-discipline.

Lessons are driven by the students’ interest in multi-age groups. At home, children learn from siblings who are in different age groups. So why do we need to put them according to their chronological age? Schools turn them into competitors when students should actually cooperate with each other. I consider this to be quite a good concept. Most of us learn at different pace and why should we be forced to catch up or slow down with others?

In the classroom, there are a few types of freedom we can see.
Choice, movement, speech, growth, love, materials, environment and danger free, competition free, pressure free,

The speaker suggested getting the children to start looking after plants, insects, fish, small mammals, large mammals in that order. This encourages empathy.

They acquire life skills by learning how to tie lace and button their clothes.

To identify a real Montessori school, there should be 5 areas in Montessori schools and no walls. Spaces are demarcated by shelves.

A Montessori-trained teacher took over and shared about the different types of learning available. When she was talking about language learning, she said that phonics is more concrete than abstract letters. That is similar to zoophonics.
They make use of sandpaper letters, so that children can trace and acquire muscular memory through the sensory and tactile methods. Teachers have to choose words that can sound phonetically, such as ‘pan’.

teacher

For words such as ‘cow’ and ‘leek’, it is impossible to go phonetically, so we need to introduce phonogram, such as ‘ow’ and ‘ee’ sounds. Wait a minute, I finally realised what those Zoophonics cards were for.
phonics

I was amazed with how they teach maths. 4 year olds could do additions of 4-digit sums. They know the decimal system, which is about ones, tens, hundreds and thousands. They have different sizes of blocks and units, and get students to put them into columns. They add up the numbers, and then transition to numerical representation.
maths

I like this method of teaching very much because it really allows children to advance at their own pace. El is really bored in his classroom and is not stretched at all.

Apart from language and maths, they have cultural studies which includes science zoology, botany, history and geography.
How do they learn the continents? By tracing the tiles and saying them aloud, so that the tactile experience helps them to have muscular memory.

How do they learn about landforms? By pouring water into a tray and the protruding area is dry and the sea is wet, they can feel it. They know whether it is an island or lake.

landforms

Unfortunately there is no such curriculum for mother tongue. The teacher admitted that they do conventional teaching.

Parents are curious about how to do extra coaching at home. The teacher said it was important to play with your children. Do not compare with other parents and let the teachers do the teaching.

sarah tan 2 Yet another selfie!

The only drawback of the Montessori system is the cost. It is expensive because of the additional training required, and the materials are expensive, as one set of material can only be used to teach a single concept.

I wish I could have explored more options before signing up my children for their preschool. Many of these Montessori children are bored when they go to primary school because they have already learnt them in preschool. Why is school so rigid? It is during times like this when I really question the wisdom of teaching at the same time to different levels.

goodie bag After the talk, I got four goodie bags!

El’s new school

It has been nearly a term at El’s new school. 9 weeks had flown past very quickly, and he has settled nicely into his school. He seems to like this school a lot, because he has more friends. I do not get to pick him up from school, so I do not have a chance to speak to his teachers. They do not bring any assignments home, so I have no idea what they are doing in school.

Recently, they held a meeting for the parents. We went there and I am mixed about the school. They are still working on very basic topics, such as family, learning phonics and still learning numbers 1-10. I wonder whether El would be very bored, since he is way beyond that. As for the Mandarin lesson, think the curriculum is not too bad.

Unfortunately, something which I am very particular about is their main weakness. Both the teachers were not strong in their languages. The English teacher had grammar errors in her speech. Her pronunciation was good, but I was very distracted by errors such as “One of the game” and “Although…but…”. The Mandarin teacher had pronunciation problems. She mixed up ‘s’ and ‘sh’ and other type of ‘qiao she’ sounds, and ‘n’ and ‘ng’ sounds. The last time I discovered a Mandarin teacher had such errors, I withdrew my son from the enrichment centre.

While they are kindergarten teachers and I do not expect them to be university graduates, the least I expect is to have a good grasp of the languages they teach in. El’s previous teachers made grammar errors in their writing, but their spoken language was good.

Despite having a large vocabulary, El still makes mistakes in subject-verb agreement. If his teacher makes such mistakes frequently, he will not be able to improve them. His Mandarin is totally weak, and he speaks in a singing tone. I wonder whether I need to send him for Chinese classes.

I was a little perturbed when the teacher told me how worried she was about the children cutting off part of the artwork, and she would trim to make their work better. Could we accept what the children produce, or do we push them to do better, or even improve their work on our own? She also mentioned something about how busy she was, and she might not have the time to put the labels on their work. While I appreciate her honesty, I could not help but wonder whether she could have done more.

They gave feedback that El was easily distracted in class. I wonder whether it is because he is bored in class. During the Mandarin class, which was right after break, he would continue eating, or hide at the library corner. He was not interested in Mandarin lessons.

The teacher also mentioned that he would write in a very untidy manner, and he did not colour pictures properly. I told her that at his drawing class, he would colour very well, and fill the entire printed drawing with crayon colouring. He also enjoyed the classes very much. She was surprised and did not seem to believe me. Then when my husband mentioned that he did not like to practise piano, she immediately jumped to the conclusion that he had a lot of activities. Heck, these activities take no more than 2 hours in a week.

The teachers mentioned that he was quite assertive, and would demand in a loud voice what he wanted. He also was quite stubborn. While I acknowledge that he could be a handful, she seemed to suggest that the family environment was the main cause of the problems. I agree with that, as his grandparents are spoiling him. However, after being a parent for some time, and observing various teachers teach my children, I have come to a conclusion that teachers play an important role.
In the past, I used to think that children misbehave in class due to their own upbringing or own issues, but now, I know that the teacher plays a large role. It is really hard to be a great teacher. I constantly do self-reflection to improve my teaching and my classroom management. There are a lot of things I still have to improve on, but with experience, it gets a little easier each time. Hence, by simply suggesting that El was exhibiting a lot of problems in class was largely due to the family, I beg to differ. If his art teachers could get him to colour and draw properly, why couldn’t his school teachers do that?

Was it due to class size?

His former class was very small. With less than 8 children, and 2 teachers, they had lots of attention. With 1 teacher and 20 students, they do not get much attention. I am concerned that if he continues to stay in his previous school, with dwindling class size, he will get a rude shock when he goes to primary school.

Do they belong to the old school of teaching?

Towards the end, after telling them about the other issues El faces, the Mandarin teacher actually asked me whether they could pray for him. I was taken aback. We do not share the same religious affiliations. I am not opposed to her praying, but what was I supposed to say? Thanks but no thanks? I told her she could go ahead, but if that was her way of solving the problems, then I think that is not enough. I need real concrete suggestions on what I could do for my son.

With my previous post on how teachers could talk to parents, I went to tell my colleague that when we meet the parents of the students in our class, we must really provide a balanced view of their children. They need to know that despite not doing well in certain subjects, there were a lot more to them as teenagers, as CCA members or leaders, as friends, as students.

I know the teachers mean well for my son. They are very caring still. I was probably over reacting about their language skills (though as a language teacher, I know how hard it is to change the mistakes that have been accumulated from young). My son enjoys going to school. My parents-in-law are happy. My husband is happy.

But I am not. Is there anything I could really do?

Nobody could fully understand the pressure I face from my parents-in-law, or the pressure my husband face, about which school to send El to. I also wonder why I am not a stronger person to insist on what my child requires. I feel alone at times, when I feel that I am struggling against so many voices, and it is just easier to give in. His previous school was very expensive, even more expensive than a university education. I do agree with them that the money could be been better spent or saved.

Carnival at East Coast Park

Every year, El’s former preschool will hold a carnival at East Coast Park for children from all their branches. I had brought him there in 2012, and my parents brought him there in 2013.

IMG_3754 They have a lot of little booths manned by teachers for children to play and win prizes. I think he won a lot of stickers.IMG_3757  He enjoys the snacks after playing.

IMG_3766 When I had brought him there previously, he went up to the bouncy castle, and when he came down, he had a bad nose bleed. I think he was hit in the nose by another child, but the teachers tended to him immediately. I was actually freaking out as I had not encountered something like this. Someone taught me to pinch the nose a little, and put ice to cool the body down. Hence, I was quite surprised to see him play on the bouncy castle this time round, without another fear.

 

IMG_3763

I think it was pretty late when he went there, so he did not really meet many of his schoolmates.

They had face painting, and other games, and also had performances by professionals. The children enjoyed the carnival.

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