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.
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.
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’.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.