Thursday, July 16, 2009

"Montessori Madness"- a book for parents and teachers

A while ago, Trevor Eissler sent me a copy of his book "Montessori Madness". The cover states that it is a "Parent to Parent Argument for Montessori Education", and as a teacher, I found it to be an exciting review of Montessori theory, and a journey into Montessori education as seen through the eyes of a parent.

The book is very well researched fits in perfectly with the theory that's been handed to me in my AMI training. I read it in it's entirety during a recent flight home, and was jumping out of my seat with the excitement the book evoked when bringing up some of my favorite concepts like the importance of community in Montessori education, learning through making mistakes, the role of the adult, and why punishments and rewards are futile. It was so satisfying to hear a parent's version of these so well understood.

During parent conferences at school, as well as during parent evenings, it is important for me to share Montessori theory and to help parents understand the general ideas behind what we are doing at school. I think it can help parents frame their child's experience in a more satisfying way. It was difficult during my first years of teaching not to launch directly into an extensive lecture about the "absorbent mind" when talking to new parents of 3 year olds. The theory is so exciting! I got many glazed looks of course. And through the years I've learned how to better phrase what I'm trying to say so that it maintains relevance to the parents, and makes sense in the context of their own child. This book presents the information regarding the Absorbent Mind, Sensitive Periods, and other keystone Montessori concepts in a very parent friendly way. It will be helpful for me to go back to it to remind myself which are the main aspects parent's are really concerned about.

It is important to me, as a teacher and administrator, to recognize the journey parents go through when they decide to put their children in a Montessori school. This book is a great tool for further confirming to parents that in doing so they've made the right choice. The author describes the mental shift that he and his wife had go through once they'd decided to try Montessori for their children. It is difficult for a parent to forgo the security of graded report cards, the nostalgia of a familiar setting and method used, the common use of external reinforcement of discipline, rewards and punishments, and adult to tell them how their child ranks and compares to others. However, soon enough they realize what they have gained instead: respect for the child's individuality, the power to learn through and trust their observations, the excitement of discovery along with their child, independence, and self motivation. Getting to recognize these gains is what keeps Montessori parents excited about their child's learning process in Montessori.

Here is the book's website:

A few excerpts from the book:

About forgoing grades:

"I think you, the parent, should be discriminating and judgmental, in the best sense of both words, when it comes to choosing a school, as well as evaluating your child's progress. By allowing someone else to grade your child- on peripheral subjects- you are handing over one of your highest responsibilities to strangers. You should be evaluating your child, asking relevant questions, just as you evaluate the person you chose to marry, the person you choose to employ, or the person you choose to let in your house.

In Montessori schools, the child is treated as a whole person, meaning the questions asked are very similar to questions one might ask of a respected adult. We evaluate a person by taking stock of his or her life situation, such as the person's social interactions, career, or family life. "Is she happy?" "Is she learning?""Is he independent?""Is he sociable?" "Is he able to concentrate?""Is his curiosity nurtured?" These questions can be answered, not by a computer graded answer sheet, but by yourself. A teacher, whose job and training is to observe your child throughout the day, not just lecture and grade tests, can be of great assistance."

On responsibility:

"Responsibility requires good judgment. Conversely, good judgment requires responsibility. We can't just hope to make children responsible by simply telling them what the outcome of a decision will be; they have to go through the process of choosing a decision, making that decision, and then learning from it."

On friendliness with error/ control of error:

"The contrast between Montessori schools and traditional schools in treatment of error is jaw-dropping. Maria Montessori attempted "to cultivate a friendly feeling towards error, to treat it as a companion inseparable from our lives, as something having a purpose, which it truly has." Her method brings error into the light of day, removes any stigma towards it, and develops a child's sense of ownership of it. She argues, "... what matters is not so much correction in itself as that each individual should become aware of his own errors. Each should have a means of checking, so that he can tell if he is right or not." She contrasts her "control of error" method with the methods of traditional schools, in which children "often have no idea that they are making mistakes. They make them unconsciously and with complete indifference, because it is not their business to correct them but the teacher's!""

I am reminded of the hundreds of times I waited in suspense, wondering how I did on a test. How sad that I didn't know, or couldn't judge for myself, or didn't have a method of working through my results and figuring out how I did, without relying on someone else to tell me. If error is our own inseparable companion, I should know better than anyone else how I did on a test. If I don't, I should be in an environment which allows me to practice and train myself to develop that self-awareness. But even as a college student, I was still handing in tests to a teacher to be graded. "

"A fear of error also becomes a fear of curiosity for many children. Curiosity is the eagerness to intentionally put onself in a position where one doesn't know the correct answer."

On the role of the teacher:

"Doctors can't heal a patient, only patients can heal themselves. Doctors, to put it crudely, can only cut off diseased parts; attach one part of the body to another with rope (sutures); or send various chemicals or hormones or antibiotics into the body in the hope that more of the bad stuff will be killed than the good stuff. Doctors can only attempt to provide favorable conditions under which healing can occur. They provide the environment which allows the body the opportunity and the time to heal itself. The doctor's role is not to heal the patient directly.

It is interesting to compare this doctor's view of his own role in healing, with Montessori's view of a teacher's role in education:

"Education is not something which the teacher does, but... a natural process which develops spontaneously in the human being. It is not acquired by listening to words but in vitue of experiences in which the child acts on his environment. The teacher's task is not to talk, but to prepare and arrange..."

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