Saturday, February 21, 2015

Takeaways from the Refresher Course (part 1)

This years AMI refresher course in Atlanta was a huge inspiration and affirmation of the great things that can happen in a Montessori classroom. Directly from my notes, here are some of the takeaways (in my own words and interpretations) from the presentations.

From the keynote speaker, researcher Alison Gopnik (author of "The Scientist in the Crib"): 

*Childhood is stage of human life that is defined by the brain's need for exploration. The agenda of the child is to learn through play. Defined basically, "babies are for learning".

I love it that I work with an age group that is defined by wanting to creatively explore things and whose brains are primed for learning all the time. When I think of how those characteristics change, it really makes the children seem like a different species. If I try to imagine an adult with a mind like a four year olds, it is a scary thing. However, to have all that in my face all morning long is really exciting and wonderful. 

*Research shows that when an adult shows a child exactly how to work with new material saying something like "Let me show you how this works", she is limiting the child's own drive to manipulate the material creatively. Instead if she introduced the material by saying something like "I wonder how this works?" the child is more likely to deeply explore the material. 

This was really an eye opener for me. There was a lot said about it later on in the Primary presentation. About giving lessons that "destroy the possibility of imitation." It was one of the big points I took with me.

From Primary trainer, Sarah Werner Andrews from Montessori Northwest:

*Children's explorations challenge us at teachers. While we observe, we often ask ourselves "Did they learn what I intended?"

I ask myself this often when I observe after giving a lesson. When I sometimes don't see the child doing exactly as I showed I am sometimes quick to jot down - re-present lesson. Instead, I could spend a little more time actually noticing what the child received from the lesson and whether their own exploration of the material may lead to the purposes. They may take a different road than the one I laid out.

*To become a better teachers, we have to become better observers.

Interpreting the children's interactions with the materials and with each other is the key to finding out what they are actually interested in learning. So much of what was said about observation reminded me of the great course on Observation that is offered by the CGMS.

*Children need to feel safe and secure in order to carry out their work of exploration. Their relationship with the adults is crucial for these feelings of safety.

If the environment is too rigid, the children will probably feel too insecure to actually manifest in full their tendency for exploration. There has to be a feeling of friendliness with mistakes, and of openness and curiosity expressed especially by the adults so that the children can really dive deep in what is before them.

*The adults perception of the child is more powerful than the child's actual behavior. It's not the child itself that bothers the adult, it's the idea of the behavior or the child that does it. In order to change the adults perception of the child, spending some time connecting with the child in a child centered, non-directive activity is the key.

I recommend this so often to parents who come with complaints about their children's behavior at home. It is like a miracle cure. Twenty minutes of connecting time, just fun together. I've found it so helpful and loved to hear the trainer talk about it. It reminds me much of the Conscious Discipline training I have been taking for several years. Connection is one of the main foundations for learning.

*Trust the learning to the child. Part of trusting the child is to understand that mistakes are part of the the learning.

I often forget that the child will learn all by himself if I offer what I have and then get out of the way. Sometimes I feel responsible for what he must learn and micromanage the work a little more. I've been finding in the last years that trusting the group is a huge part of the step towards normalization, to trust that children want to learn and will do it as long as there is space. What I often find is that the more space I give them, the more I trust their choices, the greater their learning becomes. If I step in too early to solve problems, I sometimes rob them of the opportunity to exercise their own self regulation.

*When connecting the child to the environment, notice Who chooses the work, and What is motivating the choice? Sometimes we make the child obey in form but not in substance.

In order for children to really want to explore a material, it usually has to be self chosen. I think about the children who have not yet learned to make consistent choices and how if I am rescuing them all too often and making the choices for them, the quality of their work will probably not be great. They will do it once or twice and then put it back on the shelf. I know how important it is for children to learn to make their own choices, but sometimes the wandering and observing others probably is the fuel for developing the interests that will translate into more meaningful work.

*Give presentations that destroy the possibility of imitation.

This was one of my favorite things said at the refresher. The idea that children don't necessarily have to do exactly what you showed or be limited by the presentation. The idea that you are giving a suggestion and asking through the presentation- "I wonder how this works..." And that the teacher's parameter for knowing whether or not the work is meaningful is to understand the purpose of the material. If the purpose is being honored, even in some initially unrecognizable way, the exploration is probably valid.

*There are different kinds of presentations: Directive ones (like the teen boards), Process ones (like cleaning a plant), and Exploratory ones (like the knobless cylinders).

Each kind of presentation will have a different kind of response from the child. Understanding what kind of presentation best suits the purpose of the material will really help with giving a lesson that conveys that purpose clearly.

*Exploration needs boundaries. The purpose of the material is the constraint, even the material itself, but not the content of what can be learned. Specific, limited materials in the classroom doesn't mean a specific, limited curriculum.

"Thoughtful limits release learning. They help the child ask more questions instead of just finding "the answer" and being "done". " (from Education for a New World)

This made me feel that I still have such a long way to go with learning how to be a better observer. Glancing across the classroom when almost everyone is connected to a material deserves a much closer look into what each child is learning from his connection to the material. What endless beautiful work. :)