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It’s Montessori Elementary

Mrs. Sesko and Ms. Hatziyannis

Mrs. Sesko and Ms. Hatziyannis

The first thing you notice is the quiet.  What you can’t hear is the sound of children discovering their capacity to learn.

Stepping into our Elementary classroom invites you to whisper.  Why is it so quiet?  It takes a few seconds to register that this isn’t perfect silence; there are sotto voce conversations all around the room. These discussions are serious, focused and calm.  Standing in one of the out-of-the-way niches, I hear two children talking about multiplication. Two others talk about a frog’s anatomy. And I hear Mrs. Sesko giving a lesson about nouns. Mrs. Hatziyannis soundlessly reviews a child’s addition work. Other children are working alone, mostly in silence.  One hums.  It is clear, these children are using what we call their indoor voice.

The learning here is more that cataloging facts or acquiring data. In this mostly quiet, self-directed classroom, affective learning—the kind that fundamentally shapes the way children view themselves and their capacity to learn—is taking place.  If I could think of a better place to learn, I’d tell you.

There is a peaceful buzz in the Elementary classroom because children are engaged in activities that are meaningful, motivating and personal. Affective learning has been described as the fuel that students bring to the classroom. (**)  It connects them to the “why” of learning. Mrs. Sesko and Hatziyannis understand that motivation is as important as acquiring facts. Affect goes beyond simple enjoyment, and it plays a part in the development of persistence and deep interest in a subject. Teachers who emphasize skills and knowledge to the exclusion of emotion, turn off students and create adversarial relations with their students.

As you watch these Elementary students working, you will see that something extraordinary is happening.  This just isn’t like other classrooms.  Trevor Eissler, author and Montessori advocate wrote about his experience in a traditional classroom, “I remember two noise levels in [my] elementary school: very loud and very quiet. When the teacher’s back was turned, or she was out of the room, pandemonium broke out. As soon as she turned around or came back in the room and shouted, “Quiet! NOW!” there was a terrified hush. The noise bounced from one to the other: loud, quiet, loud, quiet, loud, quiet—punctuated by the teacher’s occasional shout.”

Why is our Elementary classroom different? Simply put: it is because the classroom culture is different.  Mrs. Sesko and Mrs. Hatziyannis believe that their students are naturally interested in learning.  Their role is to build upon their interest or at least preserve it.  The teachers have filled the room with age-appropriate challenges that their students want to master.  And rather than demanding that children submit to their will, the teachers have set up an environment that respects the child’s and channels it. The class culture builds each child’s self-concept of a person who is competent, capable, and self-directed. Being a multi-age classroom, of course, supports the idea that each child isn’t in a race or competition with each other, but is learning upon a path that is as customized and individualized as it is interesting and motivating.  This is respecting the child.

The notion of respect turns the typical teacher/student relationship on its head.  Mrs. Hatziyannis and Mrs. Sesko do not rule the classroom like authoritarian dictators.  They are facilitators.  Children have to ‘do the thinking’ to get the learning.  As teachers, their goal is to create the opportunity for the children to think.  There is not cat-and-mouse game of rule setting/rule breaking.  There is a team mentality and a sense of community and cooperation. As Eissler describes a Montessori classroom that contracts the one he grew up with, “The [Montessori] teacher was like a chess grand master. A grand master is one of only a handful of elite chess players so accomplished they can play five, even ten chess matches simultaneously. They stroll around a room of tables, each with a chess board and a determined challenger, glance at each board in turn, make a move, and stroll to the next board. This teacher reminded me of that type of demonstration. She had keen skills of observation and quick analysis. She glided about the room giving a nod here, a whisper there, a glance, a suggestion. Then she would sit on a chair and observe the room, taking notes.”

Ask yourself: what are the most important goals I have for my child in his or her elementary years?  Chances are your list will include the following: I want my child to…

  • Be inquisitive
  • Enjoy learning
  • Have a positive self-image
  • Have confidence about his or her capacity to learn
  • Acquire the skills and facts necessary for academic success

As I observe the quiet buzz of our Elementary classroom, I am delighted to see our children fulfilling our hopes.  It is worth a look yourself. Just use your indoor voice.

 

**Teaching Every Student in the Digital Age: Universal Design for Learning (2001) Chapter 6

David H. Rose & Anne Meyer

– See more at: http://evergreenschool.com/its-elementary/#sthash.oXLT8C1u.dpuf

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