For this observation, I chose a local Montessori school. I have been in many public school classes, but I did not know what to expect as I was not familiar with Montessori schools. The class consisted of one main teacher, an assistant, and 30 students. I had many challenges, including not knowing the teachers or the students. The students ranged from six to eleven years old. An admin person from the office took me to the classroom. My expectation was that I would be a distraction to the children. In my experience, children will scramble to get your attention as if you are a celebrity. However, the children glanced over and saw me, but went back to what they were doing. The admin motioned to the assistant, and the assistant pointed to a chair. I was not introduced to the children or the teachers. I sat and took notes and eventually the teacher came by to introduce herself. She said that she was helping the students at one table with noun phrases and the other children were working on the things that they had chosen for their work. She pointed out that she also had students in the library.
After completing the observation, I was very impressed, and I am still excited about the experience. The woman who set up the observation had asked me to come at the start of the day, and at first I kept expecting the class to begin. After observing one child for the first part of the assignment, I knew that the important thing for me to focus on for the second part was independence, autonomy, and responsibility (Berger, 2012). I was amazed to discover that the children were allowed to speak to one another freely, move around the classroom, and work cooperatively at their own pace (Worth Publishers, 2002). They were learning on their own, and getting help from their peers. I had a hard time comprehending that they were all working at different things at their own rate. As they worked independently, they appeared to be self-sufficient (Worth Publishers, 2002). I am used to the public schools where the teacher stands at the front of the class, and the children sit in chairs in rows. In my experience, a student must raise their hand to say anything or move anywhere out of their chair. I am used to all the students working on the exact same thing, and teachers having to tell students repeatedly to calm down, and often for the room to be in chaos.
This Montessori teacher never addressed the entire class. I am used to a teacher calling out students on misbehavior loud enough for everyone to hear. It is a shaming technique that is disrespectful to children and children typically return the disrespect. But I have never seen an alternate solution. This teacher would get up, walk over to the student, and ask them in a patient voice what they were working on. She would get them back on track if their focus wandered. I noticed that except for once or twice, she said “what are you working on?” rather than “what are you doing?” It was asked as a question, not as an accusatory statement, and not loud or angry. A couple of times the children would say they were finished and she would ask them “what do you need to work on next?”
This level of responsibility that the students are given essentially narrows down to respect. They are basically treated as adults at work. They have assignments to do, are given the time to do them with oversight, and are allowed to work with their peers to accomplish it. This would be consistent with Vygotsky, who believed that learning takes place through interaction with adults and peers in the school setting (Berger, 2012). Berger made the point that some school environments are quiet and some are rich in speech. This school setting impressed me with the amount of constant chattering between students. I could not always make out what was said, since I was sitting on the sidelines, but all the students were speaking to one another. The subject in the first part of the assignment was singing with her friend as my time ended. The freedom afforded them was amazing. They also were given the opportunity to learn French as a second language, which puts them in the less than 5 percent of children in the U.S. under age 11 who study a second language (Berger, 2012).
Their psychosocial needs are nurtured as they are given this freedom, responsibility, and respect (Berger, 2012). I could tell that they are able to take part in the activities of the school room according to rules which helps their brain to function cognitively (Worth Publishers, 2002). I saw that they were mostly segregated by gender. Although occasionally they would come together to ask questions, most all the groups were divided into boys and girls. I thought it was interesting that the boy asked for the answer, and the others would help him, but would not give him the answer. They had a definite sense of fairness. The children appeared to belong, which means that is a safe setting that will facilitate their learning. Also, it supports peer relationships, which is critically important at this stage (Berger, 2012).
I found it exciting that they are learning through real life experiences, which is another way to encourage independence and autonomy (Berger, 2012). They are gaining real life business experiences. The room had huge windows overlooking a grassy yard. In it, there was a chicken coop. I was told that the students take care of the chickens and are preparing an egg selling business. They also had raised garden beds and they had plants ready to be planted. They have a pizza business where some of the students make the pizza, others deliver them, and others take care of the finances. The students and teachers can give cash or are given a debit card and the students in charge of the finances have to keep track of how much their customers have paid, owe, and are owed change.
The young girl I observed appeared to be deeply involved in her work and when I had the opportunity to see what she was doing, it was about horses. The boys were counting money and giving change to one another. Another student was counting zeros on a chart. Someone else was working on the financial records for the pizza business. Several children were sitting and reading quietly. They were each working on what they enjoyed.
I did not see them move around too much other than around the class so I could not see large motor skills. There was no big gym outside, just the chicken coop, gardens, and large yard with a teepee made out of branches. I did not get the chance to view their schedule to see how often they go outside. I do not know about the Montessori view or value of play. However the room had ample wooden unit blocks, there were bridges made out of popsicle sticks, encyclopedias, chapter books, and books on science, art, and social studies. It was an environment rich for learning (Berger, 2012).
When our class discussed special need students earlier, I had wondered how a teacher could handle every type of student, from learning disabled, to those with ADHD, and those who are gifted (Berger, 2012). I thought that no teacher could be everything to every student, and they cannot. But after observing this classroom, I saw how the younger and older, more abled and less abled children assisted one another. The environment, rules, and expectations set each child up for success. It was a less intrusive, more accepting and accommodating environment that was supportive (Snow, 2003-2009). The teacher was not everything to every student; however she was a guide and facilitator in their learning. The students were set up for independent learning (Berger, 2012). This is what the video on observing middle childhood promoted as the ultimate goal: that when we are thinking of development, we need to remember that each student must go at their own pace and our role is to guide them so that they are able to develop at their own pace (Worth Publishers, 2002).
There is much more that I could say about this experience. I was thoroughly impressed. I have to wonder if U.S. schools employed more of the basic Montessori principles would there be a huge effect on students’ attitudes, performance, and self-esteem? I feel that I observed the perfect example of how educators can facilitate intellectual advances, independence, and autonomy (Berger, 2012, p. 378). I wish that I had known more about Montessori schools in the past; however, I feel that this experience helped me to think outside of the box in regards to what middle school children are capable of and how they should be treated by the teacher. I have learned that educators can encourage students to develop friendships, even to work with their peers, and the classroom can remain calm and respectful. Middle school students can be trusted to be responsible, to choose from their own interests, and to work independently.
Berger, K. (2012). The developing person through childhood (6th ed.). New York, NY: Worth Publishers.
Laureate Education, Inc. (Producer). (2010). “Observing Children Part 3: School-Age Children” [Video webcast]. Retrieved from https://class.waldenu.edu/webapps/blackboard/content/listContent.jsp?course_id=_4743633_1&content_id=_15898253_1
Smidt, S. (2013). The developing child in the 21st century: A global perspective on child development (2nd Ed). New York: Routledge
Snow, K. (2003-2009). Redefining disability. Retrieved from http://www.disabilityisnatural.com/images/PDF/redefindis.pdf
Worth. (Producer). (2002). The journey through the life span, middle childhood [DVD]. New York, NY: Worth Publishers.