Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Imitation is the highest form of flattery

They say that imitation is the highest form of flattery. I guess I should start feeling flattered. We have an epidemic in my room: a bunch of Mini-Me's.

Last week I was trying to finish evaluations of where children are with their sounds and letter recognition. I sat at my floor table with the box of sandpaper letters and my notebook, making notes as I turned around each letter. About fifteen minutes after I had started, a kindergarten boy pulled out a rug and placed it about five feet away from me. He brought the digraph sandpaper letters to his rug. Soon after he included the capital sandpaper letters. He made a little card with his name on it to give to children. (Sometimes I place a card that says "Please come to a lesson with Miss Coventry" next to a child. When that child comes to a stopping point or finishes her work, she can come see me for that lesson.) He started inviting children over to his rug, one by one, showing them the letters and making notations in his notebook.

This started on Friday and we thought it was cute and would be short-lived. Instead, it started to grow. By Tuesday, four Extended Day children had set up rugs with sandpaper letters, sandpaper numerals, sight words cards, etc. They were inviting people over for lessons and making marks in their notebooks. Some of them are completely overshooting their academic skill level, but that is okay. Should the child who is struggling through sounds choose those digraphs, he may learn some of them if that other child knows them. It's a new way of learning and teaching each other.

The other amusing aspect is how seriously all of the children are taking this. They are very respectful when they get their lesson invite and sit with their hands in their lap. They wait until the lesson is finished before returning to other activities.

I have always maintained that the children learn better from each other than they learn from me with a lot of things. For example, my teachers always tried to teach me how to tie my shoes with the bow-tying frame. I couldn't do it. And then one of my special boy friends taught me how to tie my shoes in about two minutes. I have had this happen in the reverse numerous times. I do lesson after lesson and the kids don't get it. And then they sit with their friends and are tying shoes.

This is why we use our three-friend rule in the classroom. I think I mentioned this once last year when this blog was hosted on my regular website. Before you ask an adult for help, you must ask three friends first. Chances are you will find someone out of those three who can help you. This removes the adult from the equation. It makes the children have to do some problem solving. And if you can teach someone how to do something, you have to really know it yourself.

It will be interesting to see how many little mimickers there are this morning....

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Let go of your agenda

Even Montessori teachers have to adhere to some sort of agenda. We make plans about what we are going to teach our kids. We have certain requirements that we need to meet, especially when kids are moving on to public schools. And yes, we do need to answer to parents to an extent. That is the crappy part of the job. But the beauty of Montessori is sometimes you can just absolutely let it go.

My first major agenda change happened last week. I was all set to do my Extended Day sound of the week lesson. The kids had just came back from lunch, so they were still changing their shoes. Instead of us always tying the children's shoes, we encourage them to ask a friend. This is one of those skills that children always seem to learn better from each other than from an adult. I vividly remember the boy who taught me how to tie my shoes in Montessori kindergarten.

One of our boys learned how to tie his shoes at the end of last school year and has been very helpful with the other children. On that day, he was feeling a little frustrated with everyone asking him to help tie their shoes. He finally exclaimed, "Okay, everyone! You all need to learn how to tie your shoes!"

I quietly said, "You know, there are dressing frames over in practical life that will help you practice tying shoes."

The boy in question walks over to the bin and gets out the bow-tying frame. "Okay, everyone, watch me!" And he proceeds to give his own lesson on the tying frame. The kids were so excited that they wanted more dressing frames. I didn't yet have them all out, so I went to the storage closet and filled the bin. They gave each other lessons on the dressing frames for a solid 20 minutes. I did finally get around to my sounds lesson, but this somehow took priority.

Today there was a similar story. I did my sounds book and they brainstormed new words. They got out their notebooks to write some of them down. I noticed that the aforementioned boy and another one were doing more than just writing words in their notebooks. The second boy just recently started taking Chinese classes. He is madly in love with his new talent of writing Chinese characters and was teaching the first boy how to make some. He then started showing me some of them and I told him I could add some works to the shelf if he was interested. He got very excited.

I pulled out my laptop and showed him a couple of activities that I already knew. He helped to teach us how to correctly pronounce the Chinese numbers from 1-10. He commented that he wanted to know how to make more of the numbers, but hadn't yet gotten there at Chinese school. So, I hopped on YouTube and found a video about making numbers. I played it and asked him if that looked right. He said yes and got very excited to see how some larger numbers were made. One by one more children came around to watch. Some of them even grabbed their notebooks and were trying to make the characters. They also asked to watch a short video that taught them the color names in Chinese. We watched a few of them repeatedly. Have I maybe found a use for that damn SmartBoard? (Although my assistant and I agreed that we preferred the intimacy of using the laptop, instead.)

It was very exciting for me as well as the children. This is what I love about Montessori education. You follow the child and his interests. And you can learn from him just as much as he will learn from you.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

When the kids make you cry....

Okay, coming on the heels of my conversation about full moon craziness, I am sure you think they were awful today. On the contrary. The kids had such a good day that I never even had that first circle to draw them in. I was paranoid that we were going to have a fire drill, so I snuck out and asked in the office. Thank God they said no, because I was content to let my kids work.

It is the sweetness of the children that touched my heart today and made me cry.

One of my kindergarten boys was trying to tell me about some big cushion that you blow up and when you sit on it, it makes a loud obnoxious sound. He couldn't remember its name, so I told him it was known as a whoopie cushion. So he and another boy started discussing different sizes of whoopie cushions that they have seen over their years.

Whoopie cushions are something that always made my father laugh. As is my habit these days, I said in passing, "My father always loved those whoopie cushions."

The second boy, whom I have known since he was a baby and who met my parents a few years ago when they visited, turned to me with a serious look on his face. "Is your dad still alive? Or did he die?"

"He died a few months ago."

"Oh yeah. He was sick, right?"

"Yes, he was very sick. He was in the hospital for seven weeks. Do you remember how much school I missed at the end of last year?"


"Well, I was at the hospital taking care of him. I stayed with him until he died."

"Oh yeah." And then his eyes lit up and he said, "I am glad he isn't sick anymore. Now you can stay here with us!"

I smiled and nodded and quickly turned away with tears in my eyes.

I hated being gone so much from my kids last year. I missed a full week in September when my grandmother died. I had a couple of sick days and an awful lot of CSE and CPSE meetings off-campus. I missed the day before Spring Break and the full week after, as Dad was in the ICU and had his brain surgery. I came home for a week and then took a long weekend to make sure he was settled in his LTAC facility. I stayed in NY for another two weeks, did conferences, and then left for the rest of the school year, starting on the Friday before Memorial Day. The following Thursday, June 2nd, their last day of school, my father passed away. June 3rd was the Moving Up Ceremony.

You and your children inevitably become very attached to each other. I have always loved how my class operates like a tightly-knit family. The children are affected when even one of them is missing. It is much more significant when one of their adults is gone, especially the one who "runs the room." I knew they had missed me when I was gone. But until that precise moment, I didn't know quite how much. And this was coming from one of my kids whom I saw frequently throughout the summer months.

Yesterday I was cleaning out my car. I reached under one of the seats and found a crumpled up piece of construction paper. I opened it up. It was a heart-shape with hearts and stars drawn on it that said, "I love you, Mr. Coventry." One of my girls, who was an Extended Day 4 last year and is a kindergartner this year, had made it. When I called my kids on the last day of school to wish them a happy summer, I was on my way up to Hospice. I told them to send my father happy thoughts of clouds, rainbows, flowers and anything else they could think of. I remember getting choked up as they called out his name to lift it up. That little girl made this heart picture for my father after I hung up with them. I will cherish it forever.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The Curse of the Full Moon

Do you suffer from the curse of the full moon? I do. I am suffering from it right now. The full moon peaks on October 12th (tomorrow) and the kids are intensely feeling it.

Some people think I am crazy. Others who pay attention will find that I am not crazy. I have paid attention to this phenomenon for several years now. And I can safely say that the crazy level of the classroom dramatically increases at this point every month. Try to document it sometime and tell me what you notice!

My class has been settling in quite well so far this year. That first full moon was right at the beginning of the year, so we didn't have a chance to experience its glory. Today, though, was a different story.

The energy level was higher. The general volume was higher. There was less focus and more messing around. I saw behaviors out of some of my children that I have never seen before. There were plenty of moments of saying (thinking) "Who are you??"

At the same time, I realized that I needed to take a step back and forget about my own expectations. I had to remove myself from situations and "trade kids" with my assistant. Remember what I posted the other day about the kids being happy? For the most part they were. When I took a moment to step back and look at the whole picture, again they were involved in activities that made them happy. Sometimes what seemed like inappropriate behavior was actually something worthwhile that needed to be tweaked. It's all about perspective.

It just requires more effort during that full moon.

Free Life of the Forest materials for teachers

As you are studying trees and leaves this fall season, consider supplementing your curriculum with the free materials from Life of the Forest. They are offering one free set of posters plus handouts to a teacher at a time. They are in full color and can supplement your natural observations of the outdoors.

For example, ask the children to look for leaves outside or to bring in some from home. Use the leaf poster to identify them. Do the same with the seeds poster. Older students can benefit from some of the other lessons from International Paper.

I saw the posters from about 7 or 8 years ago and they were fairly decent. Order a set and see what you can do with them. Let me know what you think!

Monday, October 10, 2011

Free Yoga Recess DVD

One of the favorite activities in my Montessori classroom is yoga. Last year I added two sets of yoga cards to the Peace Shelf. Throughout the year, I demonstrated a few different poses at a time for them to do as an individual activity on a Quiet Rug. The cards were almost always off of the shelf. One of my favorite memories from last year is one of my oldest boys teaching the three year-old girls how to do the different poses. It was an empowering moment for him and a great learning experience for them.

This year I simply placed the cards on the Peace Shelf at the beginning of the year. Almost immediately they were being used. Returning students took great pleasure in teaching new students how to use them. I also noticed that a couple of my students who had transferred from out-of-state Montessori schools were also familiar with using the yoga cards.

I am always on the lookout for new yoga materials to use in the classroom. It is even better if they are free. Doing some online research tonight I discovered a free DVD being offered to classroom teachers, only. It is from Yoga-Recess.

I have sent in my application to obtain one copy for children ages 3-5. I would love to get a copy for older students, but will have to rely on other teachers in the school to obtain one for me. I am sure my students will enjoy using it on occasion. Perhaps I have finally found a use for those SmartBoards?

They are also offering a grant to teachers who wish to implement yoga into their classrooms. I was contemplating it. The due date for submission is October 21st.

Has anyone tried this DVD yet? I will be curious to know what others think about it!

H is for Happiness

Maria Montessori said something along the lines of the true test of success in the classroom is the happiness of the children. I think that is something that we as adults often forget. We get so wrapped up in trying to meet standards and parent demands and squeezing in certain educational units that we often forget to take a step back and observe how the children are functioning. And yes, I will even dare to say that we sometimes focus more on our own happiness and sometimes overzealous ideals of how the Montessori classroom should function.

One challenge that I have to give myself on a regular basis is to truly step back and take a look at the children. This is especially important on those days that I am feeling overwhelmed and like I have lost control. Often it is a misinterpretation on my part. *I* do not feel content about what the children are doing. I feel like they should be working on other activities. I feel like I should be giving more lessons. Do you see the repeated use of the word "I"?

I miss the loft that was in my old classroom. When I felt like the classroom was becoming all about me and my feelings, I would climb up there for a birds' eye view. That perch gave me an excellent view of the classroom where I could make numerous observations. In the new building I can go outside to the hallway and peer in through the large windows. I can step back into the kitchen area and watch from there.

I often encourage my coworkers to do the same. Many times they will comment at lunch or after school that they felt like their day was hectic. But when I walk past on my way to the restroom, their children look happy and engaged. So I tell them this. Whether or not they believe me is a different story.

I remember my late father visiting my classroom on a few occasions. His comments were always the same. He said that there was always a lot of activity in my classroom and at times it was loud. But when you really looked at the kids, they were busy doing something. Even movements were purposeful. And they were all happy in whatever it was we were doing.

One of the keys to teacher happiness in the Montessori classroom is to let go of your own expectations. Remember the fundamentals of Montessori philosophy. It is all about the children and not about us. Gauge their happiness and then make adjustments as necessary. You will find that the tweaking will happen with less frequency as you do this.

Friday, October 7, 2011

SmartBoard Technology in the Montessori Classroom

Ok, I am being naughty and typing directly on my phone during a SmartBoard presentation at my school. I will be honest that I just do not see the benefits of having such technology in the 3-6 classroom.

I have been told that it is okay because the SmartBoard is manipulative. Yes, it is manipulative. You can move it. But Montessori is more than just manipulation. Maria Montessori emphasized th e tactile part of learning. The child needs to feel the contours of the edges of a shape to understand what differentiates a square from a circle. Just pulling one from a menu and describing what it looks like is not enough. Those details come later in math education. If the,hand is the direct link to the mind, how does this work? Isn't this skipping over a very important step?

It is no secret that I am not a fan, particularly in the 3-6 classroom. Many of my colleagues feel the same way. My school has chosen to be a leader in the technological developments. So,have some others. And yet our presenter has also commented that other Montessori schools were less than pleasant about the opportunity.

I realize that I do not have much of a choice but learn how to use it. I am hoping that someone can possibly convince me of the benefits, because I just haven't yet seen them.