May 16, 2009

Montessori Conference - Part 2

Paul Epstein's Keynote Speech was about looking forward to the next century of Montessori, and building upon the foundations of the previous century. He believes that it is no longer enough to live off the legacy of Montessori without putting something back. He said that the legacy of the first 100 years is centered around the "transformative moment of concentration". But he says that "concentration" is really only one part of the equation.
Traditionally the centrepiece of Montessori practice has been the materials. The child's interest is peaked by the materials, he makes a choice, and his attention is polarised in "concentration"; this is the manifestation of the child's inner being.

Paul argues that this kind of concentration is situation-specific and isolated. He suggests that we need to start with observation of children in relationships and in dynamic environments. This helps us to prepare a suitable environment for our experiment. We can then accept that children manifest different types of attention and different types of normalisation.
We all know that some children "never quite get there" when we are looking for "normalisation" as Maria Montessori described it. Paul suggests that these children may not be displaying traditional kinds of "normalised" behaviour - but that if we observed them through the lens of their social interactions and relationships that we would observe a different kind of attention and normalisation. He strengthens this argument by saying that "socialisation may precede the ability to engage in concentration". And that "shared attention" is a valuable learning tool that should not be cast aside as less worthy than the "polarised concentration" of Maria Montessori's observations. He is not discounting the manifestation of "concentration", but merely proposing that concentration is part of a larger group of learning behaviours (behaviours that we as Montessori educators need to explore, and consciously observe to inform our construction of the prepared environment)

Paul breaks down the teacher's experience of observation into three parts: Perceptual Observation, Rational Observation, and Contemplative Observation. These three parts overlap.
He speaks about the importance distinguishing the importance of Observations versus Record Keeping. He proposes a new kind of observation framework in which we record our Perceptual Observations (what we see, hear, contrast), our Rational Observations (what we analyse or infer from what we are seeing/hearing), and use the skill of Contemplative Observation to bring forth new ideas, and allow us to see the "spiritual truth" of the situation.

Paul claims that relationships have a direct impact on learning. And that different children have different types of attention.
He quotes Maria Montessori: "The different types of deviated children do not shake the faith of the teacher". This is to say that concentration is one feature of attention and that not all children give attention to something in "concentration" , and they may nevertheless be normalised.

He believes we need to prepare the environment to support the other "features of attention" as well. Learning is part of the social experience, and therefore social interaction is the precursor to concentration. Relationships facilitate the learning process. Our brains are designed to be social. Our social experiences influence the number of neurons and their connections. Our social interactions organise our brain functions, our hormones, our immune system and our emotions.
Our preparation of the environment must be in response to our observations of:
  • the situation
  • the setting
  • the activities
  • the social roles
  • the behaviours that manifest in these situations

We then need to fill our environments with materials that cause "attention" and "repetition" to be displayed (bearing in mind that attention is not the same as concentration), and that we can judge the "rightness" of our preparations by looking for the "refreshment and deep satisfaction" displayed by the child who has engaged in work that was "right" for him at that moment.

He urges us to ask the following questions while we are observing:

  • when does concentration occur?
  • when does shared attention occur?
  • how can we prepare the environment for shared attention?
  • what materials can we develop that facilitate collaboration and shared attention?

All in all, an inspirational approach to observation in the true "scientific" method that Maria Montessori felt was so important for all who wished to educate children in the "Montessori Way". If you every have the opportunity to listen to Paul speak - I would highly recommend it. He was very entertaining, and managed to encapsulate a potentially complex subject (social anthropology) in a way that gave me real tools for improving my practice as a teacher.

Montessori Conference - Part 1

I promised some information about my time at the annual Montessori Australia Council Conference in Brisbane, a few weeks ago. It will probably come in dribs and drabs - sorry for making you all wait! I have actually just applied for a job teaching a Lower Elementary Class (6 to 9 year olds) and I got it! This is great because my little boy can join the school community too - in the 3 to 6 class. So I will be spending my days slaving over the laminator!

One of the sessions inspired me to Really Think About the relationship of the 5 Great Lessons to all the possible areas of study for the child. I came up with this graphic... which shows how each of the Great Lessons leads the child to different areas of study, and the outer circle shows how each of these areas can be studied from a different view point depending on the activity that the child chooses to do.
More next time - on Paul Epstein's take on Observation of the Child - and his framework for observations which is based on Ethnography. Deep stuff, but very interesting and progressive.

May 10, 2009

Montessori Infant Ball

I spent the weekend sewing. Not my usual pastime, but I had a lot of fun and I am very proud of the results. The impetus, was the birth over the last month of three new babies into our Montessori community. It has become a sort of tradition for me to make one of these balls for each new baby born to a Montessori family.

I thought to include photos of each step in case any of you are inclined to whip out your sewing machines!

The first step - of which I have no picture (sorry!) - is to make your paper pattern. Draw a circle (roughly the size of the ball you want to end up with) and fold it into quarters. Cut out the quarters. One will form the piece below (you need 24 of these)

Then take another quarter and trace the arc of the circle as a mirror image to form the other shape you need: (you need 12 of these)
Now take the eye-shaped piece and sew it to one of the pie-shaped pieces:
Now fold the pie-shaped piece back to expose the right-side of the eye-shaped piece:
Now lay another pie-shaped piece face down on top and sew to the other edge of the eye-shaped piece:
Now bend the eye-shaped piece in half:
Sew the edges about 3/4 of the way down - backstitching to about 1/2 of the way down:
Now turn the right way out and stuff (I stuff quite firmly but not all the way to opening). You should end up with 12 of these:

Now sew three of them together by the points. Try to make these joins as strong as you can - I double my thread and sew several times through the same spot:

When you have joined all 12 pieces in groups of 3, tie two groups together with embroidery floss in the corners. Keep tying until all the possible points are joined to another point:

You end up with a ball looking like this. Trim the threads (or sew them into the ball if you don't want them showing) and the ball is done. You can sew a small bell into the centre of the ball for the added dimension of sound. Or you can put a loop of ribbon on for hanging.

I made two others (two for little girls and one for a little boy).