Education is certainly my calling. When choosing my path as a teacher, the Montessori philosophy captivated me more than most. It was peaceful, harmonious, respectful to the child, reflexive, and intentional.
Once in the field, I realized children were geniuses in their own right. They all had different talents and could blossom—as long as I, their teacher, followed and challenged their individuality.
I adored every moment I spent with children in my journey as a classroom teacher, learning from them and making sure they kept growing and developing with joy. Many years in the future, I sat in a CLASS training, and it all came together in a broader spectrum. It did not matter if it was Montessori or any other curriculum or approach. What every teacher had access to was fostering intentional and effective interactions of teachers with children and children with children.
In a Montessori classroom, children engage in the tasks of their choice. The observant teacher challenges them to the next physical, emotional, cognitive, or linguistic level. The ultimate goal is to incentivize children to become wholesome, responsible citizens.
As Maria Montessori said,
Times have changed, and science has made great progress, and so has our work; but our principles have only been confirmed, and along with them our conviction that mankind can hope for a solution to its problems, among which the most urgent are those of peace and unity, only by turning its attention and energies to the discovery of the child and to the development of the great potentialities of the human personality in the course of its formation. xi)
From my point of view, CLASS and Montessori’s method are related on every domain, and I firmly believe that she would have endorsed and adopted CLASS in her practice.
This domain focuses on positive and respectful social-emotional relationships. It considers the teacher’s awareness and responses to students’ needs and their levels of comfort as well as the regard and support of the teacher for the students’ interest, independence, autonomy, and leadership. The indicators of every dimension of CLASS can also describe the Montessori classroom. In showing Teacher Sensitivity, the Montessori teacher scans the room even when she is working with an individual child or a group of children, ensuring that they are all joyfully—and safely—engaged in a task.. When detecting a need for immediate attention, she respectfully excuses herself to respond to the identified need and then returns to the previous commitment. Regard for Student Perspectives is high when—during Montessori time—children choose their task independently, according to their interest and level of development, and when finished, return it to its place in an orderly fashion. When children have worked together, setting up and cleaning up are collaborative efforts.
As you walk in a Montessori environment, you are instantly met with children regulating their own behavior. They and the teacher have worked on learning to control their thoughts and their actions to meet the expectations of the classroom. The students help each other regulate when necessary, indicating responsibility for their own environment and camaraderie. To ensure Productivity, the teacher has worked hard prior to the children arriving to prepare the environment with the needed materials, based on not only their preferences but also their level of progress, ensuring challenges to next levels of learning and reinforcement of what they have worked on previously. This keeps children occupied with a plethora of choices when moving from one job to another.
You’ll also see high Instructional Learning Formats in the way the Montessori materials involve all the senses. They encourage children to match by sound, weight, or smell. They exercise the eyes and small muscles for prewriting, introduce mathematical operations such as multiplication and division, and offer plenty of musical and literacy experiences. The materials are chosen so that students are engaged and learning opportunities are maximized.
As children have learned to express and deal with personal feelings, they have learned to empathize with others. They have developed responsibility for the upkeep of their own environment. The mind and the body have been set up for the development of cognition and language.
In a Montessori environment, children face questions such as “Why does the upside-down pyramid fall?” and opportunities for problem-solving through prompts such as “How can we set it up so that it stays standing?” Similar to what CLASS observers look for in Quality of Feedback, most of the Montessori materials are built with error control, giving children hints, but the Montessori Teacher also scaffolds the learning by asking the children appropriate questions for them to arrive at the correct answer. Children build higher-order thinking skills (Concept Development) when they are working in geography by not only placing the pieces of a puzzle of countries where they belong but also matching them with their flags and capitals, and then getting deeper into research about their climate, flora, fauna, language, culture, similarities, and much more. This allows for integrating previous knowledge, investigating for new information, and relating it to personal experiences.
In a traditional Montessori classroom, the opportunity for spoken language varies by the activity. Some presentations are completely nonverbal, based merely in observation, while others entail endless back-and-forth exchanges. A typical example could be working on the Farm task, naming animals by age and role (foal-mare-colt, piglet-sow-boar), expanding on the food they eat and their natural habitat, wondering in conversations about whether hogs or horses live in the house, why or why not, what would happen if so? Children in Montessori Environments can experience high-level Language Modeling or rich language opportunities throughout the day, as well as moments for reflection and internalization of new concepts or a new language.
Montessori, M. (1948). The Discovery of the Child. New York, NY: The Ballantine Publishing Group.
Want to learn more? Listen to the CLASS and Montessori episode of Teaching with CLASS.
So, it’s June and you have just wrapped up the year with your students. They have made tremendous progress over the course of the year. The routine of the day flows naturally, the expectations about what is and isn’t appropriate behavior is fairly clear to all of them (and to you), and you leave the school year feeling confident that they are ready for the new challenges that lie ahead. You go into the summer months looking forward to a much needed break, but also looking forward to your new group of students in the fall.
As a Certified CLASS Affiliate Trainer, I enjoy reading the discussion posts and responses in the CLASS Learning Community. It gives me further insight into the areas that teachers have questions about, and the responses and techniques that members of the community are sharing with others. Usually I just sit back, read along, and take it all in.
Then recently someone posted, “I'd love some great examples of what Quality of Feedback looks like when you're working with less verbal children. For instance... creating an effective feedback loop off of what a child does more so than what he or she says.”
Many teachers will agree that their first year of teaching can be one of the most grueling, challenging, and stressful experiences for them as they take on the task of educating our youth. In my first year of teaching, I was not familiar with the CLASS tool and its impact in the classroom. I was not aware of the dimensions, indicators, and the tremendous power of interactions. Looking back, I recognize the many ways the CLASS tool was reflected in my classroom, but I also see the value in how familiarity with the CLASS tool could have benefitted my classroom. Although many external forces impacted my role as a high school Spanish teacher, the CLASS tool’s invaluable purpose could have made a profound impact on my first year teaching.