I observed and analyzed the design and delivery of an instructional unit in a Montessori school setting. I observed a classroom of grades 1-3 two times from 9 a.m. – 11 a.m. at the Kennebec Montessori school. I was asked to sit quietly and to not interact with the children so I could get a realistic view of the class day and the children would pursue their chosen work. When I first entered the classroom the atmosphere was very inviting and comfortable unlike most classrooms I enter for my own classes. There was a large skylight in the center of the ceiling as well as several windows that let in natural light. There are also green plants in a couple corners of the room. Each student has their own cubbies to put their crafts in the top and their jackets and lunch boxes in the bottom. All of the students wear slippers so that they don’t bring in any dirt from what might be on the bottom of their shoes and to create a quieter environment. On the wall there were 5 clocks set to the times in different countries; Peru, Spain, Africa, Korea, and Australia. They have a class pet named Roberta and she is a lizard, one kid is assigned to feed her each day. They have a schedule on the wall, the time increments don’t exceed more than one hour. All the types of assignments are categorized and there are stations around the room with labels on them like; geography, memorization, counting etc.
The kids have ‘activity mats’ for their assigned activities, they get a mat and then the supplies they need to complete it. The assignments seem engaging and the students want to complete them. It appears that the students have an appropriate sense of freedom while completing their assignments and move throughout the classroom. On their ‘work-plans’ they have assignments like; fish book, sight word work, math problems, and then arts and crafts. During their work time they sometimes work with partners, they often compete with each other to see who has more work done and give each other compliments on the quality of each other’s work. After they have completed their activity they have to clean it up and put the supplies on the designated shelves to promote organization. I noticed that they have the same schedule as far as when lunch, recess, and circle times are. Other than lunch they also eat a snack. There is one provided for them, for instance animal crackers and a pudding cup or apple slices and a tbs. of peanut butter.
They don’t all eat snack at once though, there are four available seats for snack and the students choose at what time they want to eat snack and have to be responsible and clean up their table when they are done. There are three teachers in the classroom, one does reading/lesson circle with a small group of students, another does arts and crafts, and one of them circulates throughout the room helping students with their work-plans. The teacher that circulates around the room all the time appears to be the head teacher and when a conflict arises she is the one to mediate it. The way that the teachers speak with the children is as if they are equals, they aren’t talked down to and the students give the teachers complete respect. All of the teachers are confident in the content they are teaching and always have an answer for the questions the children have. The kids seem to be absorbing the information being taught and get their work done in an appropriate time frame. The head teacher walks around and asks questions that seek out different levels of answering, ensure the students are on task with their work and implements critical thinking.
Positive reinforcement is present and none of the kids are bored with the level of difficulty of the assignments. Students can move on to different assignments whenever they choose if they aren’t “getting” the concept. The teachers provide many interactive and visual materials for the activities they do for example, there were books, flash cards, counting beads, and physical models like globes. The classroom was conductive to learning, the students were happy, excited, but at the same time completely focused on their objectives. Some students even sing or hum while working. When students complete their daily work they are given the incentive of doing a craft of choice or sitting in the library section of the class with a friend. Most of the students already have the drive to complete their assignments though, so incentives are just a bonus. If a student is struggling the teacher focuses on the concepts they do understand rather than dwelling on what they don’t. The instructors are very professional with one another and communicate very well.
The classroom is very organized as well as the schedule carried out every day. My overall experience was very good; it was nice to be in a Montessori school setting again. I attended a Montessori school myself for three years in pre-school, pre-k and kindergarten. The activities they did were similar to things that I remember doing even though that was fourteen years ago. I think that the safe and nurturing environment of a Montessori school is a better experience for the kids to grow and develop than in a regular public school. There is strong evidence in the orderly and attractive environment, children working independently, different age groups working together and children solving problems on their own.