I am delighted to share with you a Public School Montessori class from Italy. Long time readers of my blog and facebook will know this is a topic I am passionate about. My heartfelt thank you to this group of teachers.
To see more classrooms in our classroom tour series click here
Now over to Luisa!
We are three Italian teachers working in a public elementary school in Brescia, northern Italy. Our class consists of 23 children, now aged 9/10; we’ve got lots of boys (19) and very few girls (just 4!). Our group is a bit special from some other points of view: our children’s families come from 14 different nations, and only 3 of them are Italian. We can really say we’ve got quite the whole world in our classroom: Pakistan, Bangladesh, India, Sri Lanka, Perù, Bolivia, El Salvador, Moldova, Ukraine, Romania, Tunisia, Algeria, Brasil and..Italy!
For many of our children Italian is the second or third language, and some of them lived for a certain period in a different country, often without their parents, waiting to join them as soon as the conditions would allow them to do it.
Some of our families have a precarious economic condition, and some others sometimes have to leave our country to find a better place and a job. That’s why the composition of our group often changes: we sometimes loose some classmates and quite often we “acquire” new pupils.
That is to say…that we’re always on the move!!
We’ve started a Montessori experimentation last year, as we had just completed a Montessori course and we were sure the new approach would help our children. We’ve always tried to refer to a pedagogy based on activism (with some Italian teacher like Mario Lodi, for example), but we were looking for something more accurate and methodical, and Montessori was exactly the answer to our questions!
We’re also using some techniques coming from the Nonviolent Communication by Marshall Rosenberg, as with 19 boys “Grace and Courtesy” is somehow difficult to follow and provide, so we’ve got to handle other strategies to avoid physical conflicts, and this one seems to be quite effective.
In our country public schools have really little funds to count on, so we teachers started a personal crowd funding to raise money to buy the materials and some of the furniture we needed. We certainly couldn’t ask our pupils’ families!!Thanks to some friends and relatives who love us, we were able to collect 2500 euros, which is not a lot but allowed us to get some materials and some pieces of furniture; the rest we’re trying to build on our own.
We’ve told our plan and project on a facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/diamoglilmondo/ (in Italian, but if needed we can translate it into English) , and you can find pictures of our activities also on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/diamoglilmondo/
Diamogli il mondo is the Italian for “Let’s give them the world”, and we’ve chosen this Montessori’s sentence to name our project as we thought it was perfect for our class!
These are our Maths shelves: geometry is slightly separated. The material you can see has been bought in the last 2 years, but a part of it was self made (for example the triangle constructor, the multiplication board, the 100 board and the Pythagoras board). Furthermore, there are some materials, planned and built by the teacher, which are not really Montessori ones, but are consistent with them, as they are self-correcting, for instance. The Maths materials which children seem to prefer these days are the Geometry sticks , by means of which they can study polygons, lines and angles, and the multiplication board. Among the self-made products, on the other hand, the “problem box” is a most loved material, to be used individually or in a small group.
My favourite thing about our classroom is the stationary shelf , where we’ve provided all what children need to write and draw; needless to say, it’s a material to share. This was quite hard to establish at the beginning, as our children were used to have their own pencilcase with all the pencils and pens and scissors and glue etc in it , and the families were used to it as well! To share these materials also means that pupils have to take care of them, and this is something quite difficult for them to learn. But little by little they are getting quite good at it! They are learning to wait for the pencil another pupil is using, and to check if all the pens are back into their holder, for example. And when the brushes are stuck with some dry glue on them, one child offers to bring them home to clean them with hot water. This strengthens the idea of a community where everybody brings his/her help and contribution.
Our Stationary Shelf
One of the most important challenge about our classroom is to keep some of our pupils focused and concentrated on what they are doing: as a matter of fact Montessori’s concept of normalization is something which has not been reached by all our children yet, as they have a very short span of attention and the boys, above all, tend to distract each other quite easily.
The other challenge we’re facing these days is to convince parents that their children don’t need to spend their afternoons doing homework! Especially Italian and East European people think that you can’t learn anything if you don’t do homework every day…and that if you are not trained to do it, when you pass to middle school you won’t be able to stand the homework load (which is usually really something, in traditional schools!).
This year we’re changing our classroom a lot, as we always need some more space to place the new materials, and we can’t exactly move out the old ones as we’ve got some children with special needs who still need to use them. So we’re adding new shelves and we always have to reorganize the whole classroom. It’s quite a tough job, and sometimes we don’t have the pieces of furniture we’d need (or the money to buy them), but we keep trying to solve this kind of problems being creative and finding “alternative” or self-made solutions.
A typical day of our class starts at 8.30: one child plays the doorman, that is he/she opens the door of our classroom and chooses a language (among the many available!) to greet good morning (
or good afternoon after the lunch break) to every classmate who enters. Everybody (included the teachers) answers in the same language to the greeting. Then children do all the starting lesson operations (writing the menu on the whiteboard, preparing the menu order for the children who attend the school canteen, calling the roll, updating the calendar, etc.). All of us then sit down in a circle, where we have a short chat about particular experiences lived in the previous days (especially on Mondays) or any problem to share in the class. Usually in this first part of the morning teachers give the presentation of the new materials (to the whole class), and in the second part children freely choose the materials to work on. Unfortunately, the bell of morning break of the other traditional classrooms rings at 10.30, and it’s quite difficult for our children to keep the concentration and finish their work while all the other children rushes out of their classrooms shouting and running around. So usually our children have their snack break at the same time, and then we take them into the school garden to play for about 20 minutes. Then we go back to our classroom to go on with the free choice work.
At 12.30 some pupils leave to go home and some others join the school canteen. Lunch break ends at 14, when all the children come back to our classroom. A short circle time is made to resume and revise what was done in the morning, and then work starts againg till 16, when all the children leave to go home.