This article is written based on the knowledge of the 6-12 year old child
Imagine this situation:
'The teacher took a checkerboard lesson where the children were learning to read numbers on the checkerboard and compare their size. This group had children from age 5-9. One child kept calling out, after being reminded 2 times the teacher said 'M I can see you are having trouble waiting your turn, if you call out again you will have to leave the lesson because everyone needs a turn'
Discipline in a Montessori classroom’s can appear quite different to mainstream education. Montessori had as one of her driving forces an education that created ‘self-discipline’. Self discipline is different to compliance or obedience. For example a mainstream class may have a rule ‘Listen to the teacher’ when the rule is disobeyed the child is disciplined in the hope that next time they will obey. The consequence may not always be logical. In a Montessori class the consequences of a child’s misbehaviour are expected to fit the child’s action. In doing so Montessori education seeks to create independent adults who are self-disciplined at all times not just when there is a rule and an enforcer. The work of Dreikurs supports the Montessori ethos of discipline. Dreikurs felt it important to know the root cause of a child’s behaviour and to help children have inner control of their behaviour and life by teaching the skills necessary to make healthy citizens. (McInerney, 2002)
Another part of Discipline in a Montessori setting is the relationship between the individual and the community. The desires of the individual child are not put ahead of the culture of the class. The class is the environment where the individual is free to express themselves, within the acceptable classroom and social norms. For example a child who was extremely boisterous and demanded immediate attention from an adult would learn through implicit and explicit instruction that in a Montessori classroom (and in life) the loudest person doesn’t demand instant attention and that patience is a necessary life skill.
In the situation above the child was calling out comments in an attempt to have his opinion heard over everyone else. This behaviour is perhaps symptomatic of a child who feels like they are not heard in life, the teacher having a good relationship with the family would have an idea of where the behaviour might be coming from. Perhaps the child is the youngest in a large family or is trying to exert control. Before being removed from the lesson the child had been reminded of the appropriate behaviour, to raise ones hand and wait to be called on. The child’s actions were disrespectful to his peers who did not have equal opportunity to contribute to the lesson. Removal from a situation, in this case the lesson, is a final step in a Montessori classroom. In removing the child from the lesson the child misses out on the new activity his peers have been learning. As children know that lessons mean they have new equipment or things they can do the removal from a lesson means that the child does not have opportunity to learn the things they want.
In the incident or after it when the child has had time to reflect the teacher draws upon the child’s reasoning mind. The teacher asks questions such as ‘Why did I ask you to leave…’ , ‘Why do we not do that?’ , ‘What does your behaviour make others feel?’ ‘How can you do better next time…is there any help you need?’ The questioning found in Montessori is supported by Dreikurs who felt it important to have times and discussions with individuals to ensure their opinion and personhood was valued. The teacher might also ask the child if they would like to come and have the lesson by themselves to enable them to join back in with the group at the latter lesson.
As I have written above logical consequences are a key part of montessori education.
Here are some other examples in action of logical consequences
- Children are misusing a piece of equipment
1) The lesson is represented or a reminder given about how to use the equipment
2) If the children continue to misuse the equipment the material is removed from the classroom
- A child does not get a set piece of work done for a particular deadline
1) The child might have to reprioritise other work to get the 'deadline' work done, sometimes a child might choose to use some of their break time to get this done.
2) The child may miss out on a follow up lesson or follow up activity because they do not have the knowledge to complete the next activity.
As a classroom practitioner it is important to have good theoretical knowledge and praxis. The two do not act in isolation. If a teacher is unaware of good pedagogical theory they are unlikely to use it in their practice, and their practice is likely to suffer. Likewise if a teacher has knowledge of theory but doesn’t use it the negative consequences in the class and for the child are just as prominent. The challenge for any classroom teacher as I alluded to above is that at any one time a multitude of things can be happening in the classroom and in the lives of their children. While a teacher might want to sit down with a child and discuss their behaviour a teacher may have to take a lesson to meet the state planning requirements to meet a certain deadline! Nonetheless Ginott’s words of wisdom ring true about the invaluable practice of the teacher ‘I’ve come to a frightening conclusion that I am the decisive element in the classroom. It’s my personal approach that creates the climate. It’s my daily mood that makes the weather. As a teacher, I possess a tremendous power to make a child’s life miserable or joyous. I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration. I can humiliate or heal. In all situations, it is my response that decides whether a crisis will be escalated or de-escalated and a child humanized or dehumanized.” (Ginnott, 1972)