What makes a good montessori lesson?
Many of you are probably familiar with the term ‘three period lesson.’ The three period lesson is a way of introducing vocabulary and ensuring a child understands. It is especially useful in the 3-6 age range and often in teacher training is assessed by tutors to see whether a teacher understands this basic Montessori concept.
You may also have some knowledge of the Montessori scope and sequence. The Montessori curriculum spirals and goes back on itself. As a child progresses through their time in Montessori they learn a different concept through a material or presentation they may have been introduced to earlier.
"The secret of good teaching is to regard the child’s intelligence as a fertile field in which seeds may be sown, to grow under the heat of flaming imagination. Our aim therefore is not merely to make the child understand, and still less to force him to memorize, but so to tough his imagination as to enthuse him to his inmost core." (To Educate the Human Potential, p. 11, Montessori)
The scope and sequence are found in a Montessori Guides teaching manuals. These manuals also outline what is to be taught and the approximate time they should be presented, for example by age or after another presentation. Thus we are expected, for example, to teach pin maps after a child has experienced all the richness of the puzzle map just as we present the small bead frame after the stamp game.
We must however also be highly cognizant of the Funds of knowledge the child brings with them. The Montessori lessons should not be dry recipes presented without adaption, we need to enter the individual child’s world and connect with them. Funds of knowledge are the ‘historically accumulated and culturally developed bodies of knowledge and skills essential for household or individual functioning and well being’ (Moll et al 1992). Each household is different and the Funds of knowledge might cover things such as folk cures, knowledge about catching certain public transport, cooking, religion, childcare or repairing a car. As a teacher, our job is to know each student and hook into their knowledge and personality so as to engage them in meaningful learning experiences.
Not only is it important to connect to the child’s world, we also need to connect to the child’s prior knowledge and how they learn. We need to build upon the learning that the child already knows, as this helps connect the learning within and across subjects.
A lesson plan from a manual is fine but I need to tailor it to the child/ren in front of me. Would my lesson work more if I turned it into a song? A game? If I asked more questions? If I used examples that were related to the child's area of interest?
In this example lesson plan below I show how as Montessori practioners we can incorporate Funds of knowledge and prior knowledge to make our lessons unique to the individuals we have before us. I think this is especially important for the 6-12 year old child who is a social being and wants to know how things in the world affects them and how they fit into the world.
For a copy of the checkerboard stories referred to in the 'follow up' section click here
If the lesson has hit the optimum spot in the child’s ZPD we should also expect to see them practising the material. I feel that as guides in the 6-12 class especially we need to create a class culture of purposeful work. We need to have expectations that make it clear that if there is a lesson the child needs to engage in, there should be some type of follow up work. In my classroom I have had times where students have said to me that work is too easy or they would rather look at another piece of equipment and we have found a favourable outcome for all of us.
If our lesson has been engaging, we should expect that the child is able to explain their learning and shows their cultural norms of being engaged. There isn’t a set way that engagement presents itself and this is something we need to be conscious of when working cross culturally. For example, in my class I work with Pasifika students some of whom have family cultures where it is not expected they will ask questions and where it is the norm for them to sit passively while information is relayed to them.
If there has been a lack of engagement in the lesson we may need to reflect on the bigger picture such as whether behaviour from a specific lesson reflects a lack of engagement classwide in other learning areas. Doyle suggests looking at
- The clarity of presentations
- Rotation of materials
- Response to observations of the child’s interests
- Are there uninterrupted work periods?
- Time for staff to observe other staff
- Daily outdoor play time
Phew! That was a lot of information. What are your keys for a successful lesson?
For a copy of the checkerboard stories talked about above click here
To get your own ready to use montessori resources to supplement your class or homeschool click here
Moll, Amanti, Neff, Gonzalez (1992) "Funds of Knowledge for Teaching" Theory into Practice. Vol 31. No 2. Spring 1992.
Doyle, Pamela (2009) “Joyful Engagement” The NATMA Journal. Vol 34. No 2. Spring 2009.
Interested in More Montessori Curriculum resource blog posts? Find them here
You can join my mailing list to get more Montessori resources, notifications of new products and news here