by Letty Rising
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Most Montessori elementary training programs offer a plethora of information and resources to equip the emerging teacher with lessons to deliver, the philosophy behind “why” we do as we do. After all, this isn’t called Cosmic Education for nothing! We are introducing our students to the universe, and as we know, the universe is vast.
However, there is rarely a roadmap given that lets us know when to give presentations. Our albums sometimes offer an age range for each lesson or suggest that the lesson is more suitable for younger or older elementary students. Still, even then, there isn’t an easy way to identify when the right time is to present a lesson to a child or group of children, and teachers can sometimes become overwhelmed with trying to figure out the ideal timing.
The following are some guidelines regarding what elements to consider when trying to decide when to present lessons to students in your class.
What have you observed?
It is important to remember that observing the child is the starting point from where we make decisions regarding the presentations we will be giving to the child. Our observation, first and foremost, informs our lesson planning. We can make plans all day long, but if the child isn’t ready for the lesson, or is beyond the lesson, or isn’t interested in the lesson, our efforts will be in vain.
This doesn’t mean that we can’t spark interest where there is none (we can, and do, all the time!), but striking while the iron is hot, so to speak, by planning lessons that match the child’s current interests and abilities, will be the sweet spot for them being engaged and inspired. This means we watch, we take notes, we see what they gravitate to, and what they avoid. We listen to the questions they ask, and the conversations they have. We watch them practicing lessons and see if they get stuck, whiz through their follow-up, or move at a steady, even pace.
Our observations will help us know what comes next, for each child.
Has the child made a request?
One of the beauties of the Montessori approach is that it is a highly responsive approach, and the framework offers a flexibility that allows for some spontaneity that might not be found in other educational approaches. This means that students can, and should be encouraged to, ask for a specific lesson when they want it or when they need it!
For example, if you recently gave a lesson on dividing fractions by a whole number, you can let them know that they can request the next lesson when they have practiced the previous lesson enough to where they are ready for the next step. And sometimes, children ask for presentations that they have seen other children have.
In fact, this is the best way to ignite engagement: students watching other students absorbed in a lesson or follow-up work related to a lesson.
Still, a student might come to you and ask for a presentation at random based upon their own interests and curiosities. This might be a lesson you have in your albums, or something that isn’t, in which case you can create a presentation for the topic of interest. You might be surprised at how deeply students appreciate these handcrafted lessons!
Has sufficient time passed before offering the previous lesson?
It’s important to give students time to practice and repeat lessons presented before moving on to the next one. In fact, while it’s important to rush the process, it’s also equally important to not wait too long. You’ll want to monitor this through your regular observations and your records.
For example, if you have had a student working on a particular division lesson with racks and tubes for weeks, you will want to sit with them and have them show you what they know, and this will tell you if they need more time, or if it’s time for you to present the next lesson in the sequence.
Is it relevant to other recent experiences or topics of study?
Maybe you took your class to a nature preserve and saw some erosion happening on the riverbank, and the students expressed great interest and curiosity. What a perfect time to start giving some of the work of water lessons pertaining to the study of erosion!
When students are excited about a topic, that is the ideal time to give them exactly the information that they are seeking, because they are much more likely to be excited, attentive, and engaged. And most of all, they are more likely to remember the content of the presentation.
Has the student mastered previous lessons?
If the child has practiced a lesson numerous times, and/or engaged in an appropriate amount of follow up work, it might be time to move onto the next lesson. However, it might not be! Some students need just a little bit of practice (think 2-3 times of practicing/implementing new learning), and some students will need weeks or even months of practice.
Approaching a student during the work cycle, and then sitting down with them to see if they have attained mastery of the concept, will go a long way to identify what is the next phase in the process of their understanding. You may want to observe, or you may want to give them a little “quiz” containing a few problems to see how well they understand the material.
If you are trying to ascertain this with a math lesson, for example, be sure to have them complete problems with materials containing zeros, or other numbers with special cases, to be sure that the understanding is thorough. If not, they can focus on the special case that needs extra attention for awhile until moving onto the next material or lesson.
Have you looked at your lesson planning records for this student?
When deciding what comes next, one of the best things you can do is refer to previous records that you have for your students. Do you have an individual record of each student and the lessons they have received? Do you have a weekly/monthly/yearly record plan that you have created that details the lessons you have or will present, that will help you identify what comes next?
Maybe the student you have in mind has been working on decimals for a long time, and when you review your records you notice that you gave your student a lesson on volume awhile back, but haven’t followed up on where the student is with that lesson.
Did they get the initial lesson and have enough practice with follow up work and are now ready for the next lesson? Or did they practice this lesson for a little while but it was so long ago that they need a period of practice again before moving onto the next lesson? Or maybe they just practiced once right after your presentation, and it fell in between the cracks, and so you will want to reignite interest or put it on their radar by re-presenting it again.
Referring back to your records will help jog your memory and guide you forward in terms of supporting students in attaining mastery.
As you know, there isn’t a roadmap for how exactly to move from one presentation to another. This is because the Montessori approach is built upon the concept of observation, and we respond to the needs and interests of the children as they arise. This is one of the aspects of being a Montessori elementary teacher that can be so challenging at the outset!
As we know, learning often doesn’t happen in a linear fashion, so even when there are curriculum frameworks and scopes and sequences available, these represent guidance and support, and will not be followed in a particular order for many children.
Creating a general plan of action for each student for the year, and being ready to adjust plans according to all of the variables that come into play in the dynamic Montessori environment, will help you keep track of what to present next. And your most effective tool of all will be your regular and continuous use of observation, and using these observations to inform your plans of action.
Letty Rising has been involved in Montessori education for over 15 years. She holds a B.A. in Sociology, a California State Teaching Credential, and an AMI elementary diploma for ages 6-12 and an M.Ed from Loyola University in Maryland. She has held positions as a Homeschool Education Specialist, Montessori Elementary Teacher, School Director, Principal, Montessori Coordinator, and Consultant in several pubic and private Montessori school communities throughout the years. She currently supports schools around the world through professional development offerings, consulting, and mentoring.