by Letty Rising
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When coming back from a long school break, it is often the case that any progress that has been made to normalize has gone out the window. It might in fact be the case that a part or all of the classroom community has regressed.
Students were finally at the point where they were understanding how to navigate the classroom independently and with ease, they were choosing meaningful, purposeful work, and they were handling their disagreements using skills they developed through role playing scenarios at community gatherings. And then upon returning from a long break, it’s as if you have an entirely new classroom in front of you!
This can be discouraging, as you wonder if the progress that was made was something you only imagined in your mind. As students can forget information, skills, or concepts they learned in math, language, geography, and so on, they also can forget aspects of the classroom related to executive functioning. This includes plans, processes, procedures, routines, and all of the steps that need to be executed in order to have a group of individuals working independently and collaboratively in an elementary classroom environment.
Just as we reteach our lessons, or give a little refresher lesson to jog their memory about information that is held somewhere in their mind but needs some help being pulled back into their conscious memory, we may also need to reteach the processes that support independent, self-directed learning.
We live in a world where the default structure of classroom learning looks different, and in particular, if you have a class of students who are relatively new to a Montessori environment, there will be a tendency for them to fall back on operating in their environment as they would in a traditional classroom.
A traditional classroom is a place where the teacher is typically driving the learning process, and also driving the systems, routines, and agreements in a collective fashion. So you may have students who are waiting for you to tell them what to do, or give them something to do. And whether or not you have newer students or students who are seasoned experts in navigating a Montessori classroom, it’s not uncommon for there to be an adjustment period of a couple of days, even for them.
Let’s look at some areas that you will want to give some extra attention and care after breaks. If you anticipate to see some regressions in these areas, you will be prepared to handle them with greater ease, and these transitional times after breaks will be minimized.
Snack and lunch systems
It is worth sitting down and revisiting the snack and lunch systems with the students in your class. It’s easy to say “I know that we’ve been away from school for a long time, so today we are going to run through our snack procedure, or our lunch procedure, just to be sure that everyone remembers them!”
Transitions (arrivals, departures, and within the environment)
Help the children remember what to do when they arrive, and when they depart. Also, help them remember how to transition between lessons and independent work. Some examples of this would be:
- gathering the supplies they need before coming to a lesson
- tidying up their workspace
- leaving a laminated card with their name at their workspace
- How to put things away after independent work and before going outside or home for the day
Students may have forgotten how to navigate conflicts with one another. They might need to be reminded of any steps you have shared regarding your conflict resolution process, such as:
- Calm yourself
- Approach the person with whom you are experiencing conflict
- Talk to the person using “I” statements.
- State needs, feelings, and requests.
- Listen to the other person without interruption
- Get help from an adult if needed
Role playing some hypothetical conflicts with students during a classroom gathering during the first couple of days after school resumes will be helpful in helping them remember processes used when they find themselves in midst of a disagreement.
Ways to get student attention
Do you have certain hand signals or gestures, call and response techniques, or cues in the environment (lights turned off, chime) that you use to get student attention? Remind them of these strategies you use to get their attention in efforts to increase the possibility of them being responsive during the cue.
Placement and maintenance of supplies
In elementary classrooms, it’s not uncommon to have numerous conversations about supplies. Where they are stored, how to take care of them, how to replenish them, and so on.
For example, most teachers find themselves in conversations surrounding pencils, or paper, or tape, or glue. Reminders of what to do with these consumable materials will help the classroom run smoothly.
Grace and courtesy
After being at home for a period of time, many children get used to having parents showing love and support by doing things for them. And there is nothing wrong with this to an extent, as parents often do things for their children as an act of love and connection.
However, “overdoing” things for children can become a challenge for teachers when children return to school and their level of independence has receded. Children may need some refresher grace and courtesy lessons on some basic things such as: pushing in a chair, walking around a workspace or rug, how to enter into a group (whether it be a group that is playing outside at recess or a group engaged in collaborative work), how to ask for help, and etc.
Students might need a reminder of the flow of the work cycle. Remind them that they will be either in a lesson, doing follow up work from a lesson, practicing a skill, or engaged in independent work. Review with them the process of choosing work, gathering the objects and materials needed to do the work, doing the work, and putting the work away when finished.
While this is a time where you will want to return to routines so that students can quickly return to a feeling of consistency and stability, it might also be a good time to consider whether or not the routine is working. And it might be that a routine that was working well at the beginning of the year is ready to be changed.
For example, maybe you have a new class and wanted to have a gathering at the beginning of each day to start everyone off on the right foot, or to deliver some explicit instruction that would help them navigate the environment independently. Maybe now it’s time to consider removing that gathering and having them jump immediately into the work cycle.
Maybe you started your day with recess because the students were very squirmy and active at the beginning of the year, and it was better for them to get their energies out than to rush through their meal, but now they’ve settled a bit more, and it makes sense to do lunch first, and then recess.
While these examples may not ring true for everyone, what is true is that the period of time right after a long break is a great time to observe and reflect upon set routines and consider if new routines might be in order.
Many Montessori elementary classrooms create a shared document, usually called a “class agreement” or a “classroom constitution,” or something along a similar vein. After a long break is a perfect time to revisit the agreements that were created by the class. These can be revisited for the purpose of refreshing everyone’s memory, or they can also be revisited for the purpose of reflecting on them to see if there is anything that needs to be added or taken away from the existing agreements.
Bringing students together and helping them remember the agreements that they have made with one another serves the purpose of bringing the behavior and actions that everyone wants to see and experience to the front of their minds, which will ultimately contribute to ensuring a successful re-entry into the environment.
While it might be true that many classroom communities return with ease, it is also true that many return with a significant proportion of students seemingly having forgotten the systems, routines, and agreements that were in place before they went on a break.
However, with some good planning and strategies in place to support any challenges that arise, combined with empathy and an understanding that levels of independence can ebb and flow when students are away from the classroom for a while, your classroom will soon be jumping one or two steps forward for any one or two steps backward they experienced from their time away from the classroom.
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 public and private Montessori school communities throughout the years. Letty currently supports schools around the world through professional development offerings, consulting, and mentoring.