This is part one of three guest posts this week by Yitzha (Icha) Sarwono, a kindergarten Montessori school teacher in Jakarta, Indonesia. We were recently discussing Dogme during ELTchat, and as I have no experience Montessori teaching, I asked her to write about the possibilities for teaching unplugged in her particular situation. I started by asking her about the main elements of Montessori (as quoted on Wikipedia), and how they apply in her classroom:
Mixed age classrooms, with classrooms for children aged 2½ or 3 to 6 years old by far the most common
In the theory, it can be like that, but in Indonesia it is quite impossible since the parents are still demanding the grouping based on level and that is what is going on in my school, though they can be mixed too sometimes, usually when we are lacking in teachers!. Actually, my superior just came today and she told me that my class is ready to be mixed with others as they are very cooperative and has understood the concept of Montessori.
Student choice of activity from within a prescribed range of options
Yes, each day I give them around an hour an a half for them to choose the activity that they want to do, be it from math, language, culture, practical life or others. While some of them do that, I'll work on them one on one on the area where I need them to give more attention. SO for each student it can be different area. For example, my student Aliffa needs to work on her writing, while Keshia needs to work on her phonics and reading. I make notes on the area they have mastered and the one they need to build. And that is why Montessori works well in classes with different states of ability, since teachers still have time to focus on students. Of course it needs teachers who can really dedicate themselves to work on it and that is why many teachers (at least in my school) avoid being the Montessori teachers, for the responsibility is very high. But this is also the point where I think Montessori and Dogme teaching can run well together.
Uninterrupted blocks of work time
Yes, this is so true in the real Montessori classroom. When the child is tired and doesn’t want to continue on working on one thing/project, we'll take a break and let them continue the other day, so there is no time limit really. Most of the time, we got them to work on a project that will make them understand more on what they're learning. But of course the choices are theirs to make on which ones they want to do 1st.
A Constructivist or "discovery" model, where students learn concepts from working with materials, rather than by direct instruction
We come to class with either with real objects (like me bringing vegetables to class, for example), models/toys or if we couldn't find them (like now when I'm teaching about insects) we bring photos to the classroom, so they will never have to imagine what they look like, they can feel them, see them and explore them. When they learn about hundreds or thousands, they will hold a bunch of beans with the exact number, or when they learn about shapes, they will hold the material. So when the concept got into them, they will remember it well. In my experiences (because I have taught in classical based school before) this kind of materials do help them a lot, like before we build a word, I will show the material that we're going to spell, and then instead of writing it, we use what we call LMA (large moveable alphabet) that will be arranged based on the word we're building on. So, they will not only be in touch with the object but also with the forms of the letters we're using. Whenever I teach them some early grammars, this will also work better as they can experience them first hand.
Specialized educational materials developed by Montessori and her collaborators
Each school, even each class, develops their own lesson plan as they are the one who knows what their students need. We have guidelines on what is our goal for that week but of course all teachers will also work on what their students need. This is what I’ve mentioned before , about the worksheet. We don't really have real test for them as they are still kindergarten but as Montessori has no particular workbook to use too, what we -the teachers- will prepare is a worksheet according to what they're learning. For instance, for my student Aliffa I'll give them more writing exercises or projects, and for Keshia I'll ask her to spell words together with me and then have her write them down on what we call pink line paper, so she'll remember it. So each students have their own personalized and customized worksheet. Tough job for the teachers of course, but I suppose this is needed to make sure all are treated well and fair. Of course for some material like logic exercises or culture, we can have the same worksheet for all.
The second part of Icha’s post will look at practical examples of how she teaches, and how she thinks it overlaps with Dogme ELT.