Montessori Schools Part 2

Montessori schools are fast becoming a popular educational system for parents to put their children through. In my last article, I briefly covered what exactly Montessori means and what a Montessori classroom looks like.

Read part 1 of this two-part Piece on Montessori schools here.

colored pencilsThese philosophies and methods of teaching appealed to me a lot while I was teaching in Taiwan, but as an ESL teacher working for a very traditional style cram school, it was difficult to incorporate these things into my classroom.

Considering that a typical ESL classroom has fairly strict rules and a pretty rigid curriculum, it might seem hopeless to try to squeeze in Montessori philosophies and techniques.

But what I found in my classes is that with a little effort, persistence, and time, you can incorporate more and more of the openness, independence, and creativity that is the hallmark of Montessori and that the benefit to your students and to you make it well worth the effort. Here are few ways you can do it:

Read up on Montessori philosophy

A lot of what goes into Montessori teaching comes down to the teacher’s understanding of the typical learning process and what kids need at different stages in their development.

The more you are able to understand what’s going on with your students when they are struggling with a certain concept or acting out in class, the more you will be able to handle it in a way that truly benefits the student’s education.

The articles and interviews on Montessori for Everyone are a great place to start.  Montessori Mischief has a great introduction to the philosophy and you can also check out the Montessori School of Shanghai’s page for a good introduction to the different aspects of Montessori.

Stoke your students’ inner fire

One thing that Montessori educators often talk about is the child’s inner light or inner fire. It seems like a pretty vague concept to have in an education philosophy in particular because there is no way to measure it or test it.

But we all know what it looks like, the way that a kid will light up when they get to talk about something that interests them or play their favorite game, or kids who are practically bouncing out of their seats because they’re on fire to get involved or tell you something.

And we know what the absence of that inner light looks like, too: a dullness in their expression and mannerisms, a distance and detachment in their eyes, a general disinterest in whatever is going on.

Anytime you can help your students light up with excitement, interest, or creativity, you’re incorporating a big part of Montessori into your classroom.

Give your students a little bit of open work time

Unstructured work time, in which students get to choose what to work on, as well as where and with whom to work, is a hallmark of Montessori. It might be hard to squeeze this into a typically heavily structured ESL curriculum, but if you have 10 minutes to spare, give it a go.

Now, if you have worked with kids at all, you know that simply telling them to choose something to work on and be good for 10 minutes is going to end in chaos, so it does take a little planning and preparation, and a little time to get your students accustomed to a completely new way of doing things.

They key is to have established works and projects that they know how to do without assistance from a teacher. For example, you might have a reading corner where up to 4 students can choose their favorite book, an art corner with a few easy art projects that you have introduced already and that every kid is familiar with.

Perhaps a few games that they can choose to team up and play, and some puzzles or riddles that they can do independently. You may want to have students choose what they will do before they are dismissed so there is no chaos or arguments about who gets to do what work.  Monitor who is working together and where they are working, but try to let the students be as independent as possible for the duration of the work time.

Play Montessori Games

If you’re getting tired of the old Sticky Ball games, why not start throwing in some Montessori Games?  These games are designed to teach kids everything from math to US currency, to grammar, in an engaging and fun way.

Plus, a benefit with these games over the typical ESL class games is that each student is involved and learning at whatever level they feel comfortable, instead of sitting around and waiting their turn to throw the sticky ball. You can also get creative with your lesson plans and activities. Check out these resources for ideas:

While not all strictly Montessori, the ESL teaching ideas on this Pinterest board are fantastic ways to break out of the typical worksheets. An extensive list of free Montessori materials and printables online here. You can also find some great ideas for teaching kids about money and currency here.

Check out this great 4-part series outlining a Montessori approach to teaching grammar with lots of activity ideas to help get you started as well as additional grammar ideas, lessons, and activities, they can be found here and here.

Pulling Montessori philosophies and teaching methods into the typical classroom takes a certain amount of creativity and patience on your part, but I’ve found that students take to these new ideas and ways of learning quickly and enthusiastically and that it makes the class as a whole more fun and rewarding for both you and your students.

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