We usually think of Montessori schools as being a special variety of preschool. I know that I heard stories of my cousins learning Spanish, gardening, and having centers all day in their Montessori early elementary classroom.
The truth is that Montessori Principles don’t have to stay in preschool, and that many of the ideas and general guiding philosophies work extremely well in middle school classrooms.
First, some questions:
-What is Erdkinder?
Erdkinder is a term that means “earth children”. It refers to Montessori’s guiding principle that children are naturally curious and imaginative, and especially points to the sensitive development of early adolescence. Since they are preparing to enter the global community, we should be tuned in to their natural desire to explore, create, and collaborate during this time.
-What does a Montessori classroom look like?
In general, Montessori classrooms look like students working independently in centers, collaboratively and solo, on projects and activities that they have chosen. The instructor is the guide, providing the scaffolding for these activities and moderating the students as they work.
In middle school Montessori classrooms, students interact as a community. Instead of teacher-directed information being disseminated from the front of the room, students are doing the investigating themselves.
Additionally, space is designed with the learner in mind. Students are not in rows of desks, waiting for direction- they are in outdoor spaces, libraries, conference tables, small groups on beanbag chairs, or simply working on computers. It is a learner-driven space.
-Why should I apply that to my middle school classrooms?
Middle school students, going through puberty and early adolescence, are often eager to work with their hands, interact with their environment, and are excited make things creatively. Conversely, they struggle to keep their bodies in chairs, read dry text, spend their days listening rather than doing.
Surely every teacher I know would love to build some more hands-on, learner-driven activities into their teaching practice!
Here are some practical ideas for engaging your middle schoolers with Montessori principles:
1. Give students time and space to go deep and to get creative with their projects.
Here is an example from a Montessori Middle School, describing projects:
” Students were responsible for 6 6-week projects throughout the year. They had ample choice but there were some limits. For example, one project has to be tied to math, another to language arts, etc. One of their projects needed to be written and presented in Spanish, and the final project of the year is shorter, but seems to have fewer limits than some of the other projects….”
2. Take the students outside and into the community:
Pick one unit you already have planned, and move it outdoors. Instead of a grammar lesson from desks, give students poetry examples with those grammar rules in place, and send them outside to identify those grammar examples and then write their own poetry.
Similarly, look for ways to connect students with community workers and leaders. How can you give students more hands-on time? Can you go on a field trip to a greenhouse? Build a school garden? Spend 5 or 6 days during the year volunteering time at an animal shelter or local farm?
3. Guest Speakers:
Intentionally bring in guest speakers from a wide variety of backgrounds. As with most Montessori ideas, go for depth over breadth.
Instead of one community leader coming in for 45 minutes, arrange for video conferencing, Skype lessons or Face Time dates over multiple weeks so that students can engage more deeply.
Stay tuned next week for some more Montessori Principles that are perfect for your middle school classroom!