Friday, April 10, 2009

"Is It In Your Albums?" A Commentary

(the above photo taken from "My Montessori Journey")

I recently read an article published in a well known Montessori journal in which an observer or visitor to a classroom inquires about a work on the shelf that has caught her eye. After she approaches the lead teacher about the material she asks,"Is it in your album?" in a scrutinizing way. I cringed when I read this because early on when I first became an AMI Directress I would ask this same question with that same tone. Years later, reading the article and hearing that question ring out in my mind, I felt apologetic for the times I had said it.

I am not the monitor of another Directress's albums. I am not in a position to judge or dismiss another trained teacher's effort. I feel that asking such a question immediately positions the one asking in a place of judgmental authority. If my trainer asked me I would listen to why she was doing so. Also, my trainers, Mrs. Fernando and Molly O'Shaunessy, are much more respectful than to pose the question in that manner. They would perhaps ask me to present the lesson, examine the individual elements of the work, assess its physical qualities as well as how much time I put into preparing the work, ask what its purpose was and inquire as to its control of error.

I just heard myself repeat the question, "Is that in your albums?" to myself and hairs stood up on my arms. Are we that judgmental and condemning of each other? Are we that competitive that we need to suppress the creative and intellectual advancements of our peers?

I was so unnerved by the article that I spent the entire night yesterday reviewing in my mind my reasons for being so. After years of working with the materials, my own mind "leaps towards abstraction." I listen to my mental thoughts during these times and write them down. I draw from these notes extensions for the work.

I don't think we should add a second pink tower or have bronze beads alongside the golden beads. That is not what I am suggesting at all. I respect that we have the most amazing set of materials to work with and that Maria Montessori was a genius.

This past year when I was trying to figure out a way to teach painting a thick or a thin line of paint with the same brush, I turned to the brown (broad) stair.

When I was trying to describe the color gray a cloud becomes just before it rains, I placed the color box 3 on the table and drew from it six shades of gray.

I have become passionate about discovering the relationship between all of the materials. I have stopped trying to isolate them and see them now as an organic whole. My lessons flow from one area of the room to the other and the children sense the relationship between the materials. They too have responded by recognizing and identifying parallel and overlapping qualities.

Too, how could it be that Sink and Float or Magnetic / Non-Magnetic are to be the only science materials in the classroom? Are we not to use our own scientific minds to present lessons that cover multiple areas of scientific study? And what about botany? Does not Maria Montessori invite us to go out into the garden and discover the natural world with our students? Are these lessons in our albums? Some, but not all of them.

Lastly, I have one lesson in my album regarding working with money and teaching time. I needed to research and assemble materials that responded to these necessary subjects for kindergarten-aged students. This year I have nine of them.

I don't think our shelves need to be littered with unnecessary materials and paper work. I do think all of the Montessori materials should be out and available for the children. I also think we are capable of making materials that provide lessons on science, botany, time and other subjects that are not in conflict with the method but compliment it, represent it.

I still have the lesson I made during my student teaching - how to use an ink well. It was that first piecing together of a tray that continues to help me assemble them today.

So if I ever visited your classroom and asked with a condescending tone,"Is it in your albums?" I am sorry. I won't do it again.


Montessori teacher said...

Isn't the relationship between the classroom lessons and materials "Cosmic Education"? I agree with you, that question is aweful and limits the possibilities for exploration.
Have a pleasant weekend...
Cheryl in OK

melissa joanne said...

Lovely post, Susan.
I so enjoy the connections you discover between the materials. Your love of them is so evident in your blog.