Thursday, November 19, 2009

Cards and Counters - Which One Would You Want To Work With?

At the Centennial Celebration and refresher course in San Fransisco, we were encouraged not to only use the catalog version of the cards and counters that are found in so many primary classrooms but to also make our own. The speaker said that Mario Montessori asked that beautiful things be used for the counters such as beads, shells and semi-precious stones.

I take an extra look at this material when I substitute in various classrooms so as to see if the teacher has put together one herself or purchased one. Today I photographed a child using a cards and counters material that I was drawn to myself. I wanted to sit down and do the work after him just so that I could touch it and experience its beauty.

Besides the aesthetic quality of the material, I really liked that the object for the one was larger than several of the objects used for greater quantities like 6 or 9. I have found that a child making a short bead stair will be thrown off if the bead bar for 4 is longer in length than the one for 7. This happens when a bead bar is lost and is replaced with one from another set.

On many occasions, I have told children to count the bead bars and note their quantity, rather than visually assessing one to be larger and therefore judging it to have more value. But, again and again, I have seen children become upset as their sense of order tells them its incorrect.

In today's set of cards and counters, the objects are the same if they collectively represent a specific quantity. Their common attribute is that they have something to do with the ocean or beach - shells and sea glass.

Look at each picture below and ask yourself which one you would want to work with. Let me know via your comments.

Catalog cards and counters:



The cards and counters in today's classroom:


(I just noticed he has three shells under the 3 and the 4. I am substituting in the same class tomorrow. I will check to see if there is a shell missing...)

Saturday, November 14, 2009

On Being An Assistant

I recently took a four day assistant workshop. It wasn't a Montessori training. It was with the Baron Baptiste Yoga Institute. The workshop was an amazing, informative and exhausting four days. Assistants work in a yoga studio environment populated by adult students and led by a master teacher.

Each of the 109 attendants learned anatomy, asanas (poses), pranayama (breathing) techniques and techniques on assisting a yoga student. This work of assisting students generally requires touching the yoga practitioner. Talking is at a minimum, if at all. Eye contact is brief. The touching is referred to as adjusting. These adjustments assist the student in coming into a "deeper pose."

Coming into a "deeper pose" constitutes the physical act of being in the pose and the mental act of concentration and focus. All movement is purposeful movement. Knowing when to assist by physically adjusting and supporting a student or by providing tools such as blocks or straps is made by quiet observations off the mat. When the class is finished, the assistants clean and prepare the environment, along with arranged volunteers, for the next class. This might also include sanitizing and re-rolling the studio's yoga mats.

The other day, when I was taking a yoga class, the master teacher attempted to assist me. I quietly stated that I did not need assistance as I was about to make the adjustment myself. He persisted and I again asked not to be helped. About a half an hour into the class, he stopped by my mat and attempted to assist me again by adjusting my wrist. I have a fused wrist and forearm. I stood up and heard myself softly say the classic Montessori line, "I can do it myself. Thank you, but I do not need help."

It was a significant moment having just taken my own assistant training. I thought to myself, "This is how all my three and four years feel in my classroom when I try to assist them even after they have stated their desire to do it themselves." It brought me into a deeper understanding of their position and posturing, while simultaneously informing me that assisting in either setting requires not only visually assessing a situation but actively listening to the student.

Yoga and Montessori have so many overlapping variables. I worked as a specialist while my son Ian was in his final high school years instead of working full time as a lead teacher. This provided me with more flexibility in my schedule so as to be available to him as he needed me.

As a specialist I taught yoga in various Montessori schools in the Boston area. I had a great web page called "Yoga with Susan: Where Montessori and Yoga Meet." During my class, we often played the bell game and did other Montessori activities. One time, while playing a brief game of concentration with materials from the classroom, a student said to me, "Concentration leads to meditation." He closed his eyes and became absolutely still. Soon, other children followed. I have so many wonderful memories of working as a specialist. I continue to teach yoga to children and do it as my full time job in the summer.

I am not working as a lead teacher this year. Instead, I have been substitute teaching while I prepare to move to Vermont where I will again take on the role of directress. Most of the time when I sub, I am asked to work as an assistant. It has been a deeply rewarding experience. I spend much more time writing observation notes and preparing the environment than I did as a lead. I also assist children at the teacher's request.

Besides my years of experience as a Primary Directress, I bring to this work new insights having recently taken my yoga teacher assistant training. At the end of the four days, each of us described what we found the most captivating about the work. One of the trainees said, "To be in service to another." Her words continue to resonate with me. If I could describe the role of an assistant in the Montessori classroom those would be the words. They sing a humble tune that speaks of both knowledge about and personal commitment to the work at hand.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Sometimes Solutions Are So Simple

I use to have my assistant check all the plants in the class after children watered them excessively and repeatedly so as to wipe up all the water drainage from the tops of shelves. Recently, I was in a classroom and observed a lesson on watering plants. I was fascinated by a small container of twisted bamboo sticks. I listened as the teacher instructed the student to place one of the bamboo sticks in the soil of a plant after they watered it.

This worked as a visual cue to other students that the plant had been already watered and that they should not water it again. During morning prep, the assistants of the class remove all of the sticks that were placed in plant soil the day before, clean them and return them to the little jar on the plant washing tray.

I don't have any of these twisted bamboo sticks, but I do have many, small bags of fancy toothpicks. They are the kind that you use with party appetizers. They have fancy foil decorations at the top. These will work fine. Ahhh, no more water stains on the top of my wooden shelves.

The second simple solution I observed involved the chains. I can't count the number of times I have told students, especially younger students, not to touch the chains. They seem to love holding a length of chains between their hands and sliding their hands up and down.

The solution that I observed involved a practical life activity - dusting.

I watched a young student dust each of the long and short chains, the bead cubes and the bead squares. The child used the regular duster for the larger bead cubes and the smaller, paint brush-like dusters for doing the chains and the bead squares. It was careful and concentrated work. It made me think of how caring for an object nourishes respect for the object.

Although, the child was too young to do math work with the material, she was not too young to learn the details of its design by touching it and perhaps sensorially discover relationships between the individual pieces.

Sometimes solutions are simple, but take forever to think of or stumble upon. In this case, I stumbled upon two in one classroom. I was very grateful.