Saturday, April 30, 2011

The Role of the Parent and the School

The Innovative School is built around the concept of community; it is important for our families, our students and the faculty to feel a connection from the place where they study and work. A sense of community is vital for any school to strive. It brings a sense of identity and pride, and is made possible through processes such communication, inter-group relations, networking and social events.

On Saturday, April 30th, the Parents Group from The Innovative School hosted a fun carnival on campus to build community as well as raise funds for our playground improvement plan. It is important for parents to understand their role at our school.   

The Role of the Parent and the School
Parent, teacher, child, and school relationships are very important in a student's life. An alliance based on mutual respect and support will enhance all individuals' understanding, knowledge, and insight and offer a cohesive, prepared learning environment.
How to give support to your school
  • Be involved, volunteer
  • Be informed, attend all conferences & meetings
  • Be knowledgeable, attend Parent Education meetings
  • Contribute your knowledge
Involved parents support their Montessori school by contributing their time and talents. Each school offers different programs and projects for parents to volunteer their time, energy, and resources.

Informed parents communicate with their school by attending planned conferences and other parent activities, reading newsletters and e-mails, and asking questions. Ask the school's administrator or your child's teacher for the best time and method to communicate informally — to share insights, questions, and observations.

Knowledgeable parents select a school by seeking an optimal match between their child's needs; their expectations; and the school's philosophy, program, and services. Parents support the school's policies and procedures and attend Parent Education Meetings, as well as read articles and books about Montessori education.

And most importantly feel welcome in your school community. Montessori is a philosophy of life not merely an academic educational methodology. Montessori schools not only enroll children they enroll families.

Kathryn Miller, Curriculum Coordinator at The Innovative School.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

The Shelton School in Dallas, Texas

The Institute of Montessori Education is hosting its next Back to School Montessori Conference for Montessori educators and administrators in Dallas, Texas at the Shelton School on August 20, 2011. This past Wednesday, April 27th, I had the opportunity to visit with the Executive Director Emeritus, Dr. Joyce Pickering and Debbie Edwards at Shelton.

The Shelton School is a private, non-profit, non-sectarian co-ed school serving students grades pre-school through 12. This school is the nation's largest private school for learning-different students. Established in 1976, the primary emphasis is providing learning-different children (average or above intelligence) with full, effective curriculum through individualized, structured multisensory programs. Learning differences include dyslexia, attention deficit disorder (ADD), attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), speech and language disorders.

Dr. Pickering’s entire career has been devoted to helping any student with a learning difference with an all inclusive approach in order to find the best individualized educational path for the student. Her work has been published in many educational journals and she has been honored by countless professional associations. Dr. Pickering has been awarded a White House citation for her contributions in the field of education. In 2006, she was recognized by the International Dyslexia Association for her many contributions to education and learning differences over the years. She also received the Etoile DuBard Award for Excellence from the International Multi-Sensory Structured Language Education Council (IMSLEC). The American Montessori Society (AMS) has recognized her for her work with children who learn differently and for her contributions to the growth of Montessori education. Dr. Pickering is the current Vice-President of the American Montessori Society (AMS) Board of Directors.

The Shelton School and Dr. Joyce Pickering will be highlighted as the feature story in the next Montessori SCOOP publication. Joyce will also present a spotlight session at the Back to School Montessori Conference in Dallas! It is truly a pleasure and honor to work with Joyce!

Dr. Joyce Pickering SLP/CCC,CALT/QI, Hum. D, Ex. Director of the Shelton School, Dallas, TX

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Fine Arts at The Innovative School!

The EC students of The Innovative School visited the Miller Outdoor Theater and the Museum of Fine Arts on Thursday - April 21, 2011.

Theater is a vital part of a child's fine arts education as it brings to life literature studies. This performance of the Princess and the Pea produced by Express Children's Theatre generously underwritten by The Brown Foundation allowed Innovative students to experience a bilingual story of a prince who wants to marry a princess, but is having difficulty finding a suitable wife. The students discover only a real princess would have the sensitivity to feel a pea through a quantity of bedding. The surprise ending was that the prince and princess decide to be best friends forever instead of getting married and living happily ever after.

After the play, students enjoyed lunch at Café Express at the Museum of Fine Arts.  The restaurant management was pleasantly surprised to see our students sitting down respectfully with their napkins neatly folded on their laps waiting patiently for everyone to begin. The manager mentioned twice, "this is the most well behaved group of children I have ever seen here". Our response was "These are Montessori children".  After lunch, our students visited the impressionist exhibit at the MFAH. They were thrilled to finally see in real life, paintings from the artists they have been studying all year. The striking, thick paint strokes of Van Gogh's self portrait was so amazing to see up close.  Many of the girls were excited by the large Renoir's Ballerina and then to find Degas' small Ballerina painting. After looking at pictures in various books so many times throughout the year, it was exhilarating to see the work in reality.  We look forward to deepening the artist studies next academic school year!

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Elements of Respect

Respect breeds respect and creates an atmosphere within which learning is tremendously facilitated. "Respect" is not a code word for hierarchy, in the sense of "students must respect the teacher." Certainly students must respect the teacher. And the teacher must respect the students. And the students must respect each other. Respect does not mean that everybody is supposed to pretend to like everybody else all the time. Respect does mean that conflicts are to be resolved with consideration for the dignity of everyone involved.

The basis of discipline is respect -- respect for oneself, for others and for the environment. The teachers and students set limits for behavior based on the groups’ need for a safe and mutually respectful community. Positive guidance techniques facilitate the development of interpersonal skills, respect for oneself and others.

Positive Guidance Techniques are presented to the student by:

·         Modeling
Model the exact behavior, attitude or activity you want students to do.

·         Encouraging expected behavior
Focuses on internal appraisal, and the contributions children make.

·         Redirecting
Redirection is usually used, like giving directions, when the adult does not have time to sit down with the child and use a lengthier technique. It is a very important tool, however, because it focuses on behavior in a positive way without dwelling on the negative aspects of misbehavior.

·         Setting clear limits and offering alternatives
Children who can make choices appropriately should be offered the opportunity to do so, and a choice is only offered to a student when you really intend to leave the choice up to him/her.

·         Logical and Natural consequences

·         Power of Words, Use: I message:
I feel...(state feeling) ~
when you…(describe behavior) ~
 because…(effect) ~
I want…(describe desired behavior).”  

Example: “I feel angry when you cut in line because I was next. I want you to go to the end of the line.”

       Rules established:

      ·         Are for everyone to follow including teachers, parents and visitors.
·         Are reinforced at all times.
·         Encourage respect and thoughtfulness of others.
·         Assists the child to develop the sense of responsibility.
·         Encourages him/her to accept the consequences of his/her actions or behavior.

General Principles of Discipline

Discipline: practice or methods of teaching and enforcing acceptable patterns of behavior

Authoritative: convincing, reliable, backed by evidence, and showing deep knowledge

Collaborative: to work with another person or group in order to achieve something

General Principals:
- Developmentally appropriate practice: Experiences are suited to the student's learning and development, and challenging enough to promote and support their interest and progress.

- Respect: Consideration and thoughtfulness of another person - adult or child.

- Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Treat and speak to students and adults the same way you like to be treated and spoken to by others. Body language and tonality are included in this.

- Freedom within limits: Clear rules that tell what is allowed. Clear consequences that are developmentally and age appropriate.

- Peace: Solution based communication.

- Intervention: Entering into a situation or dispute, when necessary, in order to stabilize and direct towards an agreeable solution.

- Rights and responsibility: The understanding of what is expected of an individual to ensure working together in harmony.

- Domino Effect: The consequences that mount up and pile one upon another, when positive discipline is not in use on a regular basis. The result is the exact opposite of discipline - it becomes chaos!

- Communication: The vital too that creates the exchange of information and achievement of mutual understanding.

- Encouragement: Phrase directives positively.

- Natural and Logical Consequences: Important results of behavioral choices. Natural consequences have natural results (no eating = hunger). Logical consequences have pre-designed rules (running in the classroom = going back and walking).

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Brain Development and Montessori

Maria Montessori theorized that brain development is the pathway to learning, behavior, and health in the early years of life. The Montessori philosophy is based on respect for the child as a unique individual. By guiding each child through an academic framework he/she grows into a responsible member of society.

A century ago Dr. Montessori studied how children develop and through her observations came to the conclusion that children learn through concrete experiences. Modern science supports these age-old observations and millions of children have retained their inherent love of learning. Montessori education is both a psychology and a learning guide for child development. The “prepared environment” facilitates optimal learning by encouraging children to exercise his/her curiosity through exploration. This structured approach allows for children to recognize his/her social and academic accomplishments which in turn lead to high levels of self-esteem. Dr. Montessori also discovered that children learn best when given the opportunity to use all their senses therefore designed manipulative sensorial materials. These sensorial materials cultivate the intellect in a manner conducive to the individual learning styles of a child.

In the first stage of child development– birth to age one, a large number of synapses develop; however, in the second stage– one year to adolescence, the density of synapses in the brain actually declines. A synaptic cutback occurs due to a delicate use of pathways that cement the synapses. The brain develops in a use it or lose it manner thus creating a limited window of opportunity.

Children are first “normalized” in the Montessori classroom. Normalization is the process in which a child moves from being undisciplined to self disciplined, from disordered to ordered, from distracted to focused. This “inner change” occurs through repetition of work that captivates the child’s attention. Its characteristics include sense of order, a love of work, profound focus, love of silence and working alone, sublimation of the possessive instinct, power to act from real choice, obedience, independence, initiative, and cooperative learning all in the context of freedom. The “normalization” process occurs in a series of steps, including (1) the child has the freedom to choose his/her own activities (2) the child concentrates deeply on the activity and (3) repeats that activity until he or she truly “has it.” This cognitive stimulation optimizes the formation of the brain and solidifies the child’s synapses.

”A child absorbs knowledge directly into his or her psychic life... Impressions don’t merely enter the mind, they form it.” – Maria Montessori

Maria Montessori proposed four levels of development:

1.      Infancy. Birth – 6 years.  Massive biological changes and active development of the brain occurs. This is an optimal time for sensorial exploration and is a sensitive period for language development. The child is driven to classify colors, shapes, sounds and pitch.

2.     Childhood. 6 years – 12 years.  This is the optimum time for learning.  Acquisition of culture, grouping or herd instinct, morality and social conscience begin to form.

3.      Adolescence.  12 years – 18 years.  This is another time for massive biological change. This stage is about understanding social life and one’s place in it.  It is a time of introspection. Children think about their long range contribution to the world.  “Where the needs of the world and my talents touch, there lies my vocation.”

4.      Maturity.  18 years – 24 years.  This, again, should be a time full of acquisition of knowledge.

It is important to give children time to finish their intellectual planes of development.  Adolescence is a fragile time and it becomes even more difficult if a child is forced into an adolescent world before he or she has completed the childhood stage.  Maria Montessori believed the child constructs himself/herself by following laws of growth universal to mankind.  Teachers are: “Witnesses to the development of the human soul.”  Just as parents are “Collaborators in the building process.”  

Children are capable to learn and grow and recognize their potential. Learning begins before birth; brain cells begin to form in the third week of prenatal development. The sense of hearing is evident by week ten and by week seventeen the fetus is sensitive to light. By the sixteenth week, a period of rapid brain development begins. The fetus shows evidence that information is being taken in through the stimulation of the senses of taste, touch, hearing and vision by the twenty-eighth week of prenatal development.

Children learn in the course of exploration with the senses. Research specifies that infants and children, who are given vibrant environments to explore, and the ability to discover with minimal intervention from others, will develop synapses (brain connections between related ideas) at a much greater rate than children who are not allowed the liberty of exploration. Children cannot stop learning, brain cells continue to take in whatever a child is exposed to, both positive and negative. Children have the ability to learn and pick up anything they hear or see. The brain connections are made stronger with repeated occurrences. Children older than three begin to organize the sufficient information they have already taken in, and also to extract mistaken connections they have made. Regular, consistent, repeated, multisensory learning experiences tend to strengthen connections, leading to better understanding and a better ability to recover the information in innovative situations. We all would like our children to be able to learn and grow to their fullest potential.

The Montessori environment enhances brain development. For example, the Montessori environment enhances language development by giving children particular names for things, and accurate descriptive language, while the child is actually holding and experiencing that which is being named or described. Sounds and symbols are integrated using the sense of touch along with the visual and auditory senses. Activities in a Montessori school have a precise order in which they are completed, and an order to the way they are set up on the shelf. Left to right order is emphasized, as well as simple to complex, top to bottom, and smaller to greater. This reinforcement strengthens connections that help the brain organize for reading and math operations.

The Montessori environment also encourages movement, but not just random movement. Children are encouraged to imitate the precise movement of the adults that emphasize the physical attributes of the activities they are involved in, whether moving a large or tiny cube, setting up the steps of a carrot peeling activity from left to right, or using a screwdriver. The act of using controlled movements to complete a task strengthens the brain synapses used to complete the task, as well. Concrete experiences in the Montessori environment reinforce learning by providing additional pathways for recall, making the retrieval of information more successful.  This suggests that more connections are being made in the brain. It is evident that a Montessori education stimulates brain development. 

Why do you think it is important to give children time to finish their intellectual planes of development?

Friday, April 1, 2011

Chicago: The Musical

The American Montessori Society hosted a fundraising event on Saturday evening, March 26, 2011, at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago, Illinois. I was honored to chair this fundraiser for AMS. This lively affair, which we called “Chicago: The Musical,” raised money to support research about Montessori education and disseminate the results to the public, including parents, policymakers, child development experts, and the media. We believe that such research will play a significant role in helping individuals to understand why Montessori works and is of vital importance for students and youth of all age levels.

This was AMS’s second consecutive fundraiser to support research. Our first, held in March 2010, was a wild success—and the inspiration for the Chicago event. Guests gathered in the Grand Ballroom of the Boston Marriott Copley Place in Boston, Massachusetts, for a semiformal soirée featuring an elegant dinner, dancing to a live band, and a live auction—and collectively raised nearly $100,000 in gross funds for Montessori research.

The Golden Bead Gala in Boston last year supported:
  • Developing innovative research opportunities
  • Providing enhanced Web site resources to researchers
  • Funding opportunities for conducting research
  • Continuing AMS Montessori research coordinator position
  • Offering workshop sessions and poster sessions at conferences
  • Cultivating dissertation and thesis authors
I look forward to continue the momentum as we develop further opportunities for Montessori research to broaden the horizons of Montessori education.