Mindfulness and Middle School

Mindfulness is a modern term for an ancient concept of quieting the mind, intentionally.  Ms. Erica introduced this concept to her middle school students this year by adding “mindfulness” as a daily part of the curriculum.  She introduced mindfulness to her students by drawing their attention to their natural breathing patterns. Often, by simply putting focused attention upon the inhaling and exhaling of the breath, students began to notice a slight difference in their postures, their own breathing, and how calm they felt.  A breathing ball was used to demonstrate this process.

Research done by Northwestern Medicine confirms that “nasal breathing plays a pivotal role in coordinating electrical brain signals in the olfactory “smell” cortex-the brain regions that directly receive input from our nose-which then coordinates the amygdala (which processes emotions) and the hippocampus (responsible for memory and emotions).  During nasal inhalation, the fast electrical rhythms in both the amygdala and the hippocampus become stronger.  The in-breath specifically alters your cognition, improving both emotional and memory processing – any slow, steady breathing like the kind employed in meditation and yoga activates the calming part of the nervous system, and slows heart rate, reducing feelings of anxiety and stress. The act of slow, deep breathing, whether the inhalation or exhalation, is beneficial for your nervous system when you wish to be more still.”1

Every midmorning, middle school students are called together to practice the art of mindfulness.  Breath is always a key component to this process and is used to teach students how to tune into their mind/body connection. Ms. Erica has also found a way to reveal to her students that there is a direct link between the mind and the hands. When the mind is always active and on the go, sometimes thoughts can be tamed simply by engaging the hands in small, peaceful moments. A special shelf in the room hosts 55 different mindfulness jobs, including watching oil and water mixing in a container, tracing sand in a tray, and even trying their hands at solving the Rubik’s Cube. Students are encouraged to ground their thoughts before beginning the tasks. They are also encouraged to try various mindfulness jobs to expand their own experiences and to give others a chance to do the works.  Unlike other assignments, there is no goal in mind other than to experience the process of doing the work.

Once a week, a guided meditation is done giving students the opportunity to experience the power of “being,” opposed to “doing.”  Observation of the breath is the foundation of the mindfulness curriculum and is used on a daily basis. Tuning into and expanding the awareness of the five senses will take up much of the school year, with mindfulness, emotions, and the inner experience rounding out the curriculum.

During a recent class, students spent class time outside, just listening, trying to expand the reach of their sense of hearing.  They were amazed to discover the variety of sounds found outside when they were quiet enough to open up their perception to the natural world.  A recent survey conducted by Ms. Erica revealed the vast majority felt the class was helpful and they were enjoying it.

Mindfulness is a life skill that teaches the difference between being mindful (actively engaged in the present moment with mind, body and breath) and having a mind full of thoughts, each one racing to gain momentum over the other.  With practice and awareness, students are learning to quiet their minds, balance emotions, and harness the power of their thoughts.  A leading mindfulness teacher, Jon Kabat-Zinn, postulates “learning mindfulness practices in school would put people on the road to a much more healthy relationship to their body and their emotions.”2 We are seeing the truth of this statement with our middle school students. Finally, as reported by Time Special Edition, “mindfulness has been shown to increase kindness, sleep quality, behavioural control, concentration, and even math scores.”3

 

Mindfulness Magazine (10/2017)

1: pg. 12

2: pg. 18

Time Special Edition “The Science of Childhood” – Inside the Minds of our Younger Selves.

  1. Pg. 62

The Power of Observation

Observation is a foundational skill for an effective Montessori teacher.  The ability to watch, listen and not interfere with a student’s learning process is essential for creating a Montessori experience.  From the very beginning, Dr. Montessori (a trained physician) took the approach that teaching was not about filling a student up with facts and figures. The goal was to create an environment that was interesting and engaging while teachers introduced subject matter from the most concrete perspective, and then by extension to the abstract.

As the teacher creates and delivers specific lessons to a student, it becomes clear what parts of the lesson make sense to the student and is absorbed by them. It can be equally obvious which parts of the lesson did not resonate with the child.  The skill to watch the reactions of a student and determine where the breakdown in understanding occurs is the hallmark of a Montessori educational experience.

Watching with clarity and purpose is a refined skill for a Montessori teacher.  In this day of instant answers and very quick adjustments to the constant flow of information, it is tempting to step in too quickly with a student and give them the “right way of doing the lesson.”  Instead, a more measured and patient approach can actually net better results.  The more a student internalizes the lessons and experiences the process of manipulating the materials, or practicing more abstract skills, the greater the impact of the lesson.

Observing a student over time is also extremely helpful.  Since most of the students stay in a classroom for three-year cycles, it gives the teachers a wealth of history to draw upon and to apply useful comparisons to earlier observations.  Teachers’ abilities to quietly focus their listening and visual skills are the key to delivering an effective Montessori educational experience to their students.

 

Thinking Maps

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One of the foundations of a Montessori education at FMS, is the fundamental skill of teaching students how to “organize” their work.  It begins the first day in our primary classrooms and continues as a constant theme in every grade thereafter.  A key writing tool for organizing thoughts and ideas is the use of the thinking map.  A thinking map is a visual tool students are taught to help focus their ideas into a format that makes writing easier.

The entire FMS staff has had two full trainings by Ms. Erica, our Lead Middle School teacher, on the purpose and use of thinking maps.  Ms. Erica is certified by the Innovative Learning Group to impart the specifics of using thinking maps.  Her enthusiasm and proficiency for using thinking maps conveyed the big picture as to why thinking maps are vital as our “go to” writing tool.

Thinking maps corral scattered and random thoughts in a format that visually represents the desired final effect. It can be as simple as defining a concept, to comparing and contrasting, or sequencing and analyzing cause and effect.  Early in this process, Kindergarteners are introduced to the concept of classifying information by using the simplest format, the circle map.  They might use the word “colors” in the center and then list all the colors they know in the space around the center circle.

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We also learned that drawing a picture of an event in detail helps open the minds of the new writers as they explore the process of defining and describing events in their lives.  The more detailed their pictures, the easier it is for them to write sentences.  Before they know it, one sentence turns into three as they answer questions such as “When did this happen?”, “Who was involved?”, or “How did you feel about the event?”

According to Innovative Learning Group, thinking maps are a set of graphic organizer techniques used in primary and secondary education (“K-12”). There are eight diagram types that are intended to correspond with eight different fundamental thinking processes.  The eight map types are:

Circle Map

used for defining in context

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Bubble Map

used for describing with adjectives

Double Bubble Map

used for comparing and contrasting

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Tree Map

used for classifying or grouping

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Brace Map

used for identifying part/whole relationships

Flow Map

used for sequencing and ordering events

Multi-flow map

used for analyzing causes and effects

Bridge map

used for illustrating analogies”*

In Thinking with Maps, Elisabeth Camp (2007) investigates how individuals think and how thinking is related to language. Camp (2007) states that “…thinking in maps is substantively different from thinking in sentences” (p. 155). This concept supports Hyerle’s (2011) idea that Thinking Maps possess an artistic and kinesthetic component, where students can feel free to express their ideas in a “drawing,” or map, instead of using complete written sentences. Thinking Maps support learners who thrive with the artistic and kinesthetic multiple intelligences of learning.

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Thinking maps are used throughout each of the grades in FMS.  The level of detail and fact finding increases as the students move to the older grades, but the fundamental skills of framing their thoughts into a clear and reproducible pattern is taught in the early stages of learning to write.

Our middle school students weighed in on the usefulness of using thinking maps:

By:  Sabrina

Of all of the ways we have learned to study, thinking maps have been by far the most helpful. Whenever there is a test coming up and I get ready to study, I always organize my notes into thinking maps. I feel like when I use thinking maps it helps me understand the information better. If there is a whole section on dates – which personally are the hardest things to study for me, I always bring out my thinking maps and use a flow map. It puts the information in order to help me memorize it. Sometimes, I am even able to add multiple maps together to make it MORE easier.

Another reason I love thinking maps is because when we take notes in class it gets stressful sometimes when you have to write down information about a gigantic battle. But, if you use the correct thinking maps you will soon realize that it isn’t stressful at all. What’s also amazing about thinking maps is that they help me in writing class. When we prewrite, I have ideas but it can sometimes be hard for me to  organize all of my thoughts, and thinking maps really helps with that.

Thinking maps also are a great way to get me thinking critically. Thinking critically can be extremely hard for some people, but for me I like the challenge. And thinking maps give me the challenges that I need. Also, I have grown up with these maps. I have been going to this school since I was three and every time I would move up a grade we would have a thinking map lesson. This shows me how important and helpful they are. This is why I love thinking maps and can always rely on them.

By: Arianna

I personally like using flow maps and tree maps. A flow map is a map that puts events in chronological order. This map helps me memorize the order of any events for upcoming tests and quizzes. A tree map is a way of listing things in a more organized way than just bullets or sentences. It may seem like a long process at first, but when it comes up to that dreaded test or research paper you have to write, you have already memorized and put your information in a way that by adding a few words can become a great paper or way to study.

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By: Caroline

Thinking maps could be used in many different ways, such as brainstorming, prewriting, organizing information, taking notes, and much more! When you have several ideas or thoughts in your head, just create a circle map and write all of them down! If you are about to write an important essay or report, you could use a thinking map to organize your information and prewrite. Thinking maps are also very convenient while taking your notes. They are more brief and easier to read than just listing long notes. Overall, I believe that thinking maps are great visual tools that can help you anywhere and anytime. So, the next time you are taking notes or trying to solve a problem, instead of writing continuously in paragraph form, use a thinking map!

By: Gabriela

I love thinking maps. They are a super fun yet organized way of writing notes, brainstorming, or even sorting things out. I’m so glad that thinking maps are a tool that I learned to use because they have been very helpful to me so far. I use them in many different ways. When I want to compare/contrast two different characters in English, I might use a double-bubble map. Or if I need to make a cause/effect timeline on a battle for history, I would use a multi-flow map. Thinking maps can be used in almost every subject in school. I can organize my thoughts onto a piece of paper, and therefore be more organized and efficient. These charts make my life so much easier, especially when taking notes. It is sometimes easier for me to understand something when it is written down before me. In conclusion, thinking maps are a useful tool that everyone should learn how to use!

By:  Jaden

My personal favorite thinking map is the double bubble map because I think it is the most versatile. You can compare and contrast but you can also brainstorm with it. When I am studying the pages that are double bubble maps or any type of maps for that matter, I remember information more clearly when I am studying and when it comes time to the test I can almost perfectly visualize me holding the page whilst studying. That helps me with the pages that I didn’t have a thinking map on because it would spark a memory on the other pages. To be honest, I am not the best on thinking maps, but if I take the time to learn I believe that it will help me out later. For example my brother Brennan is in high school and he still uses thinking maps.

I believe it also helps when two or more people are thinking on what type of thinking map you use and what to put in it. For example, Ms. Erica in the past has had us work and make thinking maps about Upfront articles. Even now, months later, I can vividly remember the thinking maps we did and the article. Thinking Maps truly do wonders and I believe everyone should be educated about them in their life because they can also help not just in school, but life.

Peace Rose

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The gift of the yellow rose is a concept  that comes out of the Montessori peace curriculum where a silk, yellow rose is used in the classroom much like a talking stick for the students to take turns sharing their feelings and resolving their differences.  Dr. Maria Montessori put her educational philosophy forward during the throes of WWI and it remained relevant through the second World War.  Part of her drive was to instill the concept that each one of her students had the potential to be a peacemaker.  In the classroom today, we carry on her legacy.  It is our belief that children in a classroom are no different than people interacting with others in society.  There will be stretches of peaceful interactions and then differences of opinions will arise naturally in time. It is natural to feel the full range of emotions from happy to sad, and to feel the frustration of not getting their way. It’s during that time, when we guide the students to verbalize their disappointment and find their voice in an exchange that is respectful and on point.

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Dr. Montessori had such respect for the intelligence and latent independence buried in the soul of a child that she was determined to create a learning environment that supported her inspiration.  Early on, she shifted the common view that children were undeveloped adults to that each student was an individual child responding to the stimulus of their environment and directly affected by the quality of relationships of the pertinent people in their lives.  The power of the Montessori method today is that we collectively are modeling a way of existing in the world.  We are sensitive and committed to living the values of respect, trust and honesty.  Not only do we offer a pathway for developing intellectual acuity, but the structure and context of interacting with other people is engaged and nurtured daily.

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In the classroom today when differences arise, the Montessori teacher is listening very carefully for the child’s perspective and the human tendency to blame others for their discomfort.  It is encouraged that a student seek a teacher’s assistance if they feel like they are stuck, and there is little or no response from the other child.  However, even then the teacher is there to help facilitate conversation between the children, not to solve the conflict for them. As the children learn to identify their emotions and verbalize their discontent, they learn to see the other child as someone very much like them trying to make their way in the classroom.  An inner strength begins to emerge when children experiment with compassion, and open communication.  They feel the power of expressing needs and then listening to one another. Conflict resolution arises naturally in an environment where peace is cherished and the power of verbal exchange is experienced successfully.

2015/2016 School year comes to a close.

Transitions are a natural part of life. As we approach the end of our school year the daily routine of going to school will shift into summer vacation time. Summer is a great time to decompress and let the demands of the school year settle, giving children the chance to have unstructured time. Academic skills can be maintained by reading, thinking, and having interesting conversations. It also is a great time to engage children in exploring the world around them. Visiting the library, playing at water parks, and taking early morning walks can give children the time to observe their experiences and put into action all of the communication skills they have developed throughout the school year.

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Math can easily be integrated into summer routines as you playfully ask your child to count, to add, or to subtract any combination of objects and things in front of you. Older students are encouraged to reinforce math skills by checking out materials online that deal with place value, fractions and percentages.

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Questions for younger children can be framed as “How many forks will we need for dinner?  Please set the table?” or “If all of us are going to the water park, how many towels will we need?  Please go gather that many towels.”

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Early morning is the best time to be outdoors during our hot summers, and it is a great opportunity to sit outside, listen to the birds, watch your pets in the yard, and have that sweet simple time together.  Local facilities like Discovery Children’s Museum and Springs Preserve offer good opportunities for outings, and don’t forget that the Las Vegas 51’s play games all summer long.

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Our summer break is also a time to slow down our fast pace and take the time for unhurried conversations.   A recent NY Times article by Paul Tough (5/22/2016) called To Help Kids Thrive, Coach their Parents states: “The Jamaica experiment helps make the case that if we want to improve children’s opportunities for success, one of the most powerful potential levers for change is not the children themselves, but rather the attitudes, beliefs and behaviors of the adults who surround them.  Furthermore, positive influences in children’s early lives can have a profound effect on the development of what are sometimes called non-cognitive skills…a set of emotional and psychological habits and mindsets that enable children to negotiate life effectively inside and outside of school:  the ability to understand and follow directions; to focus on a single activity for an extended periods; to interact calmly with other students; to cope with disappointment and persevere through frustration.”

We appreciate the support and dedication that all of our families bring to FMS every day.  Together, we create and evolve a community of learners and citizens of the world.  Enjoy the summer time!

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Confederate Instructional Training

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The Civil War lept off the pages of the history books and landed squarely on the backs of our Middle School students as they found themselves working in army regiments, just like soldiers did during the Civil War. Confederate Instructional Training (CIT) was held at the local park with Ms. Erica as the Sergeant, supported by sixteen parents acting as Corporals. Each of the Recruits (our Middle School students), were randomly assigned their regiments. When one student was out of step, a shoe not tied, some other task not completed; the entire regiment was obligated to do 10-15 pushups. Students who may had never worked together before during the school year, found themselves depending upon everyone in their regiment to pull their own weight.

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Five stations of training were set up including erecting a Sibley tent, building a stretcher, administering first aid, making and eating hardtack (a staple of the war made by mixing flour and water), and running with a thirty pound pack (simulating the hardship of carrying a pack for 20-40 miles a day during the Civil War).

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As each of the regiments completed their tasks, the communications between the students increased as they saw the benefit of everyone doing well, and the hardship imposed on the whole regiment when one person failed.  The CIT was the culmination of the study of the Civil War for the Middle School students.  Not only did it bring to life some of the difficulties the soldiers faced, it inspired a deeper understanding of the complexities of the Civil War and the human cost of the conflict.

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The underlying reaction by the Middle School students from participating in the CIT, was a deeper respect for the soldiers and the hardships they endured for the sake of their beliefs.  After eating the hardtack during their simulation, Mary observed “how horrible the food must have been during the war.”  She also was moved at how important it was to “move as one in their regiments” and to quickly bond with all of the students in her regiment.

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Keji felt a deeper appreciation for the complexity of the Confederate’s side and how that many of the soldiers were not slave owners, but were simple farmers trying to preserve their sovereignty and felt compelled to push against the North, who they felt were threatening to take over their farms.

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Kameron was impressed with the number of soldiers who were killed during the Civil War, but after doing the CIT, he felt more kindred to their stress’ and challenges.  He said, “Before the CIT, I just looked as the dead soldiers as a number, now I have a much better understanding of how they might have felt.”

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Participating in the regiments taught Hank, that multiple things were going on at the same time, and the “more we communicated among ourselves, the better we did.”  He discovered that there was a need for the regiment to act cohesively, but at the same time he also experienced the “need for individuals to share their leadership skills and to initiate action, especially when they were erecting the Sibley tent.  A-Sam also stressed the need for his regiment to work cohesively, as one misstep by an individual affected the whole group.

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A common response to the CIT by all of the students,  was the revelation that it was really hard to be a soldier during the Civil War, and the absolute agony our country endured when brothers fought against brothers.  Abolishment of slavery was a hard fought change in the United States that emerged from the blood that was shed during the Civil War, but it came at a steep price, and now our Middle School students have a deeper appreciation for what that price was.

Montessori Primary Classroom Work

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Many of the Montessori works in a Primary classroom are truly hands on, with no paperwork trail to reflect the effort required to do the work. This is especially true in many of the math jobs, sensorial, and in the practical life areas of the classroom. On the other hand, you may see small strips of paper with letters traced on it, pin punched papers, and even math papers referencing the color bead stair coming home, not knowing the source of this work.

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Early letter recognition is practiced using the “blue stepboard.”  A strip of four letters is placed in the board and the student is asked to match the letter from the board to the strip.  When they  are correct, the letter fits; when it is not the right match, the letter will not fit.  The tracing paper is inserted into the board and the letters are copied.

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As the child progresses in their recognition of letters, more demanding strips will be used and the student will be given the chance to fill in with the beginning sound of a word, then ending sounds of a word.  Finally, a simple picture is found on the strip and the student spells the entire word.

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Pin punching looks deceptively easy when the work is brought home, but the labor and fine motor skills required are noteworthy.  Whether the child is pin punching a metal insert design (triangle or  square), or they are pin punching a seasonal shape (pumpkin or turkey), the level of concentration is immense.  The child is holding a push pin with the pincer grip (between the thumb and the first and second fingers) and is literally punching out consecutive holes around the perimeter of the shape.  If a student is deliberate in their work, the shape is easily extracted from the page.  If they have not sufficiently punched in enough holes, it is harder to remove it from its original page.  Often, a teacher will hold up the pin punching work to the window to check the quantity of holes before they attempt to tear it out effectively.  The child can then see if they have pin punched enough holes to tear it out easily.

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Finally, you may have seen paperwork showing a progression of 1-10 where the numbers are traced and the corresponding beads are colored with their specific color.  For instance, the one bead is always red, the two beads are green.

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You are looking at a foundational Montessori math work.  One of Dr. Montessori’s chief insights into educating children was to recognize that a child will likely learn better and retain the information longer, if they are taught from the concrete (holding a one bead in their hands) then introducing the abstract (this is the number one).  The one to one correspondence begins to take hold, where the child realizes that they are holding “one” and that the name of that concept is the number one.  You will see papers reflecting this work when bead stair papers are coming home.

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Language Part 5

Today we conclude our series on Language in the Montessori Classroom. 

Sacred writing time is given on a daily basis, for the first 20 minutes of the day. Students explore the writing craft in depth during their upper elementary years, where they look at the process and methods of writing. “Writers workshop” now takes on a deeper and more demanding level in these grades where students successfully write at their own pace, collecting information, writing a draft, editing, and finally publishing their work. Many of their writing assignments are tied directly to their cultural lessons, especially ones taught in history and science. There is a direct link between the information that is shared about a subject, and the abilities of the students to synthesize their understanding of the facts, and then communicate their interpretations through the written word.

IMG_1846Understanding grammar and using it effectively continues in upper elementary where students test their understanding of synonyms, suffixes, compounds, and analogies using the grammar box system. Montessori materials are also used to diagram sentences and label the parts of speech.

IMG_1812Spelling is a constant thread throughout the elementary grades as the students continue using the same program found in lower elementary, called “words their way.” This program teaches students how to sort words and identify patterns, and then be able to correctly spell the words. Students are also introduced to etymology,“the origin and development of word.”* By learning the Greek and Latin roots of words, upper elementary students are preparing themselves for the challenges of the FMS middle school program.

E1 DSC_9808 copyMiddle school students enrolled at FMS encounter the wit, wisdom and experience of Ms. Arlene. After teaching Language Arts for over 45 years, Ms. Arlene puts her students through a rigorous and thought provoking process of reading challenging books, writing effective essays, and being immersed in the art of etymology. Middle school students graduate from FMS with a solid foundation in grammar skills, a prolific cache of writing experience, and reading abilities honed on classic and thought provoking texts such as George Orwell’s “1984” and William Golding’s “Lord of the Flies.” The language arts program leads students on a literary exploration; nurturing their abilities to think, reflect, and then communicate their perspectives. FMS graduates are effectively prepared to meet the challenges of high school and beyond.

*Webster’s Dictionary
**Montessori Research and Development @2006

Language Part 4

Today we continue our Language in the Montessori Classroom with part four of our series.

Reading is often done in small groups and chapter books are routinely read to the whole group. Lessons are given on comprehension, vocabulary development, and the students are taught to learn how to predict what might happen in a story, to ask questions that would lead to deeper analysis of the subject and to think about the connections they have to the story. Through this process, students begin to recognize characters, plots and themes of books. Both fiction and nonfiction texts are readily available in the classroom.

Once a month, a book report is due for the 2nd and 3rd graders where they have read a book and then create a report to present to their class. This exercise fosters an expectation that the students will be immersed in reading on a continuous basis. When they present their report, not only have they created an interpretation of what they have read, but they have the opportunity to hold an audience of their peers and strengthen their confidence thereby refining their speaking skills.

“Reader’s Theater” is another tool used in lower elementary, where a theatrical story is chosen and a small group of students act out the play. Each student takes turns reciting their part, giving students the chance to use inflection and explore voice as they express their part. It is in this process, that fluency in reading and speaking begins to flourish. When a student hears language spoken fluently, they can then internalize this skill and deepen their silent reading experience.

IMG_2967Upper elementary provides a continuation of the groundwork laid in the lower elementary classroom, where again, reading, writing, grammar and word study are the chief components of the language program. Reading is a constant skill that is sharpened in the classroom where books are read and analyzed more like the students are in a book club, than simply in a small group. Recently “The Giver” was read in the classroom, and after it was done, the students

made a trip to a local theater and watched a movie version of the book. The students then did an evaluation on the differences and similarities of the book to its adaptation as a movie.

Join us on Wednesday as we conclude our series on Language in the Montessori Classroom.

Language Part 3

Today we are in part three of our Language in the Montessori Classroom series.

The Language arts taught in a lower elementary classroom at FMS, encompasses reading, writing, grammar and word study. Many of the classrooms tie their language lessons to the underlying cultural theme for the month. For example, when Europe is being studied, students will be responding to the lessons by making books, doing research on various countries in Europe, and using their language skills to express their understanding of the broad cultural lessons.

E3Montessori philosophy is always emphasizing hands on, concrete approaches to conveying abstract concepts. When verbs are taught, the children are asked to do the actual verb, such as “jump, walk, throw.” Often, the instruction is written on a card (using the written word), so that the student is reading the directive and then acting upon it. Lower elementary students get a head start on learning grammar at FMS utilizing word study boxes addressing compound words, prefixes, and suffixes, as well at being proficient in diagramming sentences and identifying specific parts of speech.

Writing is a natural component of the lower elementary curriculum as students begin their day with expressing their thoughts in their journals, some times with a prompt and often without one. FMS is guided by Lucy Calkin’s “Writer’s Workshop” which focuses upon personal narrative, the writing process, informational writing, and on composing poetry. This allows students to develop solid writing skills that not only serves them while in lower elementary, but lays the groundwork for further development in upper elementary.

Join us on Monday as we continue our series on Language in the Montessori Classroom.