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.

 

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.

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. 

Language Part 2

Today we’re on part two of our Language in the Montessori Classroom series.

One of the first language tools used in a more formal lesson with the preschool students, are the sandpaper letters. The sounds are grouped together, so that eventually when the sounds are learned, the student will be able to build a word using the specific letters, such as n,e,t leading the child eventually to saying “net” “The stimulation of the tactile senses through the use of the sandpaper letters and the naming of the letter at the same time will increase the child’s ability to remember both the sound and the shape of the letter.”**

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As a child learns to recall specific letters, they then are introduced to the movable alphabet and begin to associate specific objects with its corresponding name and the student spells out the name of the object using the movable alphabet.

Copy of DSC_9711Eventually, as the student gains skills in using the alphabet, they will then be asked to write the words on a piece of paper. The progression in the Montessori classroom always starts with the most concrete representation of the sound (such as an object), and then to move to its more abstract representation (writing the name of the object on paper). Kindergarten students are immersed in reading and writing on a daily basis, and enter first grade knowing the basic parts of speech and reading books typically above grade level.

**Montessori Research and Development @2006

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

Language Part 1

Today we begin a five part series on Language in the Montessori Classroom.

Acquisition of language skills begins long before a a child sets foot into school. The sound of the mother’s voices cues the ears and brain of a developing child to the lifelong interaction of the child listening to the human voice. As a preschool child enters a Montessori classroom, “the child’s own tools for language are vision, hearing and speech, as well as the skills necessary for writing and reading.”**  The entire preschool classroom is set up for the student to develop their vocabulary by learning the objects in the environment, and various attribute words such as large, small, long, short, think and thin. Many of the attribute words are learned by the child manipulating materials in the sensorial area of the classroom (including the brown prisms, the red rods and the pink tower, just to name a few).

10.3.6-2The practical life area of the classroom holds the key to the development of eye hand coordination and creating a lasting impression of doing work from the left to right, in the same way a child will learn to read from left to right. “Thus in scrubbing the table from left to right and back, the eyes are following the movement of the hands. The child needs to develop a good visual span.” “Preparation of the eyes and the hands is an important factor in the Montessori classroom. The use of the practical life material not only prepares the hands but the eyes also. Eyes follow the movement of the hands. In the practical life area, the child uses the whole arm, thus giving the movement necessary to prepare the arm for its role in handwriting.”**

L1080509“The repeated use of sorting exercises prepares the fine muscles of the child’s hand to hold a pencil but also prepares the eye to distinguish between like and unlike objects. This is a good preparation for reading in that reading is the recognition of like and unlike letters and words in the formation of language which is written.”**

**Montessori Research and Development @2006

Join us on Wednesday as we continue our look at Language in the Montessori classroom.