The Cult of Pedagogy Podcast, Episode 3 Transcript
Jennifer Gonzalez, host
Jennifer Gonzalez: Welcome to the Cult of Pedagogy Podcast. Cult of Pedagogy is a website devoted to building a community of people who are obsessed with education. Please visit www.cultofpedagogy.com to find great articles, forums, book and technology reviews and other podcasts where we’ll talk with people from every possible angle in education. If you’re a teacher nerd, you’ll find a home at Cult of Pedagogy.
This is Jennifer Gonzalez welcoming you to episode 3, where we interview Benedicte Bossut, the lead teacher at the Montessori Elementary School of Bowling Green, Kentucky, which opened its doors in August of 2012. Along with a group of local parents, Ms. Bossut spent several years researching and talking with community members to open this school, the first and only Montessori elementary school in the area. Though she is a certified, experienced public school teacher, she had to move to Cleveland to complete a full year of training required to use the Montessori approach at the elementary level.
Several weeks ago, I visited the school, observing the students at their lessons. The atmosphere there is really something special. You know that deep sense of calm you get when you’re totally immersed in a task, when the rest of the world falls away and you lose all sense of time? That’s what it’s like at that school for everyone, pretty much all the time. Watching the students work, I thought ‘Every child should have this.’ I’ve posted an article with photos on my site. Although nothing really beats being there, that should give you a better idea of what it’s like. After my visit, I sat down with Benedicte to talk more about the Montessori philosophy. I realize that converting every public school to a Montessori school would take not only time and money, but also a huge shift in our beliefs about how school should work. I don’t know if we’ll ever get there. I do think we can learn some things from these schools, things we can start to do now within our own classrooms. And so I asked Benedicte for some ideas. Here’s what I got. Hope you enjoy it.
Gonzalez: You– If you just had two minutes to explain to somebody, on a bus ride, you know how would you get the idea across to them of what Montessori actually is?
Bossut: Alright, you know it’s funny – […] [laughing]
Gonzalez: You have more than two minutes [laughing]
Bossut: There’s a challenge in a Montessori channel is to try to explain that in two minutes. It is very difficult, but if I could just put it in parts in the way I understand it.
Gonzalez: Of course.
Bossut: Okay, Maria Montessori came into education as a clinician first. But she did all she did through observation, okay, of how children behave in an environment that is constructed to their size. Alright now she also made an adjustment to that because there is you know a view that a child can function in an adult world pretty well. However she also realized that a lot of what frustrates children or does not give them that independence is that it’s not always tailored to the child’s size or to the child’s grasp. She also felt like you know the hand is truly the tool of the mind. And in order to explore the capacity of the mind, you have to be able to somehow meet the child where in his physical needs and aptitudes. And once you do that, you open up the door for the children. So you start that very young, as an infant. There is natural, physical capacity for the child to reach out to it’s environment to learn rather than to receive it from the outside. And so you kind of set the parameters so that a child is likely to reach out, rather than be given.
So everything is really at their scale. Alright, so something that’s really important when you’re in the toddler room is getting that functional independence, so it’s you know it’s your body engagement, potty training, right? That’s a very important factor. It gives more independence to the child. There’s more skills. To be able to go up steps, down steps, to hold on to things. So instead of having big steps like you would have in a normal house, you build little steps that allows them to use their scale of the body to naturally develop that strength of movement.
Bossut: It’s also built within that framework of Maria Montessori, it’s like we can get the big picture. We’ll give the big picture. The big picture is it looks like a normal house, but then you build the key lessons to be able to do that. So can the children handwash? Absolutely, with a sink to their level. Can the children cut things with their hands? Yes, they can manipulate tools that maybe many parents would find oooh, you know. Because, yes to an adult size, it is frightening to put in the hand of the child. But if you put it to the scale of the child, and you give them those little steps that allows them to do it without frustration, then you build that confidence. Because the idea is that you build on the success and that’s throughout. You always build on success. That’s something. Does that mean that children do not get frustrated? Sure they do. Frustration is also beneficial to the child. But, how do you handle frustration? Because sometimes when you ask parents, it might just be a built up emotion. You do not like to see your children frustrated. And in this kind of environment, you might just really slow down, repeat the task, take the time to show it again. And if this is– And usually you bring it when the child is ready, so you’ve already observed that the child is doing certain things that would allow him or her to do it.
Gonzalez: Okay, so to sum up that, that piece of it, to make sure I’m understanding it. It’s very close observation of the child to see when they’re ready to attain a new skill.
Bossut: Yeah, or even to attempt […]
Gonzalez: To attempt it.
Bossut: something. That would be different. It might be a combination of several skills that would blend into a new one.
Gonzalez: Okay, and then it’s very sort of calm, slow demonstration? And not a lot of pressure. Because I think we talked about this before, not a lot of pressure on them to try it and succeed at it. And so within any Montessori classroom then, children are always doing something different.
Gonzalez: They’re never all doing the same thing at the same time, apart from a few whole group activities.
Bossut: Right, now that changes of course because developmentally a child, and you may have observed this with your own children, is that their play, their interaction, their social interaction develops also. First they’re very much aware. The importance of becoming aware. What is I? What is me? Then eventually to recognize all of those things in others and the development of language. And then you go into the primary and you continue to have that independence. Zipping up your coat. Putting on your shoes. Retrieving lessons. Holding trays with glass items. So there are different things that are working different things like physical balance, their strength. When people like to look at academic program, they specifically look at academic. But Montessori is in the philosophy that academic is insufficient to the whole child. So there is another part of the whole child. It is independence. It’s capacity for concentration. It’s capacity for you know sharing space. And that respect of the community. They are learning that yes, you and I are in the same class, but there is my space where I get to do my lesson. It’s respecting each other’s space. It’s respecting each other’s level of attention to a lesson. And eventually towards the end of the primary is seeking that collaboration. Because to realize that maybe some of those projects, some of those ideas will require a little bit more time. And if I do it alone, it won’t be as beneficial at that point than if I were doing it with someone. You do see that a lot, starting in the three to six.
Gonzalez: Right, them going to each other. And I did notice the day that I observed that there were some kids that worked together on the same task, others that worked side by side and seemed to be doing the same thing, but not necessarily collaborating. A little bit– But these two that were on the floor with the mat, they were clearly working together on the same thing. “And then lots of kids who were on their own. And then others who floated in and out of each other’s lessons just out of curiosity.
Bossut: Absolutely, and that’s at the– So at the elementary level, you have that sense very much. You know the group, they seek each other’s attention. And they want to learn from each other. And they, you know– And because probably the setting is conducive to that. Because they can speak to one another. Sometimes it may seem like, gosh it seems like there is a lot of socialization. But that socialization is important and there is a lot of negotiation of meaning that maybe as an adult we may seem superfluous, but in some ways in their engagement, they are learning to put ideas together. They’re learning to create argument for each other. And they really get that sense– And we develop that through the curriculum, that sense that everyone has something to contribute. From the very first human being, to you and I in a classroom. Okay, and today might be the day that I’m just giving you a little bit more information, then maybe tomorrow you’ll give me something.
What’s interesting when you go from this six– three to six. Our six year old in some ways have had the chance to be the leader in the classroom, and then they come here. Well it’s a different aspect of leadership. Because they are no longer what I would say necessarily the leader in that age group. They’re entering […]
Gonzalez: They’re the youngest now. Right. […]
Bossut: And so they get to follow, they get to lead, they get to play all of these roles. That’s also a part of what Maria saw is that mixed age group allows for children to really switch roles and adapt in different social situations. Not always to be the one who’s got all the answers because they’ve gone through all the material. But, that there is a flow.
Gonzalez: Let’s talk about the typical day. The number of students that you have here in the upper.
Bossut: We’re eleven.
Gonzalez: Eleven kids and they are age ranging?
Bossut: Ranging from six to thirteen.
Gonzalez: Six to thirteen. Okay so those folders over there you had shown me and I saw the kids going through them. You call them the agendas?
Gonzalez: Right. And in the agendas, you personally go into the agendas once a week or once a day?
Bossut: I’ll check them every day. I’ll just kind of check the progress of where they are. I also notice you know, from the beginning of the week some children who are better fast at the beginning of the week and then kind of slow down as the week goes on. Or they will leave some things out towards the end of the week. So they have a sense– We discuss that and we build that. That you have all of those commitments in some ways, you have those responsibilities within this free moving environment, that you have to meet. And that’s another I would say term coined by Maria Montessori. Is that, so many terms, but freedom and responsibility is what’s going on there. A lot of our first week is what we call– You know we put out our cosmic education. We present the universe. We present the universe through stories. There is a great deal of storytelling that show– And we repeat them year after year.
Gonzalez: You mean the first week of the school year?
Bossut: Yes the first weeks of the school year. So I would say for the first three weeks of the school year, I might just say something like ten to twelve stories. Okay they’re about fifteen, twenty minute long. They involve sometime science experiments. They involve all kinds of charts. They involve dramatization. But the idea is that you try to give as many areas of possibilities for a child to make connections.
Gonzalez: Are these chosen by you? Are they published by? […]
Bossut: They’re strictly Montessori.
Gonzalez: They’re Montessori chosen stories that help to sort of […]
Bossut: Orient, that’s really what they’re there. If you could look at it like a big umbrella.
Bossut: Our curriculum is that they create a general orientation of all possibilities in all disciplines and it’s presented very cross curriculum because we look at education as integrative As integrative also it puts the child at the center, but unites them with another realm of the human experience and the experience through history.
Gonzalez: Do you have any here?
Bossut: I do. They’re kind of like a magic recipe.
Gonzalez: No kidding. Really? So that’s […]
Bossut: So you might be able to find some online. I’ve heard of a number of them online, but this is part of our curriculum and part of our, I would say, legitimacy as well.
Gonzalez: Yes. So they’re held kind of close then? They’re not […]
Bossut: Yeah. They were written by Maria Montessori and her son Mario Montessori […]
Gonzalez: No kidding?
Bossut: And other people of course who have revised some of these stories.
Gonzalez: And so those form the basis at the beginning of the year and then you refer back to them a lot during the rest of the year.
Bossut: Absolutely, absolutely. So if you have these umbrella kind of chapters, then you provide all kinds of key lessons that we’ll just kind of take back so that when we start by the creation of the universe, the states of matter, the movements of the planets, our earth, biology […]
Gonzalez: So are there, — It sounds like they’re sort of stories about exploration and discovery. That kind of thing? […]
Bossut: Yeah, but they’re legitimate stories, I could say. And they’re also organized in some way, you know beginning, middle and end. I mean they have so many purposes in terms of how you present it.
Bossut: And you really try to kind of ignite and not say “You absolutely need to do this.”
Gonzalez: Right, you’re trying to show them what it means to be excited to learn.
Gonzalez: And what that looks like.
Bossut: And what it looks like. And so that enthusiasm I think is so important.
Bossut: And sometime I’d say– And I taught in the public school too and it’s just like you okay feel there is this curriculum. I need to do this, this, this.
Bossut: That doesn’t mean I don’t, because I’m very aware of what’s happening in the curriculum. But I think sometime we lose a little bit, track of our objectives. What is the overall picture? Why do we want children to learn? We want them to learn for a very, very long time.
Gonzalez: Not just in the time that we’re […]
Bossut: Not just in the time they’re ours. That’s part of the reason that we don’t give homework also. Because the idea is you learn here, but this is just a stepping stone. It’s very possible that you’re going to learn in the same pattern at home. And we have a number of children who will just come back and say Ms. Benadicte, I was working on this last night, would it be okay to present it? Oh, yeah sure. But that’s a wonderful thing because I didn’t have to say “You owe me this worksheet tomorrow.”
Gonzalez: Yeah. Right. Right.it’s– You’re teaching them how to just be learners, no matter where they are.
Gonzalez: And that blurs the difference between home and school and outside. So, but there’s– I do want to make sure that I get to that question of — Because and you had told me that you do have a sort of set amount of standards or guidelines or benchmarks that you want them all to be able to reach. One thing that you said that was really interesting was that you tried not to look at it as a one year, or a year by year thing but more as a batch of three years or […]
Bossut: Right, three to six years.
Gonzalez: Right, so if– How does that actually work? I guess my first question is where exactly are the standards coming from? Are you using the state standards as a guideline?
Bossut: Yes, I look at them. And also I look at — I mean the Montessori framework too and just kind of look at how the material builds to those curriculum also. So there is a definite progression and those progressions in the curriculum are logical. Right? I mean you can engage a child to start working in multiple base, but typically you really want that child to understand number value in base ten, that type of thing.
Bossut: But, if– I follow the same curriculum and I build it according to when you come in at the beginning, there’s going to be a number of questions that we need to establish. What do you understand about the earth? What do you understand about the parts of a plant? When you start looking at the curriculum in the public school setting and you start looking– That construction is the same. The delivery is different. And the pace of that delivery is different.
Gonzalez: It’s not like lock steps for every child. It’s not every day you delivering. It’s they all work through […]
Bossut: They work through it.
Gonzalez: All of those areas on their own. And so sometimes– I got the impression too, because I watched someone over there on the floor working on the checkboard for at least ninety minutes, I think, not even wanting to stop. And it made me realize that there are probably days, if not weeks where a child will work on nothing but Math for awhile because they’re just […]
Bossut: They have reached that point of focus. They’re meeting their needs. They’re meeting their needs for that lesson. And if you let the child meet their needs, they will. But it’s true that we really advocate the least interruptions as possible for that reason.
Gonzalez: From teachers and from other students?
Gonzalez: If you see that they’re kind of in that zone […]
Bossut: Just let them be.
Gonzalez: Just let them go.
Bossut: Try.You know as much as possible. Of course we monitor because not everybody enters from the beginning and not everybody develops that same sense of concentration. That’s where the human factor comes in, right?
Bossut: But you try to extend that concentration for that particular child. And you might also notice that some children very quickly will pick up something. And so we may also get some children who will never touch that checkerboard for three hours. Does that mean they didn’t get it? They probably did, but it’s not the same need. Then you might see children who will need to write for a very long time. That seems very basic, but putting words on the page is a difficult task. If you let them to keep persevere. If it’s something that they’re trying, that they’re self motivated to do, then you don’t want to interrupt that.
Gonzalez: So in the agenda you’ve set out — Are they called suggested tasks to them?
Bossut: They are. Did you see the agenda?
Gonzalez: I did.
Bossut: So I have what do you call? Suggested, and then completed. Sometimes they go even further than what’s expected for them at their age level because they’re just absolutely fascinated. So this ended up during the Asian Hornet Study. They were very fascinated by what happens in Asia. So they just went and studied on the map and where that was. And they put together a Power Point presentation, which just right there you’re looking at a lot of skills put into one, just from this.
Gonzalez: Yeah, because you’re also writing in there.
Bossut: They’re writing in all of that. So do they meet the requirements for the curriculum? Absolutely. I don’t grade them specifically, but we go through in editing. So before they go to present, I’ll just kind of make sure that we’ve checked out spelling. We’ve chosen the mode. We’ve chosen the photography well. So using it as a skill. That, would you want to present something that is halfway finished? And sometime I let that be legitimate because I want them to get the direct feedback.
Gonzalez: Well because once it’s on the screen, then they start to notice the mispellings themselves sometimes.
Bossut: Yeah and also they get feedback from their friends. And here’s the mixed age group, which is really important, as long as it stays constructive you know?
Bossut: And that’s part also that you have to learn and it’s sometime. I will notice that some children maybe at the point that they enter they’ve been criticized all the time. And so when they bring out a critique or something, it’s not constructive. It’s […]
Gonzalez: Right, they haven’t been taught how to be constructive in a kind way and a helpful way […]
Bossut: How to do that. And so we work through that. And truly that’s part of our social responsibility. And as a guide it really is our responsibility to not so much do they know the content to a tee, but how do they present it so and how do people respond to presentation. So these are the valuable tool to having a happy life and that’s the other dimension that we forget. It’s not strictly academic. It’s very much about let’s learn to be citizens, work in this environment so that we can keep progressing. And if we want to startr problem solving, we’ve got the tools for it.
Gonzalez: When you come to the end of the day, the end of the week. You then– Does this information then get transferred to […]
Bossut: For me.
Gonzalez: You keep sort of a master […]
Bossut: Yes, I have a master chart that I keep and I have those booklet that I keep for them. for six years on. And I will show you a booklet of what I have.
Gonzalez: Okay and it’s just a– And I’m remembering again with my children in the primary years that there was a several page list of all different kinds of skills. And it was just either they hadn’t attempted it yet or they were in the process or they had mastered it.
Gonzalez: It’s basically that same idea with more difficult and challenging and age appropriate[…]
Bossut: Right. And again I will take it that it’s very important to take it to the child’s level. There is nothing more awful, I think, for a child to say I’ve given it my hundred percent effort, but your personal judgement is going to give me a B and my friend who has all these E’s in capacity would get an A, but did they really challenge themselves to a level that they can be challenged? So I think there is a bit of that responsibility and maybe you could say subjectivity also of saying I do not wish to grade that person. But I might just suggest “You know that was a good presentation, think about your next one. What would you want to do?” And so on. And especially for the ones that are making the transition into the middle school. I’ve always said when it comes to the end, I want you to create — You create a rubric of the kind of comment that you would want to have from your friends to make your work better. That becomes a writing exercise. But it doesn’t come from the adult judgement. It comes from them assessing how far they’ve gone and that’s the personal motivation factor.
Gonzalez: Right. It sounds like that kind of thinking comes from a lot of time spent talking. You know having quiet, meaningful conversations with you, with other teachers, with maybe older kids or […]
Bossut: And we meet every week. You know I meet with the kids every week. Five minutes, informal, with my assistant I said you know a twenty five kids class would actually be better.
Gonzalez: Well, okay because that was one of my questions.
Gonzalez: Is it called circle time first thing in the morning? When you just […]
Bossut: No, group time.
Gonzalez: The meeting at the beginning of the day and they all wanted to tell jokes. They had all heard different jokes and they basically all got a turn. And maybe one or two even wanted a second or a third and you eventually had to cut them off. And my first thought because this happens to me in a public school with thirty kids, you know? Everybody wants a turn, you can’t possibly give them all a turn. And so I wonder then how would your approach have to change or what would your training tell you to do differently?
Bossut: Well I can tell you that it kind of grows gradually. Our sharing time used to be everybody would come at eleven thirty and have something to share. Because they’ve all been working on something. So I don’t have eleven spots at eleven thirty to hear because we only had fifteen minutes. So we do take a rotation.
Gonzalez: The other situation was when you had I would guess two students. One who was just– He was doing beads on the floor and he kept saying “When am I going to be done with this? I don’t feel like…” He just he was having trouble getting traction, I think. And there was another — And everyone else was really engaged pretty much the whole morning, but there was another who kept sort of wandering and floating and coming up to you. And I noticed that several times he came up to you and you seemed to deliberately not respond. And I thought that looks like it was something that you were trained to do.
Bossut: We do talk about that. You know like the first few weeks, this is where you try to set that limit. And this is where the mixed age group is good also is that the older children know that you shouldn’t be doing this. And so in the beginning you just say, “Why don’t you go ask so and so, I’m sure they can find it for you.” That responsibility in the environment to know that if someone else is engaged in a lesson it is relative to speaking to someone. Even though your need, I’m sure is very genuine, it’s also called that restraint to hold back and this is maybe giving that child an opportunity to problem solve for himself. And I do remember who was, so I know that this is a pattern.
Gonzalez: I got that sense, yes.
Bossut: And you know he will get there. And sometime it comes with very big frustration. He’ll stop back out and– But that’s the part. That’s where the learning happens. You know because he’s not getting that– He’s met the expectation of he has a responsibility to make sure that his friend gets the lesson as he would get the lesson. And I make sure that we reiterate that and I’ll just say “Imagine when you’re in a lesson with me and someone comes and just disturbs. Now you feel like I’m not giving you my attention. That doesn’t seem fair.”
Gonzalez: Right, right.
Bossut: Putting the fairness on the responsibility rather than on well me too I want something.
Gonzalez: Yes. So what do you, what do you do? My first thought was she has one and a half students right now children who are trying a little bit to disrupt things. Again my first thought was what if it was four or five? And how would you juggle […]
Bossut: Well, here’s the thing.
Gonzalez: that environment, because the environment seems to be the key to this is that kind of calm, productive, right?
Bossut: Right. And this is the part where everybody warned me. When I said I was at institute. I’m going to start. So how many students? Wow, you have six, that’s going to be really challenging. I know. You don’t know what your range is going to be. Can you ever get them to work together? Could you ever get them to be together? Could you ever get– Because if you have six in that range, can you get them to work together? Because the goal is still for them to work together and help each other with their learning. But yet, then you’re going to have a thirteen year old or a twelve year old with two ten year olds.
Gonzalez: Age doesn’t necessarily mean ability, so the more kids you have the more you’re going to be able to come up with combinations that are fruitful.
Bossut: Exactly, exactly.
Bossut: So, twenty five would be the ideal.
Bossut: What you’re seeing. You’re seeing a sample of everything possible. From children who are naturally maybe gifted, already have that independence, already have that motivation. They are already thriving in what we call the Montessori environment normalized. They’re thriving. But then you also have children who are not there yet for a variety of reason. When you have this small number, it’s more visible one than the other. Then you kind of have that little middle that you have to keep building. And I say the biggest challenge right now is you because realize how much difference.
And for me, the key to the public school is what you need to do is work differentiation. Just differentiate throughout. That’s how you’ll make children lots stronger. Even within classroom setting.
When I taught in the public school, I taught in Virginia and was a Math and Science. We were co-teaching so we had fourth and fifth grade. Actually we had a third, fourth and fifth grade connection both for Languages, English and then the Arts.This was a constant rotation and that was really team teaching.
Gonzalez: Right, and well it’s funny because for the first time, I’m hearing the idea of– We had a very, very big first grade at my kids’ school and they had to finally pull a bunch into a Kindergarten/First split. Every time I’ve every heard of a grade split, I’ve thought oh, that’s awful for the teacher. But now I’m realizing that’s more opportunity to have kids work together based on interest and ability, not just strictly try to divide them up by age which is kind of an artificial way to chop them up anyway.
Bossut: Children who get the opportunity to do some of the third grade level work when they are ready are happier.
Gonzalez: The typical day then is you’ve got the morning group time. And then you have the three – I’ve noticed the number three is kind of important. You have the three hours of independent work time. That’s when the kids get their agendas and they look and they choose which activities they want to do. And it’s sort of the goal for them to try to complete as many of those in the day as possible, or are these just suggestions?
Bossut: For the week.
Gonzalez: For the week, got it. So do you have different personalities where you have some kids who want to get it over with for the things that they don’t really enjoy? Others who are more likely to put those off until the very end?
Bossut: You could say that. Sometimes I do notice and I also notice that it changes from week to week when that child comes in. And again it’s part of did you ignite that interest at some point? And it’s like that doesn’t seem so bad anymore. or so difficult […]
Gonzalez: So this is […]
Bossut: Or you answered maybe a key part for that child.
Gonzalez: Right. So that’s– One of my big questions is if they’re all working independently and they have this sort of list of things that they’re trying eventually to get to, how do you approach the child who just doesn’t want to do one of those things and just week after week kind of resists.
Bossut: I’ll reiterate and I’ll just keep working, just keep working at it, keep working at it. In a way that […]
Gonzalez: You would keep working at it?
Bossut: Yeah, in a way that– You know just making a suggestion. And I’ll just find ways that– It’s my role in fact to make sure that I ignite some interest, somewhere. Now you may observe a child who is not there yet. And there is also children in Montessori who are able and will learn on the perimeter, meaning they will never join a lesson. They’re just going to observe and learn. But I think it’s always worth the invitation you know– And when I work with the assistant and sometimes it is difficult and you’re met with more aggressive, maybe I would say, or more of a stance where it’s just really inside. You say there is something there. There is something that is an obstacle. It is our goal to remove the obstacle. Sometimes it might not come for a little while because again you’re treating the child as a whole. Whatever is coming in is here too.
Maybe, is this– Is this environment always optimal? I honestly feel that for each of the children, I do see progress because I’m with them every day and I do see– Sometime you do see that progress comes like every one of them, in small doses. Sometime it comes like this. I can’t believe that actually sank in! You just see it. It’s kind of like– I think learning is– Learning is very interesting in some ways because it’s so attached emotionally. It’s attached cognitively, right? And it’s almost like you have to have the right kind of parameters sometime to see that what you’ve put in place to make the whole equation takes a little time to unfold. And when it unfolds, that’s when you know you’ve put that effort. Your frustration as an individual because you’re searching to make sure that child receives what he needs, what you think he needs. Ultimately you’re always reminded that that child is meeting his needs.
Gonzalez: No matter what it is, they’re meeting some need at this time.
Bossut: They’re meeting a need.
Gonzalez: If they’re throwing tantrum, there’s something they’re taking care of some kind of business..
Bossut: Something. There’s something.
Bossut: And there’s — You know it’s a paradox. You have to detach yourself.
Gonzalez: Well I was going to ask “Do you ever reach a point where you ever just lose patience? Do you ever just kind of” […]
Bossut: You know if I feel honestly then I remove myself. I remove myself from the situation because it’s not– That’s where I become the obstacle. If I’ve reached that level of frustration, I’m no longer guiding. I’m imposing.
Gonzalez: Well and I’ve seen you in action when you are not frustrated and you are this boy who was really having a hard time finding something, you eventually sat down with him and a plant. The two of you just sat there for it seemed like twenty, thirty minutes just talking about this plant and looking at the parts of it. By the time you walked away from him, he seemed like he was completely absorbed and this was somebody who had kind of floundered a little that morning. It was great. I was glad that he was having trouble that morning, because I got to see how you handled it. So if you got to the point where you were no longer able to do that, you would just– This would mean that you assistant would just sort of keep an eye on him for awhile while you did something else?
Bossut: You know, I would probably separate myself from the child and just say, I’ll just say “I am ready for you to join me for a lesson. When you’re ready, just come and find me.” That’s my way of saying we’re reaching a not. I’m offering for you to come and you’re offering me resistence.
Bossut: And I don’t allow you might say myself to be frustrated in this “You have to come!”
Gonzalez: Right, right.
Bossut: And because, it’s been you know we have a history and it’s been like that.
Bossut: And so we’re working with that particular child to say it is– This is sometimes when you realize when children are catered and catered and catered and catered. They forget what it’s like to make a decision for themselves. And I think it’s best to say I’m ready to come back and I’ll give you a gentle pat because I am not– It’s not an aggressive stance and it’s not saying I’m giving up. I’m not, but you need to be ready for it.
Gonzalez: So what do– Do you have days with certain students where maybe on paper it was a nothing day. They got nothing sort of–
Bossut: Well I’m trying to make sure there is something.
Gonzalez: It’s just a matter of how about this, how about this, how about this, you’ve got to find something.
Bossut: Yeah, and I would say it’s very hard for any kid to stay like this without doing something. They know. It’s a working environment. It’s like part of that. But there are some children who have much more resistance. I get it. I can’t explain it. You know but it comes from exposure and practice. I worked at a school in England and it was systematic. The child would walk into the classroom, sit himself under the table and not move. There you have to think there is something larger than the environment. And what we can offer here is that safety. If you feel like you need to do this, then do this.
Gonzalez: They’re meeting a need sitting under that table.
Bossut: They’re meeting a need. And as it happened you know six months down the road, the child eventually came from under the table and it was– It just exudes not indifference because I don’t think indifference really helps a child. But it’s also not meeting them there because you have to have expectations. So I think you set an appropriate amount of expectations which is this environment, this community. And I always try to rule it’s not for me […]
Bossut: It’s for all of us and it’s for you. You first.
Gonzalez: And so with a child that’s doing something like that, it’s just. You just sort of keep at it gently.
Gonzalez: And eventually they’ll come out of it. So do you have discipline problems? Do you have […]
Gonzalez: any kind of a– It’s just sort of a —
Bossut: Really, really never. I don’t have to.You know the discipline problem is more of a just let me say– Some children are more apt to end up frustrated than others. Right? That’s why I say frustration is positive because it allows them– That they took something that was bigger than they can chew. And it’s that personal retraction of saying “Okay, I can’t quite do this. I might need this help.” You know and I say “Why don’t you just take a few minutes?” Just slow down, take a deep breath. Just that time. Meet them at that level. It’s not a time out. It’s just this is what you need. Do you see? Or sometimes if a child is really frustrated for instance “How are you feeling right now?” Just a connect with those things. You seem pretty upset. Are you upset? Give them the time to realize what’s going on because also–At this age it’s also just a physical reaction that’s larger than they are.
So there’s no discipline problem. I think it’s just you redirect a child from a frustration that maybe is going a little bit too far. A frustration that is disturbing to others, because that’s another thing that comes back and it’s like truly– By the time you get here you have a sense of self and you’re developing that sense of community. Then you’re developing further your sense of self within the community. And you know they’ll have other reference, not just the teacher. The kids are also annoyed. I will tell you something that always amaze me is that in public school, and my daughter went through public school, and she would say you know sometime you could see that kids would be angry, upset, and there would be just kind of like this law that almost falls through. It’s not freezes one person, it freezes everybody because nobody else had a chance to help or to contribute. And in themselves they didn’t have a chance to problem solve also because everything that we do in some ways, you know bounces back. I remember for her it was very categorial and she ended up kind of glad she stood up for that student, you know? Just because there came a point where she felt that the teacher that was there was really focused on maintaining calm, order.
Gonzalez: Yeah, which I think a lot of times comes from the fact that you are running the class so if you are attention is diverted to a student who is having trouble then the class can no longer go on because the materials and the set up is not meant for them to be independent, right?
Bossut: Right. Exactly.
Gonzalez: And that’s why you’re able if one kid needs a lot of your attention one day you can give it to him because they’re not all sitting — Because that was the pressure for me as a public school teacher. If someone’s being distracting, everyone else is sitting there waiting for me. So part of your training and part of the whole Montessori philosophy is “Help me help myself.”
Bossut: That’s right.
Gonzalez: And so even your upper elementary materials are set up. I mean are the lessons– Do you have to demonstrate the lessons, all of the lessons at some point?
Bossut: I do. Absolutely, absolutely. […]
Gonzalez: Or are they self explanatory? […]
Bossut: Well there’s stuff that you do. […]
Gonzalez: I mean they’re all based on books, so […]
Bossut: Anything that having to do with research, once you show them how to begin a research and look for information, that’s an aspect that they can do on their own. But you know once you show them, let’s say how to do the language lessons and you have about twenty six boxes more or less to go through, they can do it themselves. And the thing is they need to repeat those, so once you show it once […]
Gonzalez: It’s not a new thing every single day. There’s a lot of repetition and […]
Bossut: It’s necessary after you show the lesson, you repeat the lesson, then comes exploration. Then comes the creative part of it.
Gonzalez: And in terms of assessment, because in public school we have tests and we have standardized tests and we have quizzes and formative and pre and post. I’m getting the impression that all of your assessment comes completely from observation of what they’re doing. Is there any sort of formalized assessment?
Bossut: I do. I do I would say formalized. I’ll give them note challenges.That– […]
Gonzalez: Say it again?
Bossut: I’ll give them some challenges, okay. And I try to mix those challenges in Math for instance. I’ll ask them to solve little problems, okay.
Gonzalez: Now do these just come out of your head or do you have materials that you will go to that you can reuse things. […]
Bossut: I’ll reuse things and research. I’m still very much in the research phase because I want them to be real, concrete, make sense to them […]
Bossut: For them and ultimately I know what they’re working with. I mean it’s the same that you would do maybe in the public school setting. I don’t know. When I — I spent a lot of time in the public school setting to create units for which I knew which way I taught them and expected to assess them. So you could say that there is that too. But the material here has a lot of control. Right so they can control whether they have done it properly or not. So there are places where they can find the answers and know “Oh, yeah, I got it!” Your facts about history or you know things like this become factual information but we have timeline. So we can “Hey can you just look through this section and tell me what you know about this?”
Gonzalez: Right, which is just an informal way of figuring out what– And this would be– You would sit down with one child and have them– […]
Bossut: Or sometime two because I think they also kind of feed off each other. And if I know they’ve done specific research– Last year we had such a great fascination for the civil war and you know the great speeches of Lincoln and that was just fascinating. I personally learned a lot.
Bossut: Just from them. But that’s the form of assessment. Can they actually retell what they researched? And where is my feedback? I see what they present. I have a lot of what they presented. I go back. And I’ll say “Do you remember when you mentioned this?” And they’ll just correct. Is that what I said? to correct themselves. But then it’s different than learning factual information for a test.
Bossut: Because you’re bringing it from the short term to maybe a longer term. And again our focus in the curriculum of history is not going to be date and specific facts, but it’s a timeline of things and how things are connected at some point.
Gonzalez: Patterns and–
Bossut: Yeah, things like that. So if they’re able to do this then I feel like they’re able to do they have the skill to do so. Now I’m also aware that I went and picked up assessments like what do you call them? The entry level for middle school? So I just know can they pass those tests? And I’ve given some of those tests, totally informally, just said, see what you can do with that.
Gonzalez: Right, to give you an idea.
Bossut: What it’s been is I might do it if I’m working on a unit and they say “Oh, but I’ve done this in this grade.” And I say, “Oh well, that’s great, why don’t you try this. See if you can answer any of those questions and you know what the ones you can’t answer, that’s the ones we’ll be working on.”
Bossut: And so in some ways I’m creating not a meaningless baseline, but I’m creating their baseline. By just showing them where they need to go.
Gonzalez: It sounds like in these conversation the students are treated as if they are naturally going to want to fill their own gaps when they see that they exist.
Bossut: That’s the hope.
Gonzalez: Yes and this comes largely from the attitude that you– you’re demonstrating.
Bossut: And from the Montessori environment too. And just to say really you have to be invested in your learning in order to learn.
Gonzalez: If you had a student come here who was from a family maybe where the parents had maybe eighth grade educations and maybe learning wasn’t something that the family really– Maybe it wasn’t an environment that encouraged that. So you really don’t have much of a background and you know “We’re going to do this math. You’re going to.” Just I don’t care. I don’t care if I don’t know that. I’m never going to need that. How would you deal with a student like that who’s coming from that?
Bossut: I would love to know– Here is–I know where you’re coming from. You’re speaking from the experience. But I have yet to see, and I’ll tell you just from all the schools I have visited, meeting children who didn’t want to learn in this environment, who didn’t want to learn something. So maybe it might seems like this small step. Children who have a difficult time concentrating or who need to do things with their hands, for instance– Would you consider in a public school someone to be okay for someone to crochet or to knit while lesson is going on? Because I think that sometime there is so much physical reaction that we forget that that idea of concentration is that need for movement and so coming from a repressed environment in some ways in that aspect, to coming here. That just might be the obstacle that’s removed, okay and so that might just open them up a little bit.
We have a couple of children who arrived here on the first day, you could tell that they already didn’t have that sense that they could do things unless they were told to do them. And that’s discovering for them. You know? And often this child is what do I do now? I don’t know. I’m lost.
Gonzalez: Well I would think it would take awhile to […]
Bossut: It does take awhile. […]
Gonzalez: To learn that way.
Bossut: So maybe a year if that’s that learning curve. But it’s not like no lessons are going to be given. But, it’s going to be learning to “Okay when I enter this room and I look at all this material, which one am I going to choose?” It’s making choices just from the beginning.
Gonzalez: And that’s a big part of the philosophy is having a lot of materials. Not too much because I’ve noticed there’s a rotation and you– Both Montessori schools I’ve been to have not been over– The walls are mostly bare and the materials. I know there’s always been an emphasis on the materials being made of natural materials and not– Which is so opposite to a lot of educational materials that are being produced that are flashing and lights and lots of bright colors and so I’ve gotten to where I can recognize Montessori materials now.
Bossut: That’s good, yeah.
Gonzalez: But they’re– And so what is the thinking behind that?
Bossut: The thinking behind that and even sometimes I think – I’ll tell you soon I’m hoping I’ll have a consultant in and they’ll probably say “You have too many books in the classroom.” Okay, I could see that.
Gonzalez: And why would they say that and what would be the rationale behind that?
Bossut: You, you– The rationale is that you don’t want to fill your shelves because you want to leave spaces. You want to leave spaces in between. Spaces mean that they need to be filled. But do they need to be filled by you with all kinds of stuff? Or do they need to be filled by the child’s intention?
Gonzalez: But you’ve seen what your typical second grade classroom looks like. Every square inch of the wall […]
Bossut: Is covered with stuff.
Gonzalez: is covered. And so the Montessori philosophy sees that as overstimulation maybe?
Bossut: Overstimulation and there comes a point– Also there is other aspects of that which is that maybe she would have looked at it as humility.
Gonzalez: On the teacher’s part?
Bossut: Yeah, and on the child’s part. It’s good to show your work, but remember it is a lot of things that’s based on the reward and punishment and there’s still a placement that you can say “That’s the A work. That’s the B work. That’s the C work.” That’s not the point because we don’t work by that kind of rules.
Gonzalez: It’s not about the end and the pleasure of showing it. It’s the process of learning that’s the pleasure and okay, interesting. So also as public school teachers, we are encouraged to display student work. Often, and to change it out, but there is the display of it.
Bossut: And the thing is also, you know maybe more so and I’m sure I could be challenged for that too but when you have this social group, well it’s not even a social group but it’s an age group, so you have all your six years old. It becomes almost a little pattern where you see that’s the order of this placement. You know it’s taken in as always the one who has the best work.
Gonzalez: Oh, that’s because it’s an age group. They only can compare by ability. Yes.
Bossut: And so that’s difficult. That’s kind of like both a reward and a punishment.
Gonzalez: Well it’s a reward for some and a punishment for others. And it’s pretty much always the same kids.
Bossut: That’s it. And so I think it doesn’t kind of get through in that sense.To– Someone might say no, if you look at the example then you would want to emulate the example, but I don’t think it works that way because it’s taken in. Because I think learning is an emotional experience first. And so if you feel like–
Gonzalez: If that’s your skill level at the time, your best work is never going to be celebrated as your best work because it’s going to be put up against others who are naturally going to do it better.
Bossut: And so I think it’s set the stage for and then creating a model of what’s good.
Gonzalez: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Bossut: I really give you my best, but you don’t see that. And that’s difficult and it just kind of sends it back. So part of the reason is that. Part of the reason is that you will never see necessarily a whole series. If you want to show something you’ve done on Egypt or a poster on your shapes, there is no particular time at which you should do a good work, right? You should do it all the time. And is your good work just good enough? No you want to keep going and progress. So you can take it home. You know even my husband was saying “Do you keep work of children?” I say “Only if they want to.” That’s theirs. That’s theirs to own.
Gonzalez: So everything goes home.
Gonzalez: You take notes on it and […]
Bossut: That’s it.
Gonzalez: and observe and that’s it.
Bossut: I am trying for some to build a little portfolio and I actually kind of want to go in that direct also, but it has to be really a personal portfolio.
Gonzalez: If I’m a third grade teacher right now and I’m listening to this,and I’m liking these ideas, but I’m thinking about the structure that I have right now and what I have to work with. You know, if I could start doing one or two things differently, what could I start to do to just start applying some of this philosophy to the kids that I have.
Bossut: I think that within my classroom, I would probably have some stations that are explorative and I would probably use the humanities, the arts, because that’s also been taken away so much in the public school. But create that station. That you know that your children need to meet certain standards. But some of them will meet them very quickly. Let those children go. Maybe you know set a larger project in the beginning of your week. That would involve those children to go as soon as they finish something.
Gonzalez: Some kind of independent work that they follow their own interests. […]
Bossut: And that will give you more flexibility to work with the ones who really need more of your one on one attention. What are our ultimate goals to educating children? Because I think it’s easy to get lost in– Where people get lost is meeting each of the little details of that curriculum. Each of the little bullets. Where in effect you quantify things that even when you report your bullets, it’s hardly accurate. And is it possible that some of these bullets have been met by a larger bullet in a different section? Does it have to? Because the way you look at the bullets sometimes like language, math– It’s not integrated.
Bossut: It’s not integrated and once you get outside– When you get out to use your education when you’re done. It depends on you having the capacity to integrate all of that information. And sometime that’s the more challenging, seeing the connection. A lot of people who go on to university say the biggest problem they have as university student is they don’t see the connections to put the whole together. So I just think that we– And especially for teachers I think that we can get lost a little bit because you have to focus on how many of those bullets you’ve met. And you have enough to quantify and to turn into numbers. And at the end it’s meaningless, really to have those numbers. And just say is this child happy? Is this child functioning? Is this child actually learning and continues to learn and want to continue to learn, wants to continue to explore. Or just feels like– You know ‘cause you send down that pressure to meet the numbers.
Gonzalez: So if we have a student who goes through the whole system and has not, has not in any way achieved. A few here and a few there.
Bossut: What did we miss?
Gonzalez: Have we failed them?
Bossut: I mean that’s the thing. Do we question? Or is it them. I mean ultimately I think you always ask that question. Is it the system or is it the child?
Gonzalez: Or is there a way of educating them to where if we have missed a couple of bullets here and there, we’ve created a child who understands how to learn, how to research, how to monitor their own progress and has such a thirst for learning that they will get those bullets.
Bossut: Exactly. At some point or another. I think also aspects of learning is that you’re not going to learn necessarily what the people are teaching right at that moment. Sometime that learning they say is late. It matures and it unfolds in different areas. And that’s the part you can’t quantify because it’s beyond your grade. You may have presented it in second grade, but you won’t see it until fourth grade. Does that mean? How do you quantify for that?
Gonzalez: So if we– And this would be on a larger scale, not just one teacher in her classroom. But if a whole elementary school was more fluid and if they looked at the child’s development over five or six years, instead of one year at a time, the students would probably make more progress because they would be following their own natural patterns. And I think this is an important piece. With the encouragement and the environment. It’s not just let them go and do whatever they feel like doing. There is a lot of structure to it.
Bossut: And also the positive support. And remember you know our checks of like rewards and punishment doesn’t come into play. Because that’s where things get lost for a child too. So you’re saying you know you have a system that works a lot based on extrinsic, extrinsic reward. And here you have a system where you work on an intrinsic reward. But any time you impose an extrinsic reward, that you are creating a function where the intrinsic doesn’t matter any more. And so you’re setting a stage […]
Gonzalez: Yes, and there’s a lot of that.
Bossut: For more failure than if you nurture that intrinsic value all the way through. And then you support that progress as a progress and as a child.
Gonzalez: It comes from the igniting.
Bossut: Yeah, the interest and also from just saying, admitting that child 6A is not going to meet the same thing at the same time because you taught it today. There is a different growth. There is a different development. It’s like the peels of an onion really. It just kind of unfolds. And sometime that layer is a little bit thicker for one, until it gets to the next level. That’s just what it needs. It’s a journey and it doesn’t stop at third grade for that. It doesn’t stop at fourth grade for that. Fifth grade for that. It just continues.
Gonzalez: Thanks so much to Benedicte for helping us better understand the Montessori philosophy. Please visit www.cultofpedagogy.com to find more great stuff for teacher nerds. Thanks and have a great day.