Staying True to Montessori
“The teacher’s task is not to talk, but to prepare and arrange a series of motives for cultural activity in a special environment made for the child.”
“It is necessary for the teacher to guide the child without letting him feel her presence too much, so that she may always be ready to supply the desired help, but may never be the obstacle between the child and his experience.”
These quotes, by Maria Montessori seem to contradict everything we know about teaching a foreign language today, and so, what many schools (without immersion programs) do is treat second-language learning in a completely different way than they treat all other subjects in the Montessori classroom. I believe that by staying true to the principles of Montessori, second language learning can be both successful and seamlessly integrated into the classroom.
While studies show that an immersion setting is the most successful way to acquire a second language, this is not an option for many schools. For the last 13 years, I have been working in one of these schools and am proud to say that we have a successful program that both stays true to Montessori philosophy and allows children to go quite far with their Spanish skills. This past year, for example, I supported a very motivated group of 12 year olds while they read a more than 220 page Spanish novel!
In traditional Spanish programs, the adult tends to be the focus, with a lot of spoken repetition, and call and response activities. Just as with other Montessori lessons, if the focus is taken off of the adult and the student is presented with a short lesson introducing new vocabulary or a grammatical concept, accompanied by a manipulative material left on the shelf, they can continue to explore and create without needing constant guidance from the Spanish instructor. By introducing rules such as singular and plural noun adjective agreement, the concept of masculine and feminine nouns and my personal favorite, “ar” verb conjugation, students can begin to build a foundation for long term second language learning. Of course, the role of the adult is still important but the preparation for when the adult is not available is even more so. We simply need to set the students up for success by providing them with a setting that allows them to practice and explore independently from the adult at times when they are not receiving a lesson.
I encourage you to think about what makes Montessori unique and ask yourself if that is represented in your Spanish program.
· Are Spanish lessons given within the classroom?
· Do you have a Spanish shelf and materials for students to use independently after their lessons?
· Are there Spanish resources such as picture dictionaries that students can use for extensions to the work from their lessons?
· Are Spanish lessons given in small groups that change depending on interest and skill level?
If your answer to any of the above questions is no and you’re looking for ways to change that – reach out in the comments with your questions.