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Liberty within Limits: Personalized Learning in the Montessori Classroom

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By Cheryl Lynn Jones, Montessori elementary teacher at First State Montessori Academy

I am a second and third grade teacher at First State Montessori Academy in Wilmington. This is my 12th year in a Montessori classroom environment and my first year on the Rodel Teacher Council (RTC).

When I first joined the RTC, I learned all about their Blueprint for Personalized Learning in Delaware and was amazed to see the extensiveness and thoughtfulness of the plan. I was also encouraged to see that Montessori education fits right into personalized learning.

Montessori education dates back to the 1900s. The creator of Montessori teaching, Dr. Maria Montessori, developed her pedagogy after years of medical training, learning about educational theory, and teaching children with intellectual and developmental disabilities. She spent countless hours observing children of all abilities and realized that children not only learned from their environment but ultimately wanted to teach themselves. She discovered children have an innate desire to learn, are motivated to learn when given a classroom environment that is engaging, safe, and beautiful, and prefer materials that encourage movement and allow them to make discoveries on their own.

In a Montessori classroom, students work at their own pace as teachers meet their needs for various academic concepts. Students use a work plan, which is a tailored document that list specific assignments, group lessons, and activities they should do each day to support their learning. The work plan is often created by the teacher and can be made on the computer or handwritten. Work plans for younger students may have pictures on them, as they are still developing reading skills. Older students may have work plans that include long-term projects and even may look like an agenda book in order to help them refine their time management and organizational skills.

There is a video embedded in the Blueprint for Personalized Learning called Student Voice and Choice: At Their Own Pace. In that video, teachers refer to a time in their classroom, called Workshop, where the students are working on a topic of their choice and are able to receive the help they need to accomplish an academic goal. This is a part of the Montessori philosophy and daily occurrence in a Montessori classroom, it is called work time.

During work time, students follow their individual work plan, meaning everyone could be working on something different at the same time. They are allowed to complete assignments in the order they want, sometimes choosing their favorites, or the most challenging, or the easiest. It is not uncommon to see one student working on phonics skills with a teacher, another completing grammar work, another working on long division, and another laying out a large timeline.

More importantly, there is room for choice on a students work plan and during work time, which Maria Montessori called “liberty within limits.” The Blueprint for Personalized Learning also states that,

“In personalized learning environments, instruction must be tailored to students’ specific academic needs, personal interests, and learning styles. It allows them to learn at their own time and pace, working on their studies whenever they want, at a rhythm that is most comfortable to them.”

Every day, students in my classroom complete their daily assignments at their own pace, using a variety of materials available to them, and still have time to pursue a topic of their choice. For example, the work plan may simply state “Cultural Choice” and the students know what materials to choose from, how to use the work, and different ways to follow up to show their learning. (My classroom favorites include creating instructions for a game and then executing the game with materials on the shelf.)

Cultural Choice in a Montessori classroom refers to what is traditionally known as social studies and science. It covers a wide variety of topics, everything from learning about the seven continents, comparing and contrasting vertebrates and invertebrates, to reading a non-fiction text and reflecting about it in a journal.

In Montessori education, students learn at an early age to take responsibility for their learning. They learn and develop personal interests and start to think about how they can complete any required work, so they may pursue a project of their choice. Students are empowered to develop ideas, work together, try new things, and start over if an original idea does not work out. Montessori education is student centered, just like personalized learning.

When students are given the freedom to learn and make choices, and their own pace, it allows them to develop confidence, enthusiasm, and self-direction for their learning.

Meet Janai Garrett

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My name is Janai Garrett and I am an undergraduate student at Wilmington University studying communications with a track in media. Prior to being a fellow at the Rodel Foundation, I gained valuable experience in journalism by writing for a variety of websites ranging from sports to entertainment. I have also familiarized myself with different design and video-editing tools such Final Cut Pro, iMovie, Photoshop and InDesign. My newest passion is photography, and I often travel with my Sony A5100 camera to take pictures of wildlife or anything that interests me. As a journalist, I’ve done everything from news-reporting, to covering sports and wildlife, but I often use the phrase, “I’ll take anything that I can get.” While writing for different websites, I developed a strong passion for print and online journalism. There is something about editorial research and writing that excites me.

My goals for this fellowship are to ultimately see my skills and talents come to life, while learning a new set of skills that I can take with me when I begin my career. I have a strong desire to be challenged in everything that I do, and I enjoy learning about new things. I am especially excited to learn more about the Delaware public school system, and the policies that govern it.

Rodel Teacher Newsletter – August 2016

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Rodel Teacher Newsletter is a resource for Delaware’s teachers to learn about teacher leadership opportunities across the state, nation, and world.

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LearningSCAPES 2016 Conference (Sept. 28 – Oct. 1)

LearningSCAPES is coming to Philadelphia! Join educational facility planners, educators, architects, designers, and suppliers for a conference on creating the best possible learning spaces for students. Sessions include “Social and Emotional Learning,” “Reaching Every Student,” and “Inclusive Learning Environments.”

Blended Learning: Colonial Tech Conference (Oct. 22)
A blended learning conference will be held at William Penn High School from 8:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. This low-cost, engaging conference presents the perfect opportunity to learn from other teachers about how to incorporate technology in the classroom. Registration is now open.

iNACOL Blended and Online Learning Symposium (Oct. 25 – Oct. 28)
iNACOL’s annual conference is the industry’s leading event for K-12 online, blended, and competency-based learning. Experts, practitioners, educators, policymakers, and researchers will gather and work to transform education in San Antonio, Texas.

What Teachers Need to Know to Influence Policy Decisions (Ongoing)
Teach Plus Online is launching a new course to ensure that the voice of teachers is heard by policymakers. This free online course is open to teachers nationwide. Sign up now!

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On July 11, Gunning Bedford Middle School hosted an EdCamp. Sessions focused on uses of Schoology, creating and supporting leaders, technology tools, and more. If you missed the opportunity to attend, read the communal notes here.

Congressional Education Forum (Aug. 18, Wilmington)
DelaCORE Leaders in partnership with Metropolitan Wilmington Urban League Young Professionals and the PACE Network will host an education forum on August 18, 2016 from 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. The forum will allow candidates to express their views on the education issues facing Delaware and the greater nation, and provide you with the opportunity to pose questions about education issues that are important to you.

Vision Coalition Conference (Nov. 14, Newark)

The Vision Coalition of Delaware will host its 9th Annual Conference on Education on November 14, 2016 from 8:30 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. The event attracts hundreds of policymakers, educators, and business and community leaders from throughout the state.


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