TNCS Primary Workshop 2017

Last month, The New Century School hosted a Primary Workshop to provide parents with a firsthand experience of the Montessori approach to pre-K education. Unlike Open Houses and Information Nights that are general question-and-answer forums, a workshop’s purpose is to show you specifically what your children are learning and doing during their daily class time. For those parents who did not attend Montessori school as kids, the primary workshop is a marvel—both eye-opening and fun. Maria Montessori developed the Montessori materials based on her extensive observation of children ages 2 1/2 through 6 years. Her goal was to put academic success within their reach by setting realizable achievement milestones, so to do that, she tailored materials to be used the way she saw children interacting with their world. Primary students use these materials nearly exclusively, and seeing how the materials are actually used and learning what each does for the child’s development was the focus of the workshop.

There are four lead Montessori teachers this year: Lisa Reynolds, Elizabeth Bowling, Maria Mosby, and Yangyang Li, and each presented an aspect of the primary curriculum.

tncs-primary-workshop-2017

Work Cycle

Mrs. Bowling went first, introducing the foundational concept of the work cycle. “This is so incredibly important and something we are always looking for in the children,” she began. “The classroom environment focuses on independence, sense of order, concentration, and coordination. This takes time not only to develop within a child but it takes time in the day as well, so we do our best to provide an uninterrupted work time, usually 3 hours, in the morning.” She explained that, as Montessori educators, they are closely observing what materials that the students opt to work with because it demonstrates where their interests lie and also shows the student’s mindset. “You want them to practice lessons you’ve given them, but you also want them to be able to go back to works that they’ve mastered as well.”

The work cycle has three parts: preparation, working, completing (putting away). To prepare, the student spreads out a throw rug and lays out the components of the “work*” in an orderly fashion. Next the student does the work, following the steps as the teacher has previously shown them. Finally, they clean up the work, put it away on the shelf, and choose a new work. “That’s a lot when you’re 3, or 4, or even 5 and 6,” said Mrs. Bowling. “So, again, that takes some time to develop but it’s what we’re working on every day with your child, that complete follow through. This consistency aids the development of care and respect for their belongings and the environment. It also shows their ability to follow directions. It even introduces the basics for plot structure, which will aid them in reading comprehension. A lot goes into everything your child is doing in a day,” she said.

Montessori Skillset

Ms. Mosby spoke next, to talk about the theme of independence, confidence, and risk-taking within safe parameters. “From the time the child is born, he is working on little things that develop his independence,” she explained. “Before he learns to walk he has to learn to crawl. The child continuously seeks opportunities to increase his independence through a series of natural developments and milestones. The adult’s role, the parents role, the teacher’s role—-especially in this environment—is to foster it.” It’s a well-known Montessori tenet that we should never let a child risk failure until he has a reasonable chance of success. One way this bears out in the classroom is that everything is child-sized, from all furniture to the tools and materials, and the environment is prepared by the teacher.

“Everything we set up for the child to do helps them successfully do each work. The child is allowed to manipulate all of the things we have set up.” And here is where the risk-taking can come into play. The child may not be ready for a particular work or may need another lesson on how to complete it. But the important thing is, mistakes are okay. “We don’t correct the child,” said Ms. Mosby. “We let him discover his mistake and then we’ll go back and assess it later, we don’t interrupt his concentration. What we’re working on in this stage is developing that concentration and really helping him to focus on one thing at a time, isolating one concept and then adding more and more.”

This will help get them ready for elementary, where they’ll be doing new things, encountering additional challenges, and collaborating with other children. “At this stage, she said, “they’re working with just one thing at one time by themselves. That’s why you’ll see mostly one or two seats at a table. We don’t want too many children working together because they tend to distract one another. So, allowing a child to develop skills unhindered by an adult helps to develop independence, confidence, and appropriate risk assessment. We’re watching to make sure they’re safe while at the same time giving them that ability to assess risk for themselves, make mistakes, and learn from them.”

Practical Life

Newly certified Yangyang Li spoke about the Practical Life component of the Montessori curriculum, which, she explained, comprises four areas: care of self, care of the environment, grace and courtesy, and movement of objects. She said that, “practical life connects the child to the world, to the environment. It’s also indirect preparation for math and other academics.” If a child is interested in something, she explained, “the child will concentrate on it.” She also said that children at this age want real experiences, which also cultivates concentration as well as self-motivation. “Please help me to do the work by myself,” said Li Laoshi, is the attitude they convey. All of this also develops emotional independence.

Importantly, the child uses all of the senses when engaged in a practical life work, which could be cleaning tables, sweeping, arranging flowers, or anything else that is a part of daily chores. When the instructor demonstrates a practical life lesson, as you can see in the video below, she moves slowly and deliberately, taking care to experience all of the tactile sensations, sounds, smells, and so on, and follows an orderly sequence of steps. Thanks to the parent volunteer who now understands the correct way to do some washing up!

Interconnections

Mrs. Reynolds explored how the Montessori curriculum is interconnected, from practical life to science and geography, math, and language. “The materials build upon one another, making the progression important,” she explained. “Some works isolate one skill and focus on it while others may be educating the child in multiple ways. Many of the materials are self-correcting, which also promotes independence and problem solving.”

IMG_2491

Questions and Answers

A Q&Q followed, and parents were given the chance to inquire about specific aspects. Two that brought home a lot of the concepts are reproduced here.

Parent: What are some examples of work that the child is doing on a daily basis?

Instructors: The children are all working on different things. An example might be a group of 3-year-olds having a lesson on sounding where we would go around the room have them try to pick out something that starts with a certain sound. There is a lot of preliminary work so they might be doing pouring work, cleaning work and then you might take those things away and they might start pouring their own snack or working with some food preparation. They have started making coffee for us (laughter). It’s such a caring, loving thing for them. So they’re all working on different things in all different levels. You might see a teacher on the rug giving a lesson and the other teacher will be observing other children working independently on their lessons.

Parent: One question related to independence, where do you strike a balance between letting them explore on their own and then finding out it’s not working to putting them on the right track? At what point do you reorient them?

Instructors: First of all, we’re looking at, did they choose a work they’ve actually had a lesson on because you want to make sure they have. If they haven’t had a lesson on something then we intervene and redirect. If you have given this child a lesson and they’re picking up this work and it’s becoming too playful and not purposeful work then that might be a time we might come along side them and redirect them. We are watching that. There’s a purpose for the work. Of course, if they are trying and having difficulty, that is just part of the process. If they’re throwing things or being disruptive, that’s a different story. So we have to use our judgment to determine which direction to take.

———

*Searching with the keywords “work cycle” in the search bar of this blog will bring up past years’ posts about primary workshops. They all have slightly different perspectives and are worth checking out if you are interested in learning more about Montessori education at TNCS.

Meet the Teachers: Wei Li and Yangyang Li!

20151120_120304

In a true blending of cultures, Li Laoshi and Yangyang Laoshi enjoy some Mexican food . . . with chopsticks!

Although neither Wei (Vivian) Li nor Yangyang Li is exactly new to The New Century School, they have each adopted larger roles within the language department for the 2015–2016 school year. Having first joined the TNCS community in summer 2015 as one of the Lead Teachers on the 2015 STARTALK team, Li Laoshi is now heading up the Mandarin department as Director of the Chinese Language Program and Lead Mandarin Elementary Teacher. Yangyang (first name used to avoid confusion with Wei Li) Laoshi’s first experience at TNCS was as Mandarin Assistant Teacher in the 2013–2014 school year, followed by teaching in the 2014 TNCS STARTALK program. She is now serving as the Primary Mandarin Teacher as well as helping Li Laoshi run the Mandarin department.

universal studio

Li Laoshi is ready to take on the world!

Both teachers are eminently qualified to teach Mandarin. A native of China, Li Laoshi  moved to the United States and dedicated herself to personal development and education after having taught International Business at the Hunan Vocational College of Science and Technology for over 9 years. Interested in enhancing her teaching experience, she earned a Master’s Degree in Education: Teaching Chinese as a Second Language from the University of Maryland, College Park in the spring of 2015 as well as a Maryland State Teaching Certificate. Before coming to TNCS, she completed an internship at the Baltimore International Academy, a full language-immersion elementary school. Li Laoshi is experienced in program design, curriculum development, lesson planning, classroom materials preparation, and assessment.

st

Yangyang Laoshi and her cast of STARTALK characters!

Yangyang Laoshi is from Chengdu in the Chinese southwestern Sichuan province. She has a Master’s degree in teaching Chinese to speakers of other languages from Sichuan University, which is one of the Top Ten universities in China, as well as a Certificate of Accreditation for Teaching Chinese as a Foreign Language. Before she came to TNCS, she worked as a Chinese teacher in the Chengdu American Center for Study Abroad and the Sichuan University Overseas Education College for 1 year, teaching students from New York State University. She also worked as an English Teaching Assistant in a Private English Training School, assisting British teachers with their classes of preschool children ages 3–5 years. Yangyang Laoshi also has the very special distinction of being an accomplished pipa musician.

Qualifications aside, what makes them true educators is their approach to teaching. Seeing them in action is to understand that teaching is their life’s calling, not just a job. They guide, they coax, they laugh—learning is interactive play. They are rarely—if ever—not smiling. No wonder TNCS students respond to them so readily! They have these qualities in common with the other TNCS teachers, and it’s nice to see how disciplines and departments have meshed so well this year. And, to maintain continuity with what and how students have learned in past years, they have regular contact with Xie Laoshi (Jewel), who remains a vital part of the Mandarin program, albeit in a behind-the-scenes capacity.

As such, they have devised a curriculum that is:

  • National standards guided
  • Theme based
  • Age- and language-proficiency appropriate
  • Relevant to daily life
  • Integrated with culture
  • Student centered (what Li Laoshi considers most important)

See examples of some of their past months’ lessons in these links: September, October, and November. As you can see, body parts, family life, and food comprise a large part of these lessons, which makes sense given their criteria in the bullets above. What could be more relevant to kids this age than those three topics? And, see for yourself how easily they connect to these topics, which translates into ready fluency. This video features a Primary student, who had never encountered Mandarin Chinese before enrolling at TNCS this academic year reading Chinese characters aloud about the hours of the day. She is developing her English language skills at the same time. These students are also able to write some of the characters they read.

With only 45 minutes per class, the Chinese teachers nevertheless work in a lot of practice with the language—which is the only way students are really going to be comfortable speaking it. So, they incorporate card games and other games, role-playing, songs, and body movement, based on the proven effectiveness of Total Physical Response (TPR)*. In this video that employs TPR, you can see it in action. (I love my [insert family member.])

Older students additionally take on larger projects, such as “making” and “selling” food. This provides ample opportunity for learning vocabulary related to various foods and cooking as well as working with Chinese currency, the yuan. They “earned” their money by answering questions correctly, a built-in incentive to demonstrate their proficiency.

A similar project was test-run in last summer’s STARTALK, and it was a runaway success. The kids could not stop talking about their “Night Market” and felt excited and proud by what they accomplished. The genius of this kind of project, in which the kids completely lose themselves, is that they are conversing and interacting completely in Mandarin, almost effortlessly. Contrast this with more traditional language classrooms in which students commonly feel self-conscious and struggle to overcome their reticence. “Students feel happy in my class,” said Li Laoshi. “They are enjoying learning; they don’t feel it’s a burden—even the shy ones and those who have never learned Chinese,” she said, even confessing to nearly crying with joy at their achievements. “The Chinese language is totally different from English and Spanish,” she continued. “Because it’s so complicated, the first step is to get the students interested, to motivate them. Then, they really open their hearts.”

Yangyang Laoshi agrees. “I search for games that relate to our lessons,” she said, “but if the kids don’t like them, we find something else instead.” This ability to organize and plan outside of the classroom but adapt and be flexible within the classroom has allowed them to easily meet their goals of cultivating happy, engaged, Mandarin-speaking students. They say their Chinese friends and colleagues are thoroughly impressed by how good the students’ speech is, including some of whom have previously known these children, such as dear Fan Laoshi, who interned at TNCS last year and who remarked on their clarity of pronunciation.

An abiding love for teaching and for their TNCS students is what they attribute their current classroom happiness and success to. “That’s why I came back here from China.” said Yangyang.

Speaking for the TNCS community at large, we are certainly glad to have you both at TNCS!

 

*Total Physical Response (TPR) was developed in the mid-1960s by Dr. James Asher as a method of learning a second language. Asher noted that the conventional approach to learning second languages differed dramatically from how infants learn their first language. Infants learn to communicate by internalizing language, a process of protracted listening and absorbing. TPR is a technique that replicates that process for learning second languages and beyond by giving a command, modeling the action described in the command, and then having the student imitate that action. Students are not initially asked to speak, but to comprehend and obey the command. Understanding is at the root of language acquisition, according to Asher. This makes a lot of sense when you consider how babies learn to respond to increasingly complex utterances before ever verbalizing a thought.

Research demonstrates unequivocally that brains work more efficiently when the body is also engaged. In fact, neuroimaging shows that during movement, more brain areas are lit up, meaning that more of the brain is active and in use. Language acquisition via TPR takes full advantage of this “powered-up” state.

Excerpts from Exercising that Mind–Body Connection, from the Immersed archives