So much of what we do as Montessori educators is proscribed from the annals of Dr. Montessori and passed down generationally through our training to become certified guides. This entire blog series seeks to uncover why what we do works and how we might enhance our practices to improve student learning outcomes. This week’s focus is about how participation promotes purposeful learning.
Participation is to Engage
Participation means simply to engage in a current activity. In Montessori environments we see engagement happening all the time; however, when it is happening within a rich, purposeful social context, the effects of participation are amplified. For instance, imagine the difference in outcomes if a six year old prepares a cup of tea for themselves versus orchestrating a tea party for a small group of friends.
We already know about mirror neurons from the article “O is for Observation Occurs Naturally” that the child’s friends will learn from observing, yet it is their participation in an activity with just the right amount of support that enriches their learning.
This “sweet spot” for learning is what social psychologist Lev Vygotsky called the Zone of Proximal Development, commonly known as ZPD, a region along a trajectory of growth, that starts participation.
The task must be within the child(rens)s reasonable ability with support to jumpstart their learning, and the scaffolding the educator provides is just enough for them to struggle a bit yet be successful.
Participation Jumpstarts Learning
Finding this sweet spot that jumpstarts participation is one of the strategies suggested by the authors of The ABCs of Learning, yet what if as a classroom guide you’re already offering experiences within your student’s ZPD and you’re still not gaining their participation?
You aren’t alone. You likely know a whole variety of learners, those that jump right into an activity, and those that are more cautious. I once had a student that took three months of observing her peers before she touched her first material. I wish I had had the following strategies to support her initial participation.
Quick Tips to Promote Participation
1. Build a Community of Practice
I observed an elementary teacher the other day that had a flip chart posted daily that revealed her flow of lessons – not what lessons she was delivering or when, just an order of the children she planned to work with over the course of the work period. Two students were overheard saying, “I wonder what Ms. J. is going to show me today?” When she completed a lesson with another student, the next ‘in line” hurried over to find out what Ms. J. had in store for them. As she slowly walked towards the math shelf, the student actually did a happy dance! This anticipation and the teacher’s ability to craft an invitation to a lesson has a become a system for participation in which this community practices.
2. Utilize Social Mediation
Montessori environments tend to do this well – to create situations in which a more experienced student mentors another, a form of apprenticeship. One method to enhance this practice is to focus on the strengths of a student, prepare and deliver a “key lesson” and then invite the student to give the lesson to a specific student or students.
3. Scaffold Materials and Experiences
Scaffolding is how educators stretch each learner within their ZPD. In my example of a tea party, the teacher could break down the steps of the whole to scaffold the student hosts’ tasks. managing setting the table may be the first step in a long series of steps the learner can handle and their participation is far more likely.
What are going to do today to encourage participation in your community of learners?
– By Tammy Oesting
Our ABCs of Learning: Montessori Edition is inspired by the work of authors Daniel L. Schwartz, Jessica Tsang and Kristen Blair, Professors of Education at Stanford University’s book The ABCs of How We Learn: 26 Scientifically Proven Approaches, How They Work, and When to Use which was reviewed on our Great Titles for Educators web page.