Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Montessori Musings: Wheel of Choice

I don't often write about my "other" life as an English teacher for the first through fifth grades, but it goes hand-in-hand with my work as a children's pastor. Through Godly Play I became interested in Montessori pedagogy, and I've been able to use its principles in my classroom as well as at church.

Montessori is all about empowering children to make good choices. As both a teacher and a children's pastor, I feel it is my responsibility to prepare children for life. One huge tool for survival in this world is learning to deal with conflict. When children are equipped in this area at an early age, they are much more able to cope with and view adversity positively as adults.

Up until this year, I had only been teaching smaller groups of up to 15 students. This year for the first time, I was given a class of 27 third graders. I have to say that I panicked a bit at first at the thought of trying to teach a foreign language to that many students at one time with no other assistance in the room.

In coming up with a structure, I also realized that the students had to have a way to settle conflicts on their own. Last year, I instituted the "peace table" to help the students, but they still needed me to help them get to the peace table. With 27 students, I had to come up with a way to help them problem-solve on their own, so that I could actually teach English.

I turned to one of my go-to books for classroom management, Postitive Discipline in the Classroom, by Montessorians Jane Nelson, Lynn Lott and H. Stephen Glenn. One of the tools in the book is the "Wheel of Choice". It works like this: when the children have a conflict, they go to the wheel together and decide on a course of action.

Here is my modified version of the book's wheel:

Students must try at least two of these options before coming to the teacher.
I tell my students to try two of them first, before they come to me. And you know what? It actually works. Even though our classroom is a bit like a circus with three stations going on at one time, I have not once had to take time out from working with a group to referee an argument. In fact, my classroom is more peaceful than ever.

I recommend trying this with any large groups of children that you work with. It make take some time for them to initially learn what to do, but the long-term results are worth it.

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