I recently read a really interesting article in Public School Montessorian. Called “Fostering Community Through ‘Brother-Sister’ Relationships in the 6-9 Classroom”, it describes how one teacher paired up kids – in groups of three – to work together throughout the year.
Because of the multi-age classrooms, students in Montessori naturally have more of a family dynamic in how they relate to each other. So boosting this by putting them in groups that even refer to themselves as brother and sister sounds interesting. The author of the article, Roberta L. Williams, says that this year has been the most peaceful one for her classroom so far, and that the feeling of community has been increased by the groupings.
I’m not sure I would refer to the groups as “brother/sister” just because I think that could lead to hurt feelings, even on the part of a real-life brother or sister that feels hurt because their sibling calls another child “brother” or “sister” when they’re really not. I’m really big on healthy relationship boundaries, so I’m probably more conservative in that area than someone else might be.
But I do like the idea, and I think it could be used in many classrooms with some modifications based on the specific situation (number of kids in the class, kids per grade, temperaments, etc.) Actually, in my training we were encouraged to pair up one 1st level with one 3rd level child for the year. The 1st level child would find their “buddy” when they needed help reading something, or when they needed to have their work checked. (This also frees up the teacher!) I definitely saw some special friendships develop through that kind of interaction.
I would like to know more about Ms. William’s experiences: how did she deal with conflict among the groups? Were there any children who needed to be moved around because they simply couldn’t get along? How much intervening did she do in case of conflict? How much help did she give groups when they worked on their projects? It sounds like she created the groups before the school year began, so did she need to do any tweaking? It sounds like she didn’t, but I’m wondering what you would do if one group consisted of strong readers and another of children who were not. It would be interesting, for sure.