Ah, the presentation! Therein lies the magic of Montessori…that’s where the beautiful materials come alive for the children. It seems to be so simple, right? Just demonstrate pouring, or the checkerboard, or Parts of a Volcano. But it’s actually more complicated than it appears. It’s easy to say too much, or not enough, or forget which step comes next.
Sister Mary shared with our training class the kind of rigorous presentations she had to give during the finals of her Montessori training. She entered a large room with several people sitting around in a circle – including Nancy McCormick Rambusch, the founder of the American Montessori Society, who was one of Sister Mary’s trainers. Sister Mary brought one material to the rug after another, giving the presentations without any notes or albums. None of the trainers spoke. After she was done, she left without getting any feedback on how she did. And everything had to be perfect.
In the classroom, things can be more flexible. With a very difficult work, I would have my album right next to me to refer to while presenting. In some cases (especially cultural presentations), the ideas and questions of the children end up changing the course or nature of the presentation.
For the average teacher or parent, presentations will happen spontaneously based on the child’s interests and readiness. It might not always be possible to prepare in advance. But sometimes it is; and sometimes it’s very necessary that the presentation be practiced ahead of time. I’ve found that there are some very basic points to keep in mind when giving presentations; they are in no particular order and I hope they are helpful. (Here I am, practicing a language presentation during my training, summer of ’97).
8. Prepare – This includes gathering together everything that you need to give the presentation. Think ahead. Will you be showing the child how to write it? Bring paper and pencil. Will you need anything that is normally found in a different area of the classroom? Every time I’ve assumed a work was complete without checking, it was inevitably missing one card/label/picture/chart, etc.
7. Rehearse – This one is very important if it’s a new material, or something you haven’t presented in a long time. For something really complicated, you may want to present it to a friend, spouse, or other teacher before doing it with the kids.
6. Set up – Get out a rug or mat and put the work on it. For 3-6, you will want to sit on the child’s dominant side. For elementary, it can vary; I often sat across from the child. When presenting to a group, you may be doing the work upside down, facing the children. If you are left-handed, as I am, that may mean switching sides to help a right-handed child. Or, you can practice doing work with your right hand.
5. Understand – It’s imperative that you know the purpose of the material. Is it to learn colors? How to hold tongs? What the parts of the sun are? Whatever it is, that needs to be the focus of the presentation. Avoid extraneous details whenever possible.
4. Research – This is especially necessary when giving presentations in elementary. If it’s about the ancient Romans, you need to do enough research that you can answer basic questions the kids might have. Anything else you can turn over to them for additional study.
3. Reinforce – The old adage, “use it or lose it” is very apt in Montessori. If you’ve presented Land & Water Forms that day, then during line time you can ask the child(ren) to share one fact they’ve learned about that work. It can be as simple as “a lake and an island are opposites”. Another reinforcement is having an older child present a work to a younger one, or check the work for them after they’ve finished.
2. Observe – Is the child struggling to understand the work? Are they unable to focus on the presentation? In that case, the material may be too difficult and should be saved for another day. Is there a change that can be made to the work to make it more “doable”? For example, are the tweezers you put with the bead work too small, and is there another pair that can be used instead? Can a control card or even instructions be added to an elementary work for the students to use as a reference?
1. Eliminate distractions – This can be as simple as putting your rug in a less-traveled area of the classroom. For group presentations, the teacher should face the doorway and the kids should face the room. If you are in a classroom with more than one teacher, you need to have an agreement that you won’t interrupt each other during presentations for any reason. The other children that you are working with also need to know that they shouldn’t interrupt a teacher who’s working with a student.
I’m working on the next installment of my “Montessori Basics” series, and I hope to have that next time!