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Surviving the Montessori Course

Surviving the practical assessment/workshop

At some point during the Montessori course, your teachers will assess how well you present a lesson.

Everything about it is weird. Your teacher pretending to be a four year old child. You acting as though she is a four year old child.

You don’t know what you will be asked to present. You will present a lesson from each area of learning. You hope and pray the golden bead bank game will not feature.

As I found myself presenting a lesson on the Phylum Chordata (yes, really) to a senior director of Montessori Centre International role-playing a four- year-old, I was struck by how incredibly surreal this whole experience was.

I had spent an intensive week in London studying long days at the centre, and long nights reading and revising my notes. It felt like nothing clicked. I hated presenting to my classmates, I felt self-conscious, tired and mostly overwhelmed. It was my first time away from my baby (a full week away from home), and walking back in the footsteps of my former London life was alien and oddly uncomfortable.

I spent most of the week observing and making notes. I handled the materials, studied the purpose and sequence, but really failed to participate in how to deliver the three period lesson on, well, anything.

I did draw some rather nice pictures of all the leaves in the botany cabinet though. Which is a completely pointless exercise, but I think we’d all gone a bit mad by that point.

However, by the end of it, I realised I had grasped the material and its process on a much deeper level than I had appreciated.

Although the more extended and advanced lessons were still not second nature to me, and probably never will be, the opening sequences of the areas of learning and the whole point of them being in that order became totally ingrained.

Watching the experienced practitioners present the lessons is invaluable, they make it look so easy and effortless. But it is neither, it’s a skill to be mastered and takes time, effort and a whole lot of practice.

So my advice, as little as it is worth, is to fully participate and engage in the role play. Make a fool of yourself pretending to be four years old, show a group of 30 year olds how to unroll a mat, and how you build a bead stair.

10 key points to surviving the practical assessment:

  1. Everything is left to right, so plan out the activities with that in mind as it is all preparation for writing.
  2. Sit next to the ‘child’ not opposite, and on the left of the mat/table.
  3. Loudly notice the ‘child’s’ dominant hand and make adjustments to the lesson and positioning based on that.
  4. Show don’t tell. If you’re moving, don’t speak, and if you are speaking, don’t move.
  5. Minimise your movements, the key is economy of movement. Each movement should be precise, calm and clear so they child can watch and absorb exactly what you are doing.
  6. Follow the child. Your examiner may throw a spanner in the works of your carefully prepared lesson by clearly showing no interest, in which case you ask the ‘child’ if s/he would like to continue or have another go another time.
  7. If the examiner is role playing a child who clearly is not ready for the exercise, then make sure to explain you both will revisit a previous exercise in the sequence which will build their understanding.
  8. Don’t say ‘no, that’s wrong’, or ‘that’s not right’. Instead, ask the child to take another look, and make sure to repeat the first period of the 3PL. If the child isn’t grasping the exercise it’s because they aren’t suitably prepared for this stage and need to revisit earlier exercises in the sequence, or you haven’t presented clearly enough.
  9. Don’t say ‘well done’, ‘that’s great’, or ‘good job’. Remember we are encouraging the child’s independence and satisfaction in their own achievements, not to rely on external praise and validation.
  10. Say very little, although ‘you made a bead-stair’ or ‘you’ve matched all the cards’, is fine.

Remember the examiners want you to do well, and there is no failing the assessment. If you have not been able to sufficiently showcase your knowledge, you may be asked to write a piece to outline your understanding of a lesson, or come back to present again at a different time. So, you cannot fail!