The notion of task analysis is important for the Montessori teacher.  This analysis breaks down every single lesson into a sequence of clear steps along with the timing that is important in introducing the steps.  Largely this analysis is descriptive and practical in nature.  Descriptive because the “steps” of each lesson are understood in terms of one’s own motor-sensory frame of reference.  This is in contrast to an explanatory analysis that would break down the steps into all the various correlations and operations needed to explain the lesson. So, one would need to get into all the neurological, cellular, biochemical, biophysical, intellectual, rational, and moral operations involved in the lesson.  This of course would be a grand undertaking and make teaching a lesson impossible in any practical sense. And so the practical enters the scene.  The practical examines the steps, but then thinks through only those steps which would be difficult for the child(ren) in front of “me” to figure out the lesson.  This vastly simplifies the nature of the analysis.  One could for example realize that one’s arm needs to be lifted to a certain height, or maybe that one needs to stand up, but in this case, the child could already “see and do” those things, and really would remember these without any introduction. In such a case, one would not need to add it to the “tasks” that need to be highlighted to the child, with a 2 second delay before and after the task.

In addition to task analysis which breaks down the steps is synthesis.  This is when one then puts the steps back together again with the right time and delays that would be important for children. 

Both analysis and synthesis together allow the teacher to develop a large fund of possibilities regarding how one can “guide” any child.  As well, one can then begin to see how lessons and materials are linked together, and one can do so with a fair amount of precision so that if a child is having difficult with steps X and Y in a lesson will be helped by carrying out simpler lessons that set the stage for doing X and Y.  So for example, if a child is having difficult carrying a tray with a plate on it, then one might see how walking the line or walking through a room without bumping a table or how balancing something on one’s head could help the child. Similar connections arise when one begins examining every step involved in carrying out lessons in sandpaper letters or in tracing inset or linking phonemes to sounds and words in stories or in written form.  The connections between materials and their lessons abound throughout a Montessori classroom.   

Three years ago is when I realized that I needed to turn to building a new kind of school and a new kind of training program.  At the time, I thought the term “program” could still be used though I did have some revulsion to it because of its Modernist roots.  However, now I have decided the term must be abandoned and as something that cannot be salvaged because it has too much cultural baggage that warps peoples minds when the think and imagine “programs.”  So, if we are setting up a training but not calling it a program, what is it?

Really, what we are creating is not a program but a new kind of school that follows all of the rhythms of nature rather than industry (this is not to say that industry is evil, but that the format of industry in the modern world is a serious problem and hence industry itself needs to be recast into something more akin to mom and pop shops).

This new kind of school has within it the life of a living organism and a living community of organisms.  Just as a living organism has different “systems” serving different needs and contributing to the whole, so a school should have the same.  A living organism has a respiratory system to bring in oxygen and a digestive system to bring in nutrients. And so a school should be a place that brings in food for the mind and activities for the will and body.  And just as the organism has a defensive system against bacteria and viruses, so a school should have a defense system to protect all of its members from those evils that are more like living organisms (bad bacteria) and those that are subtly destructive (like viruses).  And as an organism has bones for structure and muscles for movements, so a school needs a way of life that has structure and a breath of life that gives it a vibrant culture.  And finally, just as an organism is built to procreate, so a school should have the same.  

When one thinks along the lines of an industrial machine, a machine with its parts and makers of parts, its specializations into factories and retail centers, then training schools get setup in the same way.  But if the setup is more akin to an organism, then the school itself should have its own procreative facets.  And this is what an apprenticeship program would be.  There is then no needed for university schools of education (at least in the usual sense).  

So, more concretely, what does this school look like?

  1. A husband and wife run the school.  He is trained in John Henry Newman and the school of Saint Joseph.  She is trained in Maria Montessori and the school of Mary.  
  2. They setup the school in a location of their choosing.  They establish its relationships to the state and Church.  They build relations directly with families.  
  3. They hire help as needed.
  4. And once they have reached “procreative age” as a school, they then bring in another couple for training.  These couples apprentice, which means they help out, they watch as the couple runs the school, teaches children, build relationships with families, the state, and the Church.  This kind of an apprenticeship (and yes, it is worth a book of its own) becomes the procreative organ of a school and of the Schools of the Holy Family.  This allows for an organic growth of schools through regions and throughout the world more akin to how organism start in one place, and then move to suitable niches wherever they can do so.  This is how they become “fruitful and multiply.”

There are many things that one might hear when being told about a Montessori classroom.  One will hear for example that children work independently, or that children work at their own pace, or more negatively that they just play.  Or sometimes one might say that at the Children’s House level they work independently and at the elementary level they work socially.  And regarding how the teacher relates to the children, one will hear phrases like “teach me how to do it myself” or “the teach needs to get out of the way” or “the teacher is nothing really but an observer.”  And of course in many of these phrases there are truths.  The limit is that these terms fall within the realm of the descriptive*, and so though important, they also have limits and cannot be treated as principles or axioms, though too often people do.

Let me give one example.  One such maxim is to let the environment do the teaching and get the teacher out of the way.  The purpose of this maxim is really not to get any and all teachers out of the way, but really those who tend to operate under the many mistaken notions of how adults should related to and then teach children.  One of these mistakes is that a teacher needs to schedule much of the learning of a child 1) since the child cannot do that for themselves, 2) because the child does not know what would be the best way to learn a subject, 3) because a teacher needs to teach many children to make her use of time and salary effective and so needs to walk many of them through at the same time and the same pace.  To teach each children individual would cost a fortune.  So the mistaken thinking goes, and thus this maxim is a counter to that.  But, if a teacher knows how to relate to a child, when and how to respond to a child’s requests, when and how and when not to interact with a child at a given moment and  a given location and when the child is doing x or y, then the maxim becomes a problem, and really should not be used.  The teacher after all is part of the environment and really a rather important part of that environment both personally and pedagogically.  

In part, this is why I wrote something that most Montessorian’s might cringe at, namely how the teacher should be a magnet to the mysteries of creation. Why?  Because the highest and deepest portions of all creation reside in the highest levels of creation, and on earth, that turns out to be the human soul.  And a teacher, we all presume, has a soul, and if a good teacher, a soul that has been formed into being a wise mediator, one who knows how to open the mysteries of all creation to other souls.  

The key to using this maxim right is really to move from a descriptive account of the maxim to one that builds on understanding the interior realities of the human soul, and how those realities unfold mysteriously through the light of the inner Teacher who is the one who gives us all the inner light of our own souls (we are created participations in the Divine Light).  Once one moves from the outer world to a deeper understanding of interiority, and how interiority develops, then one can move to a deeper understanding of the place of the teacher within the life of a children and a classroom environment.  Really, the classroom environment is not just the place with physical walls, where keys of creation are opened up, but the whole of creation.  This is why gardens and excursions are so important.  Investigating streams and hills and flowers opens up the real mysteries of life to a child. But even more than these, other human beings awaken the child. This is why the mother’s smile is so important!  Once one begins to understand how all of the relationships of a child to the world unfold, then one can begin to understand what is happening in a Montessori classroom that is setup right.  

The same is true when one talks about children working independently, especially in Children’s House (~2.5 years – 6 years of age).  This is the stage of the absorbent mind. It is true that children largely cannot work together on projects because they have not develop intellectually, morally, emotionally in such a way to do so. But it does not mean they are not social or that they are absolutely independent.  In fact, watching them reveals quite the opposite.  Even if they do not yet know how to have an adult conversation with one listening and the other talking, they are moving in that direction chatting at each other side by side.  And I suspect this ends up being crucial for the development of neural patterns for hearing, as well as the other senses involved in conversations, perhaps as much important as hearing adults use full phrases when they are infants and toddlers (hence laying down neural patterns of sound in the brain).  Or they like doing things while sitting together just as adults sit together at tables and do things.  I saw a couple of children once, for example, who would wander and wander when they were by themselves.  But as soon as they found a few friends sitting at a table doing works, they would then stop wandering and get a work and work side by side with their friends for a long period of time.  None of them were working together (one of the meaning of “independent”), but they all worked best side by side at that table.  In other studies, young girls begin to form dyads and triads with friends, and they carry out all kinds of mimicking roles of nurturing together, and as they move into the second half of the absorbent mind stage, they then cooperate in these roles.  Boys on the other hand start to form into larger groups by the age of 5 that work out a type of hierarchy.  They learn through these rather active larger groups (unless one continuously stifles these, and then boys learning rates serious decline).  So, it is not entirely true to say they work “independently.”  What the maxim does combat is the idea that we need to get them working together like one would find older kids doing, or even adult doing.  And it also combats the idea that all the children in the room should be doing the same thing together with the teacher teaching them how to do it.  That notion of “working together” which really is working in unison with the teacher is not really working together or independently.  In either case, the maxim of working independently has its severe limits and again, if one uses it as a universal principle, it will fall far short and even blind one to the important social elements of children’s lives at all ages.

The main point here is that even if you are gaining some of the descriptive maxims of how Montessori classrooms are different, as a teacher, you must push beyond these into a deeper understanding of the interior child. This is one of the real elements of “following the child” (which too is a descriptive term and must be put into its proper limits!).  

*By descriptive I mean “appearance” or how things are first known in relationship to us through our senses.  Descriptive knowledge does have truth, but also needs to be limited to the proper “descriptive” realm in which the notion was introduced. In contrast, explanatory terms or notions have moved into the relationships of things as such, and so are not limited by the relationship these have to the observer (though they do have other limits — see Bernard Lonergan’s book Insight: A Study of Human Understanding for a more comprehensive philosophical account of the distinction between the descriptive and explanatory).