Donnerstag, 24. Mai 2012


Two weeks ago, we had the opportunity to visit different schools with progressive teaching emphasis. A few other colleagues and I got to go to a school, where they basically just started with Montessori-teaching methods. Their first two grades were the first to implement it. So the last two grades, the thirteen and fourteen-year olds, still had regular classes.
At first, we didn’t really know what to expect from this whole experience, but thankfully the first part of our visit included a basic theoretical overview about their beliefs, Montessori specifically, and some general information about the school. Their principal gave us a pretty good look at their Montessori system and proposed that we can look around in all the four classrooms, where they have these kind of lessons.
The first teacher we met was a real veteran. She probably was first one of their teachers, who has gotten an actual Montessori qualification (the other teachers only attended a few mandatory weekend seminars before the school switched).
Their ‘lesson plan’ is divided into two main parts. First of all, they have ‘language-days’, where, obviously, the content focuses on either german or english. The other part is referred to as ‘cosmic days’, which is basically a mixture between history, biology, physics and so on.
In principle, it all sounds pretty interesting, especially because the kids weren’t forced to actually do everything at the same time. At the beginning of a specific time period, they all got their plans and in the next few weeks they could work through all the stuff on their own pace.

But now to a few points that I observed. These points all refer to what we heard at the beginning form their principal. They all are in some way, a focal point for them in their teachings.
- Kids helping other kids
Due to the fact that the kids can work on their own pace, there are some kids who finish exercises earlier than others, and in this case, it’s great that they put a focus on kids helping other kids finish their tasks.
But: One of their teachers was really annoyed by kids quietly talking to each other. And they talked REALLY quietly, but she just kept interrupting them, even tough it was obvious that one was trying to explain something to the other kid.

- Kids have their own pace
Everybody in the class gets a list with tasks they have to accomplish. The good thing is, they can start with whatever they want, do whichever task they like second and so on. It’s great for the kids, because they don’t get forced into doing things in a specific order.
But: it seemed like just in a regular class, you can’t finish your stuff whenever you want to, for every list there is a specific time frame it has to be completed in. So this way, it still puts pressure on every kind of learner to finish in (at the same) time.

- No more teacher centered teaching
The key thing to their philosophy is that the kids do the learning on their own, meaning there are no more lectures from the teacher. The kids have to acquire everything on their own regarding any topic (Of course there’s enough material for them to go through, which the teacher provides)
But: The first class we went to, had a mathmatics lesson. And as soon as the lesson started, their teacher told us that they can’t teach mathematics with Montessori methods, because they won’t work with this class, so they’re teaching them the ‘classic-way’.

- Disciplinary measures
In the introduction the principal told us that their kids really like to be in school, because their focus is on the kids doing what they want to do.
But: These three hours we were in this school and the classes, it almost seemed like there are less disciplinary problems in a regular school, maybe because a regular has some kind of restrictions?

- Interdisciplinary teaching is the key
The material for all the subjects is mixed. Not only for the ‘cosmic days’, but also for the languages days. For example there will be an english story about frogs, and during the cosmic days, the kids will be able to research, what kind of different frogs there are in Austria, how they live, how they look and so on.
But: do they really get everything covered. At the early stages you definitely get the feeling that a lot of things get left out, but when you think about it, there can be the same approach in a regular school, the only difference is that there is a flow to the things you do, because you follow the tasks given by the teacher and you are depending on the lesson more.

- 100% open learning and individualized learning
To be fair, it’s not entirely open and individualized learning, there are times after learning phases, where the kids get to present and talk about the things they did and liked.
But: When I think about 'regular schools', in one week, it contains presentations, group work, working in pairs, individualized learning, open learning phases and also teacher centered presentations and so on. So there can be methodological diversity, which can’t really be reached with the Montessori methods.

- Transition into higher school and education
It would be really interesting to see how these kids, who get to go trough a Montessori school, fare in a regular school, or when they start their apprenticeship.

So, after the visit some questions remained, but I certainly want to see more of Montessori teaching methods, especially in schools, where it’s also the standard method and has been used a few years already. Especially because for me, in teaching, it’s the same as in coaching, you have to see all kind of different methods and pick the one that fits your style and you think are good. Then you can build on them and form your teaching personality accordingly.

Montag, 14. Mai 2012

finally...the Mahara Tutorial has been released

It was about time. After a roughly three week delay, we were able to launch our Mahara Tutorial. We hit a few bumps on the way, especially time-management and communication-wise, but at the end of the day my colleague and I were able to finish it off properly.
A specific practical-training Manual was already in the 
research plans for the second semester, but after our research regarding the acceptance of Mahara in the first semester, it became clear that a proper tutorial is really much needed.
The tasks for the students teachers evolved with Mahara (we had an older version of Mahara for our first year), including adding specific pages for practical training and personal development, in form of a ‘Gazette’ page, which includes reflections, tasks and also material to share with colleagues.
But since it was something for future student-teacher newcomers, we pretty much started from scratch.
The first chapter includes a basic outline about what it’s all about. Then the first few steps: registration, filling your profile and so on. But since we wanted to focus on the specific practical-training approach, the next chapter was already about how-to create a page and how-to upload files into it. One chapter gives a quick overview about the group-option, which is pretty basic, since most of the students are familiar with forums and how to communicate with their help.
The new part, even for us, was the Gazette page. This page defines the collaboration part of our e-Portfolios. Basically it includes three blogs: useful material, thought a day and link a day. For one, it is about sharing your thoughts about practical training, and also sharing useful links and material with your colleagues. The Gazette page also includes milestones, which are also new, where you can track your progress, either regarding your studies or practical training. The last part is reserved for the main tasks from practical training.

So we held the whole thing pretty basic, and as of right now, more and more students are updating their e-Portfolio with the help of our Tutorial.
But the key thing is that the next generations of student-teachers at the Univerity of Education Vienna will be able to get up-to-date smoothly with this Tutorial, right from the start.