Grace and Courtesy in the High School

By Stuart Mason – High School

Grace and Courtesy is the theme at the Parent Education Evening this week.  In the high school this term is most often applied to seminar discussions.  Students prepare for weekly seminars by reading an article on a current issue and then participating in a 45 minute round-circle discussion in groups of 10 to 15 students.

Seminar begins with the chairperson – a teacher or in the 15-18 years programme, a student volunteer – inviting questions about the text from the group. Questions can be categorised as factual (seeking to clarify facts or definitions of terms), interpretive (arousing interest and seeking meaning) and evaluative (encouraging expression of opinions). The questions asked and the main points made by participants are recorded and a five-minute review back to the group at the end is provided.

From David Kahn of NAMTA (North American Montessori Teachers Association) we have the following list of ten Grace and Courtesy Rules for Seminar:

  • Wait until a person finishes speaking before responding or starting another comment.
  • Do not continue talking for a long period of time. Make your response clear but concise, so others can speak.
  • Make sure you finish your comment clearly so no one is left guessing whether or not you are finished.
  • No one may monopolize the discussion.
  • Politely request for others to have a turn or for a new question to be asked when the discussion seems to narrow to a few participants.
  • Make eye contact with the person who is speaking.
  • Watch the body language of others to recognize when they wish to speak.
  • Advocate for people who have been trying to speak but have not gotten the chance.
  • Call people by their names.
  • Agree or disagree with ideas ­ not with people.

On the subject of rules, Maria Montessori wrote (Childhood to Adolescence) “… in order that individual action should be free and useful at the same time it must be restricted within certain limits and rules that  give  the necessary guidance … The rules must be just those that are necessary and sufficient to maintain order and  ensure progress.”

The rules above obviously contribute to order and also ensure progress by providing the safe place students need to practice reading body language and communicate freely face-to-face.  It is an opportunity to practice expressing ideas out loud without preparation and to share ideas about justice and morality that are important for students of this age.  As with everything in the high school, seminar provides a chance to try on the adult world.