The ‘Going Out’ programme

By Tania Gaffney  – Deputy Principal Primary

From about 6 or 7 years ākonga (students) are developing their reasoning minds and continuing to build on their independence that began in preschool.  As teachers, we guide them towards becoming independent and an integral part of society.  It is during this time that ākonga begin stepping out further into the world to figure out how it works and where they fit in, by physically interacting with it.

‘The Going Out Programme’ was developed to help with this and involves a small group of ākonga, who arrange to go somewhere, usually for one of three main reasons – to get supplies for class or school, to look further into an interest or to do some sort of community service.

The point of ‘going out’ is not the end product, i.e. of getting the ingredients; rather it is the journey along the way.  When adults run errands, much of the planning is instinctual, based on years of experience and done on the fly.  An equivalent comparison for us might be going to visit a new country, where we don’t speak the language.

There is scaffolding from adults around the planning side of these ākonga trips – all planning is looked over by teachers before ākonga leave school – resulting in them being abler to arrange things for themselves as they get older.

When planning for a ‘going out’ there are many things to think about before ākonga even step out the door – where to go, how to get there, what to take, arranging an adult, sorting money and a timeframe, practicing and then making phone calls, writing up what could go wrong, how to prevent it happening and what to do if it still does! Finally, everything needs to be signed off. And only after all that comes the outing.J

To get on their way ākonga now need to make sure they have everything – money,
first aid kit, maps, lunch, correct clothes and shoes and their adult. They must sign out of the office in good time to perhaps catch a bus, get their tasks done and return to school in the time that they said.

Accompanying ākonga on these trips is part of the teacher assistant’s job in the 6-9 programme, but in the 9-12 classes we are reliant on the good will of our parents to help us out.  The adult’s role as a safety net is an important one.  They are a shadow, walking a number of paces behind and not interacting, but allowing the ākonga to operate independently of them.  I have been on a few of these and have had to train myself to step back, don’t help, don’t ask or answer questions.  It can be a bit of a challenge sometimes, but oh so rewarding to watch and be a part of.

So I am calling for whānau in any part of the school, who have some time during the school day and are happy to add their name to a list of potential accompaniers.  There will be a training hour at 8.50am-ish on Monday 20th August or Tuesday 21st August at 7pm in the new staff room.

Even if you’re not sure, come and hear more and see if it might be something you could do.  By the way you don’t need to say yes when asked to join a ‘going out’, as it is part of the journey for ākonga to find someone who is available.

Choice Leads to Success as Life Long Learners

By Rose Langridge  – Senior Social Studies, History and English Teacher;- High School

Imagine that it is a hot day. The heat is rising up off the pavement, your clothes are stuck to you and all you want is ice cream. Luckily, there is a dairy ahead. You walk in and go to order but there is only one flavour on offer; the one that you don’t really like at all (for me that is rum and raisin) but you have to have ice cream so you take it. Your choice has been taken away and I am certain that you would not be happy about it.

As adults we are constantly making choices but most importantly we have the option to make these choices. We even can complain about all these decisions.

I would like you to spare a thought for those who cannot make these choices. Think of students engaging with school content. I remember being told as a class we were all learning the same thing and we were all being assessed on the same thing in the same way.

I am so very glad that our classes look nothing like the ones I had at school. The focus is on agency. In senior humanities the class makes choices about the topics that they look at and where there is the room, they have varying ways of showcasing their learning.

There is movement as the year continues, if a topic of interest comes up then we can learn about this.

The level two class has deadpan discussions about the earth being flat and how no one has landed on the moon. What this has ended up looking like is that I have ordered at tee-shirt that says “stand up for science” and the focus next term will be conspiracy theories.

Every single day at Wā Ora, ākonga make choices about their learning, be it what materials to work with in preschool, what big stories to listen to and lessons to attend in primary through to what topics to engage with at a deeper level in the high school.

Because our students are taking responsibility for their learning, they are evolving the skills to learn independently. This means that they are developing true agency and taking ownership of their learning journey.

In Montessori high schools the staff are referred to as guides, which I think is very telling. It is no surprise whatsoever that all the current research shows that agency and achievement go hand and hand.

I would like to quote Philip Bell, one of the school alumni, from his leaver’s speech last year. “At Wā Ora they do not teach us; they show us how to learn”. It is something that has stuck with me and something I try to take into the classroom every day. I love learning with and about my class and am so very happy to guide them on their journey towards being lifelong learners.

Science at Wā Ora – Primary Learning Supports NCEA Success

By Stuart Mason – Chemistry Teacher, High School

I have already mentioned in this space how easy it is to become trapped in one’s own high school silo and not realise the great things going on not far away. Through recent conversations with my colleagues in the primary school, I have been prompted to think more about the experiences of our students in the sciences in the primary school and high school at Wā Ora.

Working as we do under Maria Montessori’s guidance, one might expect that learning in science had been very deeply considered and that is indeed the case. In other primary schools the quality of the science learning experience for young people can be determined by whether there is a teacher present in the school, who feels confident about teaching science. There is nothing haphazard about the strategy for a Montessori student’s science learning from 6-12 years. They are offered the entire universe as their domain of exploration, then provided with materials that deal with everything from atomic structure, properties of materials and hands-on chemical experiments to key developmental concepts in biology, geology, astronomy and more.

But then, about that bomb-proof age of 12, bodies and minds start to change radically. Suddenly things aren’t so certain. The learning domain is no longer the universe, but the world of social discovery. A key Montessori concept now is the ‘hands in the soil’ experience of the history of human cooperation. Other schools have tended to call this social learning the ‘hidden curriculum’ and in the worst examples, it is side-lined or suppressed. But actually it is the day job of the adolescent. So, what science learning is appropriate? In the Kawakawa class, ‘occupations’ is the name of an activity in which students work on projects with a community orientation and learn the scientific knowledge they need to complete the project ‘knowledgeably’. This is just-in-time learning, not just-in-case learning. Richard has worked with the occupations teachers in the past year to add some science experiences that cover aspects of the curriculum that don’t arise quite so automatically in occupations. In Kawakawa the net effect is students with real, practical experience of science-related community activities.

At 15 years, the focus shifts again in preparation for ‘social life’, the adult world. This will include formal academic learning and assessments that might open doors into that world. And so the much-anticipated NCEA appears over the horizon. Are our students well-prepared by their past science experiences? Consensus amongst the Tāwari science teachers has been ‘yes’. All the absorbed experiences of the young mind, that well thought-out plan from the Second Plane, the practical experiences of Kawakawa upon which formal learning can be based and what I am convinced is the encouragement of natural curiosity that happens right from the start in families that choose Montessori education for their children, all work together. The result is, our NCEA students are succeeding in the sciences and our graduates are too.

Freedom and Responsibility

By Sharon Udy – Tōtara Teacher – Primary

I have heard two criticisms of the Montessori philosophy from people who have only a fleeting glimpse of it in action (or have never seen it at all!). The first is “it’s too structured – there’s no creativity” and the other is “there’s not enough structure – the children do whatever they want!” Obviously, both of these cannot be true.

Within each akomanga (classroom), the kaiārahi (guide or teacher) is constantly striving for a balance between freedom and responsibility. Doctor Maria Montessori wrote that, “Young people must have enough freedom to allow them to act on individual initiative. But in order that individual action should be free and useful at the same time it must be restricted with certain limits and rules that give the necessary guidance”.
Montessori, M. (1994). From Childhood To Adolescence, Oxford: Clio Press, p.73.

Real freedom, in the Montessori context, comes from within the child. It manifests through engaging with the environment and from concentrating deeply on self-chosen work. When a child is following her or his passion and is able to work without interruption, the child develops great self-discipline. Maria Montessori used the term ‘normalisation’ to describe this transformation based on intense concentration.

As kaiārahi, or guides, we are responsible for helping all of our tamariki to make wise choices. We give Grace and Courtesy lessons to establish the limits within our community and have conversations with individuals and groups about making choices for the common good – not just for ourselves. As an example of this, tamariki in the Montessori environment do not have assigned seats. Rather, they choose each day – sometimes several times a day –  where they would like to sit and work. This encompasses many freedoms: to sit where they would like – at a table or at a mat on the floor; to choose with whom they sit or whether they will sit alone. Along with this comes several responsibilities: to sit at an appropriate place (eg. enough space for the materials he/she chooses); if working with others, to choose those who will not distract her/him; to ensure he/she does not distract others.

As our tamariki become older and move through the different levels of our kura (school), they experience more freedom and more responsibility. Just like the materials provided for them, the expectations placed upon tamariki are different according to the characteristics and the needs of their particular stage of development.

As mātua me kaitiaki (parents and caregivers) we must also consider what freedoms and responsibilities our tamariki are ready for. At home, just as at kura, some tamariki will be ready for more freedom and more responsibility at an earlier age than others. For this delicate balancing act, Dr Montessori offered the following advice: “To let the child ‘do as he likes,’ when he has not yet developed any powers of control, is to betray the idea of freedom.” Montessori, M. (1964) The Absorbent Mind. Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Press, p. 205.

Multi-age Groupings

By Jackie Kirk – Kauri Teacher – Primary

Montessori environments are prepared for multi-age groupings of children. These groupings encourage children to aspire to the achievements of older peers. New (younger) students enter an established and mature environment with effective models of both work and social interaction and in turn, the older children learn to treat younger ones with care and respect, providing them with opportunities to reinforce their own learning and understanding through ‘peer teaching’. Children are also able to work through the curriculum at their own pace without being limited to one year of the curriculum only.

At Wā Ora Montessori all our environments are prepared for multi-age groupings – playgroup (for children from 0 to 3 years), preschool (for children from 3 to 6 years), primary school (classrooms for children aged from 6 to 9 years and for children aged 9 to 12 years) and secondary school (a learning environment for students aged 12 to 15 and one for students aged 15 to 18 years).

The advantages of multi-age grouping include the following:

– the opportunity to experience three roles i.e. being the youngest, in the middle and the oldest and the time to develop appropriate behaviours for all three roles.

– experiences that stimulate a sense of caring and responsibility for others and the continuation from year to year of the culture of the class as a caring community.

– experience of social cohesion and a sense of place gained from being in the same environment for three years.

– exposure to a diversity of talents, aptitudes and interests and a wide curriculum beyond a single year.

– participation in peer teaching.

– experience of appropriate behaviour and teaching and learning modelled from a broad age range of their peers.

– development of self-esteem and a greater understanding of community responsibility from roles as leaders in the group.

– groupings of similar interests and learning needs from across the age groups working together at their own pace.

– experience of stability and social cohesion with the same teacher within a stable community for three years.

– the teacher is able to build a solid relationship with each new student.

– individual learning is more effectively supported because there is more opportunity for teachers to know the students well.

If you get the opportunity to observe in a Montessori environment, then consider the essential element of multi-age grouping and see for yourself how it works and allows children to develop socially, emotionally and intellectually at their individual pace.