I felt the same way when became a Montessori lead teacher in my first Montessori classroom. I understood the philosophy behind normalization and deviations, but how would I put it to practical use when the time came to approach a child who was misbehaving. What would I do? What would I say? I cannot stress enough the importance of observing veteran Montessori teachers. Even today, I am in awe of those gracious and courteous mentors. In their Montessori classrooms I could experience a place where every child was actively engaged and working and not a soul spoke above a hushed whisper. There was a sense of peace and harmony and I felt that I could dwell there forever. These are the Montessori teachers I sought out to be my mentors. These were my role models and I frequently found myself asking them for practical advice when it came to redirecting student behavior.
Redirecting student behavior in a Montessori classroom relates to how a Montessori teacher interacts with a child when she is misbehaving. Because of the importance placed on the well-prepared environment and well-prepared teachers, there should be relatively little misbehavior when the teacher is experienced and the children are normalized.
Gluing and Redirecting Behavior in the Montessori Classroom: Working Towards Normalization
Children often enter the Montessori environment ready to struggle or "fight". In the Discovery of the Child, Dr. Montessori states "…every defect of character is due to some wrong treatment sustained by the child during his early years". It is the duty of the Montessori teacher to remove any obstacles (including herself) which impede the development of the child. With careful observations, "earnest words", spontaneous work, commitment to the Montessori philosophy and principles, the Montessori teacher is able to successfully redirect and refocus student behavior.
Let us consider the following scenario. Miss Jen has observed that this week during circle time, Jonathan wanders around, interrupting presentations and disturbing others during work time. Today, he interrupted a Montessori lesson on the pink tower. Miss Jen knows that Dr. Montessori stated that "if he shows a tendency to misbehave, she will check him with earnest words…" and she quietly, but firmly uses her words to convey that he may not interrupt her presentations. "Excuse me, Jonathan, you may not interrupt our lesson. You may work with these materials later, when we are finished with them."
Later, after finishing her presentation, Miss Jen sees Jonathan disturbing another child who is trying to arrange flowers in the practical life area. Often times, a quiet, gentle reminder inviting a child to find appropriate work is all that is required. "Jonathan, I noticed you were working on sharpening pencils earlier. Would you like to show me that work? By redirecting him to find work, the teacher is refocusing him on his true purpose. Dr. Montessori said "Discipline is therefore attained indirectly, that is, by developing activity in spontaneous work." (Discovery of the Child) As children concentrate on their work, their need to misbehave decreases as they move toward normalization.
With some children, especially those new to the Montessori classroom and are still in the first stage of normalization, a simple request to find appropriate work may not be enough. In this case, the Montessori teacher employs another strategy called gluing, whereby the teacher keeps a child close to her before inviting the child to find an appropriate work. If, after having shown Miss Jen how to sharpen pencils, Jonathan is still wandering aimlessly around the Montessori classroom, she may quietly ask him to join her for a brief while. "Jonathan, I noticed you are having difficulty settling down this morning. Please come join Samantha and me while I give this lesson. Afterward, you and I will find some work for you to do." Notice that Miss Jen has told Jonathan that she will decide when it's time for Jonathan to leave her side.
Learning to redirect behavior takes time and practice; it does not happen overnight. Dr. Montessori observed that "The teacher…has many difficult functions…She must acquire a precise knowledge of the techniques…for dealing with the child." (Discovery of the Child) There may be a period of trial and error as you practice different techniques for guiding appropriate behavior. Remember, the children need emotional care as well as physical care. The teacher who is patient yet firm and slow to anger will inspire goodness and confidence in the children.
…defects in character, disappear of themselves…One does not need to threaten or cajole, but only to 'normalizing the conditions' under which the child lives." (Maria Montessori, Discovery of the Child)
Read more on this series:
- Montessori Philosophy: Understanding Normalization and the Montessori Classroom
- Why Aren't My Students Normalized? Deviations in the Normalization Process