Monday, March 16, 2009

Wave and Shout

Tell me a story.

My father used to read us stories at bed time. And when Kathy and I had children, I read to them from the time they were born. Really. I remember singing the newspaper aloud to my older son, Jacob, when I was changing his diaper. And Mother Goose. I loved reading and singing Mother Goose to both boys. And the Oxford Book of Verse.

When I taught elementary students, I read to my classses every day. I read the Illiad and the Odyssey; The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe; Gilgamesh; Wild Animals I Have Known; The Snow Goose; Little House on the Prarie; The Boyhood of Abraham Lincoln; Alice in Wonderland; The First Family; The Phantom Toolbooth; Charlotte's Web; and Old Yeller. Kids love hearing stories.

So do adults. Adults listen to stories and we make stories. We make stories to make sense of our experiences and of the world. Isolated facts slip away. Narrative helps us to remember, and to understand.

Story telling is the best way to present ideas and to sell ideas. We in Montessori education have not been very good at that. We lecture. We write abstract, academic prose. We speak jargon. We are the opposite of Montessori education.


We are the opposite of Montessori education.

Dr. Montessori understood how to make learning memorable, how to appeal to the learner, how to make it "sticky". For the young child, that meant tactile. "Never give more to the mind than you give to the hand."

For the elementary child, she expanded communication tools to include story telling, which often employed posters and charts: visual icons to encapsulate the story in a single image. The other day three 8-year olds brought me a picture of the little factory that exists within every green leaf -- a metaphorical representation of photosynthesis: the leaf factory. They told me the story of combining water from the ground, and carbon dioxide from the air, and then baking the mix like bread in a solar powered oven to produce food for the plant. And of releasing oxygen as a by-product--and how that helps us humans because we need to breathe oxygen. And of how we help the plants when we breathe out carbon dioxide. What a wonderful partnership, they said.

We Montessori people need to learn how to tell our story. It is frustrating to read lists of proposed educational reforms that unknowingly describe Montessori principles. We wave our arms and shout: "CAN YOU HEAR ME NOW?"

We need to get better at telling our story.


  1. John,

    I found your blog through the Montessori Administrator's GoogleGroup...and was pleasantly surprised to see that you have already discovered mine!

    I am so glad that you wrote this post...I have long felt that we Montessorians need to get better at telling "our story". I read Malcom Gladwell's "The Tipping Point" a while back, on the recommendation of a friend of mine, and felt an instant moment of recognition: we Montessorians know how amazing Montessori is, but we're awful at marketing!

    I'll be eager to read more posts...

    All the best,
    Lena Wood
    Portland, OR

  2. Lena,
    Boy was I slow in responding to your comment. Thanks for writing--and reading. I've been enjoying tracking your blog as well.

    You say, "we're awful at marketing". When most Montessori educators hear that term, I think they imagine highway billboards with about the same degree of warm fuzziness. In fact, marketing is talking about our work. Talking about it in ways that draw in parents and help them to see in new ways.