Thursday, December 1, 2011

The Three-Period Lesson (from a third set of eyes!)

This semester, I have had the privilege of having an intern from the University of Maine join us for three days each week in the classroom - hence "the third set of eyes" after mine and my assistant's... :)  One basic tenant of the Montessori method of education which I wanted to impress upon her is the significance of the 'Three-Period Lesson.'  While there are many resources available on the web and in the blogosphere, the following contribution written by my intern, clearly illustrates the components of this hallmark of Montessori education.  I think it is a valuable post not only because it allowed her understand one fundamental aspect of Montessori theory, but it also serves as a guide to the parents of my students as they learn more about their children's experiences in our school.

The Importance of the Montessori Three Period Lesson
and Its Connection to Scaffolding

The three period lesson is used to introduce new concepts and valuable lessons in the Montessori classroom. This method fosters the child’s understanding and in turn mastery of a skill.  Additionally, it broadens a child’s vocabulary and enriches their experiences with language. 

During a three period lesson it is important to keep things simple and focused. The Montessori teacher begins the lesson by presenting the child with three contrasting objects and isolating them one at a time on a table or mat. The first period is the naming period when a teacher may say, “This is the ___.” The teacher repeats herself; to be sure the child is following, with clear slow speech.

The second period allows for recognition and association.  Here the teacher rearranges the objects and asks the child, “ Please show me the _____.” or, “Can you place the ______ in my hand?”  The objects can be rearranged several times providing the child with increased kinesthetic memory and ample opportunity to recognize the items. In turn, this increases the level of fun and creativity.  It is a well-known fact that children learn through play and here, by increasing the level of fun, we increase opportunities for learning.
Photo from North American Montessori Center.
The third period demonstrates recall.  At this point the objects in the lesson are placed in front of the child and the teacher points to the first one and asks, “What is this?”  This is the testing period.  A teacher will only proceed to this stage if, through careful observation she is confident that the child will have success with recall.  If a teacher finds that the child does not have recall, simply providing the name for item and ending the lesson will wrap up the work.

The three period lesson is an effective teaching strategy that maintains a developmentally appropriate approach. The uniqueness of the three period lesson is in its connection to scaffolding.  Scaffolding is a process of providing and then removing external support.  The original task is not changed; rather how the child participates in the task is made easier with assistance. As children take more responsibility for pursuing an objective, assistance is gradually withdrawn.  In early childhood education, we use scaffolding techniques on a consistent basis to challenge children in performing tasks slightly beyond what they can easily do on their own.  A Montessori teacher is constantly observing her students to gauge the amount of support and challenge that is necessary to allow for optimal growth.  By slowly decreasing support for the child, a teacher allocates for their autonomy.  The Montessori classroom promotes children's learning through independence, thereby validating the importance of the three period lesson and its impact in the Montessori method of education.

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