A key technique that Montessorians utilize to present information to students is called the Three Period Lesson.
The First Period: An Introduction
During the first period, the guide presents a new skill, idea, or story to a student. Depending on the developmental needs of the student this presentation may be short and precise: “This is blue.” It may be a naming period where vocabulary is introduced. For older students the first period may be the sharing of an impressionistic story such as The Story of the Universe, where just enough information is conveyed to inspire wonder and awe, and the story itself becomes the springboard for further exploration. This first period is presented in such a way that the students leave curious, excited, and motivated to engage with the work.
The Second Period: Thorough Investigation
The length of time a student spends manipulating, exploring, questioning, and repeating newly presented lessons is not determined by the guide, but rather by the interest and drive of the student. This period of deep engagement is known as the second period of the lesson. It is the longest and most important part of any lesson. Students are not rushed to complete a task or to prove they have mastered a new skill. Instead, students are encouraged to become thoroughly immersed in their work. For younger students, this usually involves repetition until new skills and concepts are internalized. A student may sort, match, name, and paint with all shades of “blue.” Older students may choose to explore the three states of matter, gravity, the composition of the earth, or formation of mountains after hearing The Story of the Universe. When students freely choose topics that interest them, motivation comes from within and kindles their natural desire to learn. They are learning for learning’s sake, and their drive is ignited.
Third Period: Demonstration of Knowledge
So, how do we know when the students know? Third period activity is unmistakable with young students. They show us they know by spontaneously teaching their peers! Newly acquired skills are applied directly in daily activity, whether it is to identify the color blue or by helping a classmate put on her jacket. For older students the third period is manifest in myriad ways. Students know when they are ready to present their work. They have spent time revising and practicing, speaking clearly, making eye contact, fielding questions from an audience, and graciously receiving feedback. They have become “experts” in their topic. Presentations may include a skit, a song or poem, a video, or a model built to scale.
Regardless of the content being introduced, the framework of the Three Period Lesson supports on-going work for individuals and groups of students as they move from observation to active manipulation and application, and finally to deep understanding and mastery.
“Education is not what the teacher gives; education is a natural process spontaneously carried out by the human individual, and is acquired not by listening to words but by experiences upon the environment.”
Learn more about the Maryland Center for Montessori Studies.