Despite the pandemic turning the landscape of school upside down, Tubman’s Montessori hybrid model has proven its ability to fight against learning loss. Tubman’s model is a multi-age Montessori hybrid, meaning that each classroom has two teachers- a math teacher and an ELA teacher – as well as ten kindergarteners, ten first graders, and ten second-graders. The day consists of two, 2-hour blocks of time during where one teacher, “the heads down” teacher is teaching Tier 1 instruction, either Eureka Math or Wit & Wisdom to 10 students on the rug, while the other teacher, the “heads up” teacher facilitates the Montessori works time for the other 20 students not engaged in direct instruction. 

When the scholars are engaged in the Montessori works time, they have their checklist which identifies what works must be completed first for that day. Once this is completed, they can work on other works they want to do. 

“The heads-up teacher knows the standards in all three grades and knows where each scholar is at,” Kawate said. So the teacher can support students as they complete their works and can suggest new works to push them to further mastery of the standards.

In the afternoon the heads-up teacher becomes the head-down teacher and teaches Tier 1 content to groups of students on this rug, while the heads-down teacher from the morning becomes the teacher who matches students to work in the Montessori work time. Due to this model, the co-teachers are very aligned in what work scholars have to do and what they have on their checklist. 

Montessori focuses on building up focus and concentration along with a love of learning that comes from having ownership of what you want to do. That aspect of Montessori has been helpful at Tubman since the scholars are taught a lesson and then get to practice those concepts and build on them during their work block time.

The class sizes when the students are in direct instruction are also at a 1:10 ratio, rather than 1:30, so the teachers know precisely who the scholars are and can pinpoint their misconceptions and then tweak them in the moment, Kawate added. 

When it came to virtual learning last year due to COVID, the Tubman teachers realized it was not the most effective teaching method for this age level of the scholars. 

“One part of being an educator of little kids is being able to see their work in front of them, and you can help problem-solve with them and teach them the concepts,” Kawate said. “Whether with manipulatives or writing a sentence, teaching and learning over the computer is very challenging.” 

As soon as the campus could open its doors last year, they did. The staff worked to adhere to COVID protocols while trying to get as many scholars to the building as possible. This year Tubman hit the ground running and did not use COVID or the pandemic as an excuse for learning gaps. 

“We came into this year with the mindset that our kids don’t have a Plan B, they only have a Plan A, and we are going to teach them to the best of our abilities,” Kawate said. “We are doing everything we can and using our data to drive our instruction.” 

At Tubman, one of the best things about the hybrid model is the multi-age instruction. Since current second-graders were in kindergarten when COVID hit, they can do practice work from previous grade levels during works time if foundational skills need further development. 

“My teachers are experts in three content grades, so if you come in at a different level, they know exactly how to build you up and what you need,” Kawate said. Additionally, teachers do not need to go looking for additional practice materials since everything they need is already in the classroom on the shelf as work.

Tubman prioritizes another aspect of Montessori education, the prepared environment, which means that all environments must be conducive to learning. For example, Tubman has deliberately designed a 7-acre outdoor play space that the students go to every morning for an hour after breakfast. 

The scholars choose what they want from a variety of activities such as art, the mud kitchen, P.E, going down the slide, gardening, riding bikes, or relaxing their bodies in a pod (a swinging structure that hangs from a tree). Play is important because it gives students autonomy and exposure to different types of enrichment. Other activities include yoga, puppets, science projects, and more. 

“This structure of free play allows the scholars to have ownership of what they want to do that day and what they want to learn,” Kawate said. “It also invests them in play and in being present,” which is a core Montessori concept. 

The enrichment teachers do not just run the play yard; everyone goes out to the area and owns a piece of it. 

“We look at the play yard as part of the learning process; all of us are invested in that time period being productive for students,” Kawate said. For example, Tubman’s speech pathologist loves gardening and runs that area, while the Facilities Manager is in charge of the Lego Land.

Play is not secondary but foundational to the scholars’ day. 

According to Kawate, “Once you have an amazing start to the day through play, then you have an amazing day.”