Remembering Joy Starry Turner

By Chattin-McNichols, John | Montessori Life, Fall 2005 | Go to article overview

Remembering Joy Starry Turner

Chattin-McNichols, John, Montessori Life

Joy Turner was a tireless, intelligent supporter of Montessori and the American Montessori Society, and I hope that this short appreciation will help people to understand just a few of her many contributions.

Her school, Greenhouse Montessori, in Garden Grove, CA, grew to serve elementary ages, and includes three schools and an AMS-affiliated teacher education program.

On more than one occasion, I was one of the evaluators of her teacher education program, and always found Montessori Western TTP to be ahead of other programs (including my own) in one or more areas. Joy was one of those people who combined a very strong knowledge of Montessori's ideas with a conviction that others in addition to Montessori have something worthwhile to add to our understanding of children. She was an early champion of making our teacher education programs less medievall and more in line with what is known about the best in adult education.

I recall an exercise she inserted into the classroom management curriculum. This involved the students choosing a slip of paper on which a potential classroom problem was described. Students would assume the roles of student and teacher. This may sound like standard fare-perhaps teachers reading this did the same thing during their teacher education program. But Joy was the innovator here, always looking for ways to move beyond one more lecture, and patiently bringing the rest of us along.

Joy was also, of course, an excellent author. I consider her "How Do You Teach Reading?" to be a Montessori classic that every teacher should read.

In a series of Teacher Education Committee meetings that took place years ago, Peggy Loeffler and Joy decided that the elementary model in use in the United States was an almost completely unexamined copy of the model taught by AMI courses, especially the Bergamo course (in northern Italy). Joy asked the obvious question: "Are there any parts of this curriculum or instructional methods which should be modified for contemporary American children?" Obviously, yes, since this curriculum and instructional model was a mix of Montessori ideas and then-current European (especially Italian) ideas and content. But no one had had the nerve to ask it but Joy! Peggy and Joy formed an Elementary Study Group and asked each of us to prepare a comprehensive summary of an area of child development for presentation at the next meeting.

After summarizing all human knowledge of child development, we would then review each area of the curriculum (and associated instructional ideas) in light of each of the child development reviews. Imagine taking a particular sequence-beginning reading with phonetic letters, the introduction to subtraction, the fundamental needs of people-and examining it in detail in the light of cognitive, personality, social/emotional, and physical/perceptual developmental knowledge. What should change? And how could we get this across in educating new Montessori elementary teachers?

As I recall, these meetings took place before, after, and during the breaks of the regular TEC sessions-accreditation, standards committees, and so on. We would work until 11 p.m. or later. And, at breakfast, Joy would hand us all typed summaries of what we had said the day before! The meetings opened up a then-untouchable subject to get the best thinking on this very real question. When you take advantage of curriculum developments, from the Five Kingdom work, to better physical sciences, to cooperative learning, to some degree you are sharing in Joy's work. These encounters were the best consistent source of real professional development I have had, then or since: a true peer group, interested only in ideas, not egos.

I could share more reminiscences about Joy, but I want to focus on two things which I think are her most important and enduring contributions, both of which are central to AMS as it is now, but are also contributions to the whole Montessori movement. …

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