I have just spent the day meeting with returning teachers, parents and prospective parents, and generally working to get the school ready for the start of what is sure to be another great year. I have not been at my computer at all today and while myself and my staff have been thanking the universe for the birth of Maria Montessori all day, what a treat it was to open up my ‘inbox’ to see soooooo many messages from parents, montessori school administrators and various publications, all acknowledging Maria Montessori’s birthday. Perhaps all this attention toward Montessori education will help push Montessori into the mainstream and get us all one step closer to world peace!
Below is an article from Tomorrow’s Child magazine.
Montessori in a Nutshell, by Terri Sherrill
“When friends, relatives, co-workers, or neighbors ask us to explain Montessori education, many of us are at a loss for words. This is because the Montessori model is a multi-dimensional, trans-disciplinary approach (which is fitting because life rarely fits into neat disciplinary packages-and becoming a fully functioning and independent adult is an
extremely intricate and complicated process). Nevertheless, we still need to find ways to simplify and demystify our reasons for choosing the Montessori model for our children – and to perhaps to make Montessori more accessible to others.
I recently tackled this problem in a leadership class, when I was instructed to create an “elevator pitch” (a short concrete explanation that is easy to understand and remember — while also being intriguing enough so a person might be interested in learning more). This is what I came up with:
In ALL of education, there are only THREE components- the teacher, the students, and the curriculum (what the student needs to learn). What Dr. Maria Montessori cleverly did was re-arrange those 3 components.
In the traditional model, the teacher takes a group of students in unison through a predetermined curriculum (effectively telling students what to think about, when to think about it, and for how long). The teacher corrects mistakes, and is the gatekeeper of information. In other words, the teacher is in the middle, and they decide how the curriculum will be dispersed out to the students. [Since I tend to talk with my hands, I make a small circle with my fingertips to represent the teacher, then make a larger circle with my arms for the students- and make little tracing movements to show the flow of information.]
But in the Montessori model, students have access to all curricular lessons and learning supplies. There are beautifully designed materials (which match critical windows of human development) arranged around the classroom, placed in a logical order by only one small isolation of difficulty (which allows the student to perceive the “whole” as well as the “sum of its parts”- leading to greater understanding). This also means there are NO GAPS in the curriculum –and no conceptual leaps so large that a child
cannot successfully make connections. [Basically, I just try to describe the Montessori classroom to the best of my ability here-hitting the basics.]
This includes incremental activities that can meet a child interests in many areas(geometry, mathematics, geography, geology, botany, zoology, cultural sciences,language, grammar, art, music…and practical life skills).
Weight, textures, location, and so on, provide important cues for memory storage and retrieval –and implicit procedural knowledge (like common sense, cause and effect, if-then relationships) is inherent in experiential learning (trial and error). Students can work at their own pace (they don’t have to wait to move on, and won’t fall left behind if they need more practice) and may revisit lessons (spacing effect) as needed. Multi-aged groupings encourage peer teaching and a sense of community.
The TEACHER’S ROLE then is to foster skills of self assessment and independence by helping the child discover lessons that match their precise interests and skill level(which changes as the child increases mastery). (In other words, the students are in the middle –and the curriculum is around them. The teacher is then free to move from student to student, giving help as needed.
So…just like when people were able to theoretically switch the sun to the center of our solar system — all of our scientific calculations began to “fall into place” and “make sense” ;similarly, we have found that things work MUCH better when you are using thecorrect model (students remain curious and self-motivated, happy, and so on). In this case, because Maria Montessori was first a medical doctor — the model is aligned with the optimal growth, health, and wellness of the developing human being.
To solve the problems we now face in education, we need to rearrange the THREE components (student, curriculum, teacher). When we do, we have a model that works, because it is consistent with developmental biology.
The answer is right in front of us! (But like many other things in our history, it has just taken us a while to realize it.)