While in Rome, her studies focused mainly on mathematics and engineering, eventually obtaining a degree in engineering. After completing her degree in engineering, her interests changed slightly. She then decided she wanted to study biology and medicine in hopes to become a doctor. However, a woman wanting to attend medical school was to no avail and was considered impossible. Montessori was very persistent and landed herself an interview with the head of the board of education at the university. At this time, Montessori was the first female medical student in Italy (Standing, 1957). In the year 1896, Montessori became the first woman in Italy to receive the degree of Doctor of Medicine. During the same year she began speaking as an advocate for working women, thus becoming very well known throughout Europe and attending conferences in Berlin and later in London. As well as speaking for working women, she also spoke out against the exploitation of child labor. (Standing, 1957). Her clinical observations during her medical practice led her to analyze the child’s learning process. Her days were spent working with the children and her nights were spent evaluating how the children responded to the materials and re adapting them (Standing, 1957). Montessori came to the conclusion that children build themselves based on what they encounter in their environment. Upon returning to the university in 1901, Montessori shifted her focus from the body to the mind to study psychology and philosophy. In 1904, Maria became professor at the University of Rome teaching anthropology.
In 1906, Montessori resigned from both her medical practice and her university chair position to work with a group of children belonging to working parents in San Lorenzo, Rome. What ultimately became the Montessori Method of education developed there in a classroom consisting of sixty children. It was in San Lorenzo, Rome that Montessori founded the first Casa dei Bambini, meaning “Children’s House”. Casa dei Bambini was based on her scientific studies and observations of the children’s ability to soak up an incredible amount of knowledge from their surroundings. The children’s accomplishments were made possible by the resources Montessori provided. Through her research, Montessori found that children became particularly engaged in using educational materials developed by Edward Sequin. So, Montessori carefully observed the children’s use of these manipulative materials and then designed and developed additional materials to further support children’s efforts to learn and develop. Through these observations she learned what children are capable of doing naturally, unassisted by adults. While working at the Casa dei Bambini, Montessori developed the basis of her philosophy of the child. She began to see education as an “aid to life” and saw the child as working to developed him or herself. Montessori’s focus became the learner and she developed a child centered approach to education where the focus was on learning and the learner rather than on teaching and the teacher. The teacher’s job was to help the natural process of development.
As a result of visitors to the Casa Bambini, Montessori schools began to emerge in a number of countries throughout the world. Such places include the United States, England, China and India. Throughout the next forty years, Montessori traveled around the world in an effort to better the education and the rights of children. Montessori traveled all over the world giving presentations until her death in 1952. After she passed away, E.M. Standing, a colleague and friend stated, “her most lasting monument is, and will always be, the serene and joyful atmosphere which emanates from thousands of happy children in every part of the word” (Standing, 1957).
Montessori approached the study of children from a scientific perspective. As a result of her background in biology, mathematics, and a number of observations, Montessori made remarkable discoveries which were often overlooked by others who viewed the subject of children and education differently. The discoveries and realizations lead to the formation of Maria Montessori’s theories and philosophies. She believed that the pressure one faces to grow up as quickly as possible completely ignores the developmental planes in a child’s life. Montessori stated that, “The children should be encouraged to explore and investigate at their own pace” (Standing, 1957). At the heart of the Montessori Method you will find the highly developed theme of respect for the child. In Montessori’s eyes, developing a free and respectful child was the purpose of education. Montessori wanted to develop a child who would enter into society with an open mind and heart. A child that would want to make a difference in their world, and do what they can to change it for the better. Through this vision, Montessori found the only way to raise a child who is respectful to those around them is to provide children with respect.
In the development of the classroom, Montessori began with the psychological environment in an effort to create an atmosphere in which children are looked upon as individuals. In this environment children would be able to construct their own knowledge through discovery and exploration in a positive atmosphere they themselves felt comfortable in. Montessori wanted the children to be able to express their interests freely and have the ability to choose their own activities. She did not to have the entire class be lead through the same activity at the same time. Montessori stated that the classroom need not be an elaborate place. She wanted the classroom based on beauty and simplicity. Everything in the classroom must be carefully and attractively displayed as a well planned exhibit. Montessori wanted the colors to be bright and colorful. She hoped for an environment that was warm, relaxing, and inviting.
Montessori began to redesign the macro environment as soon as she finished the development of the psychological environment. The macro environment included the choice of furniture, placement of materials, height of shelves and other aspects of classroom design. The main aspect of Montessori’s classroom design is that it was designed to suit the child, not the teacher. Montessori believed that the classroom needed to be designed strictly for the children. She wanted the classroom to meet the needs of every child by fostering independence and self-direction. Montessori felt that a traditional classroom only met the needs of the teacher and fostered reliance and dependence. Based on these beliefs, Montessori did away with traditional school desks and brought in child size chairs and tables as well as low shelving accessible for children instead of tall, locked cabinets they were not able to access. “She believed that if children were able to spontaneously choose their own work and return it when they were finished, sense of pride and love of order would develop in them, and their self confidence and independence would be fostered” (Standing, 1957).
The environment of the classroom would not fully be complete without the development of the micro environment. The micro environment consists of the materials used in the classroom. In the creation of the micro environment, Montessori wanted to create materials to attract the child. Each material was designed to serve an educational purpose. Each material is designed to facilitate an aspect of development. Each and every material must be determined in quality and quantity by experimental research. The materials must be designed carefully, and must be designed to lead the child on to the next material. Since all materials in the classroom are designed to serve an educational purpose, the children are free to choose to use any of the materials for which they are ready. The materials are designed so the children learn from working with the materials. Some materials promote development of specific skills while others facilitate the development of important concepts. So, children are encouraged to work with any material for as long as they need.
The teacher’s role is to observe the children, see what they need, provide materials and activities to address those needs, and provide leadership to guide the child’s interactions with the materials and with other children. The teacher, through his or her leadership, needs to guide the children in developing a positive sense of community and make sure that every child learns how to have friends and belong to the group. Adding to Montessori’s theories and philosophy, Montessori also wanted to provide manipulative materials for the children to use. These materials were found during her visits to the asylums and were finally put to good use upon the arrival of the Casa de Bambini. Montessori’s method provides us with information on the ideal classroom. This information includes recommendations for the construction of the environment and the role and expectations of the teacher. Building upon the theme of respect for the child, Montessori developed ideas on what the structure of the environment should be like. Montessori believed that in order to liberate the child, we must reform the environment. “The new school must be absolutely suitable to the minutest detail, to the developing soul” (Chattin-McNichols, 1992).
The materials within the Montessori classroom can be divided into four categories. These categories include daily living exercises, sensorial, academic, as well as cultural and artistic. The child is first introduced to materials used to exercise daily living. Such activities involve simple tasks which the child has already witnessed their parents perform at home. Having witnessed these tasks in their own home, the child has a natural desire to imitate the task. The imitation of this task is based on intellectual knowledge based on previous observations. The activities Montessori introduced to practice daily living exercises include washing the table, shining shoes, sweeping the floor, etc. Such activities promote discipline and confidence. After practical life activities are introduced, the child is then ready to move on to sensorial materials. These materials are used to refine and draw attention to the senses such as tactile, visual, auditory, olfactory, baric, chromatic, thermic, sterognostic and gustatory. The use of these materials will assist the child in the development of categorizing sense perceptions into an inner mental order. The academic materials in the classroom are used to teach math, writing, reading, language, science and geography. The aim for learning this material is to satisfy the child’s innate desire for learning. It is not to store a quantity of knowledge in the child. The cultural and artistic materials used in the classroom deal with the communication of ideas and self-expression. The child will develop a sense of love and appreciation for music. While studying music, the child will learn basic concepts of rhythm, harmony and melody. The introduction to art and drawing is similar to the foundation of writing. Montessori introduced exercises that develop the muscles of the fingers and hands for holding pencils or paintbrushes for making controlled movements. Montessori laid down the foundation for learning through these four categories. From there, the child is free to explore.
Materials in a Montessori classroom tend to be overemphasized in relation to other aspects of the Montessori Method. The purpose of the materials are often confused to the outsider. The aim of the materials within the Montessori classroom is more of an internal approach to assist the child’s self-construction and psychic development. The materials provide the child with stimuli that captures attention and the initiation of concentration. The materials within the classroom must correspond to the child’s inner needs. Children are introduced to a variety of different materials based on age level. While observing and experimenting with the child, the teacher then watches for concentration and repetition of their actions with the materials. This represents whether or not the piece of material met the child’s inner needs or not. It will also represent the growth and intensity of the stimulus represented by the child. As well as the meaningfulness of the materials, there are several other principles that are involved in the determining of the materials in the classroom.
The error that the child will come across while working with the materials must be isolated within a single piece of material. The isolation of this error will help the child perceive the problem and be able to achieve the task immediately. An example of this would be a block tower. The tower of blocks will portray a variation in size from block to block. The child will not be presented with more complex things such as color, noises, designs, etc. Another example of this would be through a block of wood in which the child places cylinders ranging in size in the correct holes. Through control of error, if the child has not placed the cylinders in the correct size hole, there will be one cylinder left over. The child will then be able realize what he/she did wrong and be able to adjust they cylinders to fit in each hole correctly.
The materials in the classroom are designed to progress in design and usage from simple to more complex. An example of this would be a piece of material called Rods. A set of rods are designed to first teach seriation varying in length only. Seriation is the concrete operation that involves ordering stimuli along a quantitative dimension such as length. After the child discovers the length of the rods, a second set is brought in. The second set of rods are red and blue in color. They are one meter in diameter and are used to connect numbers and length. In using these rods, the child will be able to understand simple addition and subtraction equations. After working with the first two set of rods, a third set of rods is introduced. Due to the fact that the initial dependence on motor development and sensorial learning has been passed, the third set of rods are used for a more complicated set of math problems as well as the introduction to writing the numerical problems.
All of the materials Maria Montessori implemented in the classroom are designed to indirectly prepare the child for future learning. An example of indirect learning would be the development of writing. Knobs are placed on materials giving the child the opportunity to coordinate his/her finger and thumb motor action. Another example of indirect learning would be the use of inset designs. Through the use of inset designs, the child will develop the ability to use a pencil by using the insets to guide his/her movements. The child is able to develop muscle memory and the pattern of letters by tracing sandpaper letters. When the day comes that the child is ready to write, the child will feel no pressure or anxiety due to the indirect learning he/she has encountered over the year. Because the child has indirectly been preparing for this step, they have developed a sense of self-confidence and initiate to achieve the task successfully.
The materials used in Montessori classrooms start off as concrete expressions and gradually become abstract representations. Firs the child will sensorially explore a wooden triangle. After the exploration of this triangle, separate wooden triangles are added to represent the base and sides of the triangle. Following the discovery of the base and sides to the triangle, the triangles dimensions are then introduced. The use of these wooden triangles are further represented to introduce different activities such as puzzle trays, triangles colored on paper, triangles outlined with thick heavy lines, as well as the abstraction of triangles thinly outlined. Through these activities, the child will be able to grasp the abstract essence of concrete material.
A number of Montessori’s innovations have been accepted world wide as standards for effective learning. After an extensive amount of research on Montessori’s philosophy and the method that resulted from it, we can see that she created a whole new movement in developmental psychology. These innovations include furniture sized specifically to the children who use it, recognition in every aspect of the effect early childhood has on an individual, and the idea of instruction that is based on every child’s individual needs (Loeffler, 1992). Although Maria Montessori passed away in 1952, her method is still alive and is being practiced by many of her supports. Through her many other supporters, it can be seen that even after her death, Montessori’s passionate spirit has survived. Those who know the method well maintain that Montessori is a hallmark of excellence in education (Loeffler, 1992).
In traditional classrooms the teacher takes the active role where as the child takes the passive role; however, in a Montessori classroom this is not typical. Maria Montessori stressed the importance of children taking an active role in their learning. She did not design the classroom around the teacher, but rather around the learner. Weissglass, (1999) points out a quote from Dr. Montessori, “And so we discovered that education is not something which the teacher does, but that it is a natural process which develops spontaneously in the human being” (Montessori, as cited in Weissglass, 1999, p.1). The children are able to move freely about the classroom, respectfully explore the prepared environment, and use the teacher as a guide. The daily schedule varies in all Montessori classrooms but the goal is to allow the children three hours of uninterrupted time. This time is called free choice, where the children are able to explore their environment, develop at their own pace, and repeat and learn how to use different materials. Williams and Keith (2000) found that children’s choices reveal their needs and while “traditional students learn to be controllable, Montessori students learn to become interdependent and resourceful” (p. 218). The teacher is constantly observing the individual child and noting what material needs to be introduced next. Researchers at Brown University found, “children surely will not develop a sense of ownership and responsibility if other people always decide what they will do and when and how they’ll do it” (Brown University, 1998, p.2). Maria Montessori designed her classroom environment around this assumption, which still holds so much truth today. Montessori children learn to become independent but also get an experience in collaborative work with their peers. In a traditional setting the teacher prepares a curriculum for the class as a whole. This often causes many problems in the classroom because not all children are at the same developmental level nor are they ready for the same information. Some children are more advanced, where others are slightly behind. One set curriculum is rarely appropriate for every child in a single class.
Most traditional schools have one age group for each class. On the contrary, Montessori schools consist of children of various ages in the classroom. Montessori proposed that having a three-year span of age grouping allows the teacher, students, and parents to develop supportive, collaborative, trusting relationships, and help build a community. Research of college nursing students found that peer teaching and learning does increase student’s confidence in practice and also improves learning in the psychomotor and cognitive domains (Secomb, 2008). The children are constantly interacting with each other, which supports their social development. Children are encouraged to teach, collaborate, and help each other. Numerous research studies indicate that people learn better when working collaboratively than when working alone (Azmitia & Crowley, 2001, as cited in Lillard, 2005, p. 210). Research found that Montessori children “exhibited superior social skills and reported an unusually strong sense of community at their school” (Lillard, as cited in Bower, 2006, p. 212) compared to the non-Montessori students. The older children teach the younger children and model proper behavior. The younger children look up to their older peers and strive to follow the rules and belong in the classroom. The younger children are able to see where their education is headed; they see the older children with more challenging materials, and are eager to work up to the next step. Same age or same skill level grouping can often limit the development of a student.
Montessori’s perfectly well-crafted materials allows for each child to work and learn at their own pace. The child’s learning pace is internally determined rather then externally. This means the child determines when they are ready to move on, instead of the teacher. “The National Association for the Education of Young Children recommends that teachers follow the child’s lead in the early childhood environment” Bredekamp & Copple,1997 cited in Heal & Hanely, 2007, p. 260). Heal & Hanely’s (2007) research provided evidence for this claim and found that teachers should follow the child’s lead when designing individualized classroom teaching to create greater motivation for learning within the child.
The materials were designed in an important, sequential order. The materials break activities into a series of organized steps and once a child has mastered one material they will move on to the next. The core curriculum of a Montessori classroom is separated into four main areas, Sensorial, Practical life, Language, and Mathematics. Along with these four areas, there are cultural subjects such as geography, botany, geology, zoology, other sciences, and history. These areas help to develop the whole child, and set them apart from other children.
Maria Montessori was ahead of her time. She designed self-correcting materials for children to use for a hands on approach to learning. “Dr. Montessori believed that deep concentration was essential for helping children develop their best selves, and that deep concentration in children comes about through working with their hands” (Lillard, 2005, p. 20). While designing her materials she wanted the children to be able to complete the task at hand on their own and gain some self-sufficiency and independence. To do this Montessori put the discipline in the materials. There is self-correction in her materials, which means, the child can spot their own error through feedback from the materials. Errors are viewed as part of the learning process rather than mistakes.
These self-correcting materials allow for the children to work on their own and learn from their own mistakes, without being shamed or embarrassed for making an error. “Having children find their own errors through the materials and work to master materials for their own sakes would be expected to lead to a mastery orientation in Montessori children” (Lillard, 2005, p. 278). Montessori isolated a difficulty in each material, meaning that every material has a specific challenge for the child. Each and every material is designed to attract the child, enable the polarization of attention, and motivate spontaneous, self-directed exercises (Montessori, 1964).
The materials are neatly put away on shelves and are ready for the next child to use; this began to be put into practice when Montessori discovered the child’s sensitive period to order. Research has shown that having an ordered environment during this early period in important because the child is in the process of ordering his or her mind as a reflection of the environment (Lillard, 2005). The child may repeat any material as long as they want, for research has proven how important repetition is for children. Repetition helps to refine child’s senses through the exercise of attention, comparison, and judgment (Montessori, 1964). The children use the material until they have perfected it and internalized the feeling of success. Then the child is willing and ready to move on to something that is more challenging making them eager to succeed. “With younger children the greatest reward is to be able to pass on to a new stage in each subject” (Montessori, as cited in Standing, 1957, p. 47).
The prepared environment, the classroom, is an important aspect of the Montessori way. Much different from traditional classrooms, Montessori was the first to fill her class with child size furniture and materials. The artwork and classroom decorations are at eye level for the children instead of the adults. The classroom décor is simple and not too overwhelming, so the children are not distracted away from their learning. Montessori’s choose, “attractive pictures, chosen carefully, representing simple scenes in which children would naturally be interested” (Montessori, 1964, p. 80). She chose the color of some of her materials based on research that both adults and infants are most commonly attracted to red and blue (Lillard, 2005). Maria Montessori was the first teacher to design her classroom for the child. For example, the table and chairs are very different from traditional classrooms. There are individual child size tables and chairs, for when the child would like to work alone with no distractions, but there are also larger tables with many chairs so that children can work together or chat while they work independently. The materials are set out on shelves that are the perfect size for children to easily access. The materials put out are not too big so the children can use them properly. Montessori’s research concluded that young children have a sensitive period for vocabulary, small objects, and order. This being the case, she sought out to find a way to incorporate all of these sensitive periods into her classroom.
Maria Montessori did not believe that testing was the best way to assess a child’s learning. There are no grades, golden stars, or any other way to compare the children. “The prize and punishment are incentives toward unnatural or forced effort, and, therefore we certainly cannot speak of the natural development of the child in connection with them” (Montessori, 1964, p. 21). The teacher in a Montessori classroom observes and assess’ the children individually. The children are never compared to anyone other than themselves. Progress is reported through multiple formats such as, conferences, narrative reports, checklists, and portfolio’s of the children’s work. It was important for Montessori to stress that children are all at different levels and learn at their own pace, so a grading system is only to compare other children which should never be done. “It is the duty of the teacher to help rather than to judge” (Standing, 1957, p. 300). Everyone is unique and has their own strengths and weaknesses, which makes every individual child so special.
A good Montessori teacher is a Saint, a Scientist, and a Servant. A Saint because he/she is graceful, courteous, poised, gentle, and a great role model for the children; a scientist because he/she is constantly making observations of the child’s developmental level, the order of the classroom, and what may need to be added or taken away from the curriculum; and finally, the Servant because he/she carefully prepares the environment of the classroom for her individual children, is constantly changing out materials, and is facilitating and guiding the children through their development.
Another important aspect of the prepared environment is that the children use real materials. An example of this is if the children are learning how to cut, they will use a real knife. Although some may see this as dangerous, the children are shown how to use the material properly and safely. It is more effective for the children to use the real thing and get the real experience. Researchers at Brown University found, “real choices, appropriate to children’s ages, also permit them to experiment, make mistakes and learn in non-threatening situations” (1998, p. 2). Providing children with real experiences helps build up the child’s confidence and self-esteem while learning an important life skill. They realize they can be trusted with these real materials if they can respect and use them properly (Lopata, 2005), which in turn helps boost their self-confidence and self-concept.
Grace, courtesy, and conflict resolution are other important aspects that are integrated into the Montessori curriculum. Teachers set aside special group time, as a neutral moment, to teach the children the importance of manners and problem solving. This helps teach children appropriate social skills at a time when they can truly internalize the information. Typically an educator will try to teach these lessons when something has just happened, making it harder for the child to learn exactly what is being taught because of all the emotions they are feeling. Current research found that, “if schools respect young people’s intelligence and support their ability to think for themselves, then perhaps the social and economic injustices, violence, genocide, and environmental degradation that have been so prevalent in the past century can be reduced — even eliminated” (Weissglass, 1999, p.1). Most schools leave teaching courtesy and grace to the parents but research by Yarrow et. al, found teachers who deliberately teach and model nurturance and helpful behavior increase the likelihood that the students will “express sympathy, recognize others misfortune, and actively attempt to alleviate distress of another” (Simmons & Sands-Dudelczyk, 1983, p. 204). When Montessori teachers reiterate the importance of grace, courtesy, and conflict resolution the children start internalizing the behavior and begin to exhibit socially desired interactions with one another.
Montessori’s main goal is to foster a love of learning in each and every classroom. Allowing children to take an active role in their own learning reinforces their excitement to learn. Getting their hands on the materials and working with each other helps to solidify their experiences and learning, as well as continue to foster their social development. “Here is a form of education which our children need because it enables them to overcome awkwardness and at the same time conquer timidity” (Montessori, as cited in Standing 1957, p.57).
All Montessori schools have their differences so it is important for parents to visit the school and see if it is a good fit for their child. It is also a good idea to bring the child in before, so he or she can see how the classroom works and begin to familiarize themselves with the school, classroom, teachers, peers, and materials. There are many misconceptions about the Montessori education and it is important to explore these misconceptions by asking questions and doing some of your own research. Once all misconceptions have been cleared it is easy to see what an exceptional program Maria Montessori designed for each an every individual child. Lillard points out, “Researchers should take a closer look at the Montessori system as one way to improve education in the United States” (Lillard, as cited in, Bower, 2006, p. 213). In the words of the great educator herself, “It is not really I who propagate my method. It is true I give lectures and write; but it is the children themselves who finally make people really believe in it” (Montessori, as cited in Standing, 1957, p. 74).
Both predictability and order lead to more positive outcomes for children. Studies show that children in orderly and predictable homes perform better on cognitive tests (Lillard, 2005). Unorganized homes can lead to negative outcomes, such as: poorer cognitive competence, difficult temperaments, lower motivation to achieve mastery, and less adequate language. Studies suggest that when people are continually in crowded environments, they experience many negative outcomes (Lillard, 2005). Crowded environments can lead to poor physical and mental health, poor academic achievement, less task persistence, and learned helplessness. In a Montessori classroom, there is a large open floor space and each subject area has a designated spot in the classroom. The teachers continually rotate the materials in and out of the classrooms so there is no overcrowding, and the children are taught to put their work away when finished. Each individual work is organized on its tray and often an activity itself involves putting things in order (Lillard, 2005).
Montessori classrooms, either Primary or Elementary, consist of an age range of three years, combining younger and older children. With the greater age range in the classroom, the children are able to use their peers as models. In a study of preschool children, those in classrooms with age ranges of 2 to 6 years showed greater improvements in motor, communication, cognitive, and overall development when compared to children in single-age classrooms (Bailey, Burchinal, & McWilliam, 1993 as cited in Lillard, 2005). Montessori class sizes are also generally larger than the traditional class size, so the children show less reliance on adults and they have greater opportunities to learn from and imitate their peers. Research has shown that people learn the most when they are working with people that they have positive relationships with. Research also suggests that collaborating in groups where there are positive relationships leads to the enhancement of individual well-being, increased academic achievement, and improved social climate in the classroom. Children in Montessori classrooms are free to work together and to choose who it is they want to work with. Many Montessori materials and activities can be done either in pairs or small self-formed groups (Lillard, 2005).
Preschool children are learning and developing social skills they will use later in life. Reuter and Yunik (1973) examined the social interactions of preschool children at three Montessori preschools, two university laboratory preschools, and a parent cooperative preschool. The Montessori school had an adult-child ratio of 12 to 1 and a third of the children were five years old. The results of the study showed that the children in the Montessori schools had the highest rates of peer interactions. This finding was most likely a result of the high adult-child ratio which gave the children greater opportunities to learn from and model after each other, especially after the older children. The Montessori children’s interactions with their peers and with their teachers were longer. This result showed that the Montessori children had more advanced social skills because longer interactions require more verbal abilities and cooperation from the children. Overall, the children in the Montessori classrooms had more quality social interactions.
In a study by Castellanos (2003), different methods of teaching and different educational philosophies were examined to see if they affected children’s self-esteem, self-efficacy, aggressive behavior, and prosocial behavior. Elementary school children from a Montessori program were compared with children from a traditional program. The grades ranged from 2nd to 6th and all the children had attended the same program since at least the age of five. Children in the Montessori classroom were found to continually improve to make and keep friends of the same gender. They were also found to have lower levels of both verbal and physical aggression when compared to children in a traditional classroom. As the Montessori children developed greater skills at working in a group, their levels of verbal and physical aggression continued to decrease. Their ability to work in a group was also related to higher levels of both self-efficacy for academic achievement and self-efficacy for self-regulated learning. Finally, their levels of self-esteem related to their perceived levels of self-efficacy for academic achievement and their perceived levels of self-efficacy for self-regulated learning (Castellanos, 2003).
Starting at the early years of schooling, children’s motivation to learn continually declines (Anderson & Maehr, 1994 as cited in Lillard, 2005). Studies suggest that more freedom and choice is associated to better learning outcomes for children. Research shows that children who are given greater freedom and choice have higher levels of initial performance and task persistence. They also remember things with more accuracy, solve tasks better, and choose to do tasks more and for longer periods of time. Studies also suggest that children who are given greater freedom and choice are more motivated and have higher rates of emotional well-being. Dr. Maria Montessori believed that when given choice and control in their school environments, they would thrive. She believed that children were developing when they became increasingly independent. The Montessori Method gives children choices with regards to what to work on, for how long, and with whom. The children have a three hour work cycle where they do independent or small group work based on their interests. The materials are exposed on the shelves and within reach of the children so they may pick and do what they like. When they finish an activity, they can put it back, and choose something else. All of these aspects of Montessori education give the children a greater sense of control. It also helps children learn to begin regulating their behavior and to begin making appropriate choices for themselves (Lillard, 2005).
Vaughn (2002) studied the level of empowerment of students in a pre-kindergarten classroom, a lower elementary classroom, and an upper elementary. The classroom policies, environment, and the social construction of learning in the three different Montessori classrooms all helped create a greater sense of empowerment in the children. The students thought about their individual choices and checked their behaviors against how others behaved in the classrooms. The study also found that the children in the Montessori school were more intrinsically motivated and that they governed their own actions for reasons other than to merely please the teachers. The students were found to feel a sense of control in their environment because they chose to work on something towards mastery. They were able to concentrate and focus on tasks for long periods of time and to self-manage their own learning. The children were also found to be confident, responsible, and hard-working individuals (Vaughn, 2002).
In one study, Montessori middle school children were found to be significantly more engaged in their schoolwork than were children in a traditional middle school classroom. They children in the Montessori classroom were also found to have greater affect, intrinsic motivation, energy, and interest. The middle school children in the traditional classroom reported were found to have more feelings of drudgery when doing schoolwork (Rathunde & Csikszentmihalyi, 2005 as cited in Lillard, 2005). Research shows that children’s interest in a material or subject matter not only organizes their cognition, but also influences their motivation. The materials and activities used in a Montessori classroom are designed to attract children’s interests. Children are encouraged to do work that they are interested in. Dr. Maria Montessori believed that interest is influenced by the integration and the interconnection of various curriculum areas. The Montessori curriculum often introduces children to a material or activity and then builds on that once a child has mastered it. The child then learns to use that same material or do that same activity in a new and more advanced way. Research shows that using this prior knowledge to introduce something new can assist in the storage and the memory of the new knowledge as well as stimulate learning. Montessori teachers know all of the materials and the lessons each child has had, so they are able not only to challenge a child, but also to make interconnections between learning and each individual child’s interests (Lillard, 2005).
Research has shown that test-oriented programs lead to both superficial learning and to learning that is easily forgotten (Lillard, 2005). When tests are the primary focus in the classroom, the teachers teach according to them and the students learn merely so they can pass them. With no grades, there is less of a desire to cheat and more of a desire to achieve mastery for oneself. Teachers in a Montessori classroom assess children based on observations of their repeated use of different materials and their repeated involvement in activities. A teacher shows a child the specific and particular way to use a material through an individual lesson. If a child has learned to use a material correctly, then that is considered understanding. A teacher can give a child a lesson again if they are using a material improperly. A teacher can give a brand new lesson to children when they appear to have mastered a material; this moves them on to the next and more difficult material in sequence. In a Montessori classroom, there is a interrelationship and connection with materials in different areas of the curriculum (Lillard, 2005).
Receiving extrinsic rewards for doing a certain activity has been shown to negatively impact the motivation for the activity if the reward is taken away. Studies suggest that deeper conceptual understanding, problem solving, discrimination learning, and insightfulness are also negatively affected by extrinsic rewards (Lillard, 2005). It is possible that grades and other forms of evaluations lead to reduced motivation because they emphasize performance goals rather than mastery goals. Finally, extrinsic rewards could possible lead to children disliking school and to their poorer performance. In Montessori, the materials themselves have a control of error, so that the children can easily see if they have made a mistake. There are also standard materials in a Montessori curriculum that the children can compare their own work against if they need help. This reduces the need for corrective feedback from teachers because the materials and the environment provide feedback themselves (Lillard, 2005).
In Montessori education, bodily movement and cognition are constantly intertwined. Development, thinking and learning are closely related to bodily movement. Several studies suggest that movement incorporated into learning help people more accurately represent space and objects, make judgments, and remember information. Studies also suggest that people who use movement to learn show superior social cognition. In the Montessori classroom, there is a great deal of object manipulation. The children learn through the movement of the materials and movement during the activities. Practical Life activities, such as washing the tables and watering the plants, teach the children how to work towards a purpose, how to concentrate on a task, how to carry out a series of steps in a sequence, and how to care for their environment. Every material or activity in the classroom requires movement. When the children touch and move the materials, it helps them to bring more concrete awareness to abstract concepts. Children trace the sandpaper letters to begin to learn to write or they pick up the knobbed cylinders with a pincer grasp to begin to understand dimension. These activities are purposeful because they use the hands and the body in order to help the mind learn (Lillard, 2005).
Learning is greatly enhanced when it is done in a meaningful context. Children who are giving meaningful materials or activities learn better, show more interest and are more willing to embrace challenges. Research suggests that without meaningful contexts, children can’t clearly assimilate new information. Research also shows that in the absence of meaningful contexts, children lack motivation to learn and might expend more cognitive energy than is necessary. Montessori classrooms use materials and lessons that help children make connections between the abstract and the apparent. Research shows that when learning is interconnected, all people learn better. The Montessori Method focuses on fitting new knowledge with old so that there is a sense of coherence across the curriculum areas. Montessori materials have a great degree of similarity in order to help the children transfer knowledge. Children in Montessori classrooms also learn to cross back and forth between “real world” and school contexts. This helps them to apply school knowledge to their everyday life (Lillard, 2005).
A Montessori curriculum has many cognitive benefits for preschool children when compared to a traditional environment. In a study by Stodolsky and Karlson (1972), Montessori preschool children showed significant improvement on the Stanford-Binet Intelligence Test within just one year of attending a Montessori school. The children also showed significant development in the areas of number concepts, visual-motor integration, psycho-motor skills, and classificatory skills within the first year. After two years, the curriculum was found to be extremely helpful in further supporting the children’s development in visual-motor integration, psycho-motor skills, and matching and sorting skills. Soundy (2003) looked at children’s literacy achievements in Montessori classrooms from infancy to age 6. The classrooms had enriched literacy environments with specific prepared language materials, such as the moveable alphabet and sandpaper letters, which led to greater literacy achievement. The responsiveness of the adults also gave greater opportunities for the children to use their oral language skills in meaningful interactions in the classroom.
Researchers were also interested in looking at Montessori children’s academic achievement in other subject areas. In another study, high school students who were exposed to a Montessori program anywhere from preschool to 5th grade were tested against students who only attended traditional school. The high school students who had attended the Montessori schools outperformed the high school students who had attended traditional schools on standardized tests in both math and science. These results suggest that Montessori schools’ early introduction of math and science, as well as their emphasis in these subject areas, gives these children an advantage when compared with children in a traditional preschool (Dohrmann et al., 2007).
Manner (2000) matched up children in a Montessori elementary classroom with children from a traditional classroom based on their reading and math scores on the Stanford-Binet Achievement Test. The children were then tested repeatedly over three years. Initially, the Montessori students produced higher mean scores in math when compared with the traditional students. In both the second and the third years of the study, the children in the Montessori classroom consistently produced higher mean scores in reading when compared to the students in the traditional classroom. In a study by Miller and Bizzell (1983), the effects of four different preschool programs, including one Montessori program, were examined in the children in sixth, seventh, and eighth grade. The children were tested on IQ and school achievement using the Stanford-Binet Intelligence Test, the WISC-R, and the Stanford Achievement Test. Results showed that the boys from the Montessori program were reading significantly above their grade level when in the 6th grade. In the 7th and 8th grade, the boys from the Montessori program also showed significantly higher scores in math.
The classroom environment, the teachers, and the materials all lead to positive outcomes for children in Montessori classrooms. Montessori children show high levels of intrinsic motivation and concentration. They also show more advanced social interaction patterns as well as lower levels of physical and verbal aggression. Academically, children in a Montessori classroom show great achievements in literacy, math, science, and reading. Montessori education provides children with an environment that is orderly, supportive, warm, and challenging. Finally, it provides individual children with the freedom to work with what they are interested in. The effects of Montessori education are endless.
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