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Mixing Montessori into the Debate


If schools employ multi-age classrooms, have students play a bigger role in choosing what they study, and get rid of traditional grading and testing (Montessori education approaches), are they likely to see an increase in students' motivation to learn--and, in turn, higher achievement?

A new study published in the journal Science suggests such approaches are likely to have a positive impact on achievement.

Angeline Lillard of the University of Virginia and Nicole Else-Quest of the University of Wisconsin, Madison, studied two groups of 5- and 12-year-old students in Milwaukee, Wis., who attended Montessori schools. The resesarchers found that Montessori-educated 5-year-olds performed better on reading and math tests than their peers who did not attend Montessori schools. In addition, the study found that the Montessori 12-year-olds wrote more sophisticated narratives, performed better on a test of social skills, and scored as well or higher on academic assessments than their peers.

I am neither an advocate nor a critic of Montessori education. But in an era marked by an increasing emphasis on top-down mandates for what students should learn and traditional testing of that knowledge, this study is worth some reflection if only to ask: Are there more creative ways, beyond what schools are doing now, to get students more interested in what they are learning? What do you think?


As a Montessori teacher,who is very bias, I believe the mixed age classroom is the best and most effective classroom environment to learn. This practice was common prior to America's industrial revolution and is in practice in many countries today. Erick

Kevin, I would be interested to find out if you have studied any other pedagogies such as Waldorf education. I have watched children coming from there who have a great capacity for learning, are interested in a diverse number of subjects and seem to have had a well-rounded education in the meantime.

Yes- clearly!

I think many Montessori methods are superior to those used in most classrooms. To wit: skilled children helping others learn; emphasis on listening and speaking skills for even the youngest child; the use of timelines to unite learning about, for example, fossils and human history; emphasis on learning at one's own pace; encouragement of self-discipline; emphasis on mastering skills before moving on to new ones ... the list could go on.
This is what I observed in the two years my children attended a Montessori school. I've never known whether there is research to support what I considered exemplary teaching...nor why the approach is not more widely used.

Montessori schooling allows a child to advance at their own pace and not proceed to the next level unless and until they have mastered the previous one. The most fascinating thing is the kids don't even realize they are on different levels.

They do not have a sense of competition-which can prove to be devastating. I'd rather have a happy healthy bright kid than a child who spends every free moment taking college prep courses since age 12 because of the perceived benefits of a Harvard education.

I am keenly interested in this subject on a personal (mom of 3) and professional (editor of a website aimed at providing information for parents on how to help foster learning and reading at home). From where I sit, our schools are pushing kids too hard on knowing information for testing purposes only and not for the knowledge itself. I don't think our schools are showing kids the value of knowledge and learning, which in turn, makes them unmotivated to learn. How can we get schools to stop fixating on testing?

Environment that fosters learning is one of the three tenets of Montessori education. The genesis of my educational journey began as a committed young mother when I trained and then taught as a Montessori teacher for 3-4 years. Now, 20 years later, I have a Master's degree in Curriculum, Instructional Design and Assessment. I work in a public middle school, as a special education teacher with students who have severe communication and learning disabilities in a public middle school. My passion for learning and motivation has burned brighter and brighter with each year as a teacher. I still thrill to see the lights of learning go on for a student.

I see unmotivated students all day long, in a school fighting to meet NCLB standards, with a new administrator at the helm, every 2-3 years. I've come to recognize learning amidst a hostile learning environment. When I see real learning occur for students--albeit few and far between the activities typical at a middle school--it is learning that is masterfully nurtured, facilitated through careful skill development, with experiences that reinforce, and are exciting, personal and authentic for the student; and the environment is incidental. When it happens, if it happens, however it happens, the result looks like peace; a renewed, joy-filled confidence in themselves, and for others--it is a grateful, significant sigh.

What learning is NOT, is high-stakes testing, in schools fighting to meet annual yearly progress, with new "highly qualified" administration who turn up every other year, incredulous, but with all new buzz words meant to inspire teachers to reach harder for that 2014 NCLB prize. What learning is NOT--or, when the environment is not incidental--is when it is there to support an adult work environment, with adults with smaller and smaller minds, to nurture adults who are increasingly hostile with learners, yet pro-adult, and all with higher and higher stakes.

How did we get so far away from creating environments where students are really motivated to learn, and where adults maturely, and respectfully foster it? Can we ever get there again? Maria Montessori never gave up believing in the child, and it is because of her that I began my journey in education. I too, will never give up working to create an environment of learning for learners in my charge.

Kevin refers to the study that endorses Montessori approaches such as students playing a bigger role in choosing what they study, and getting rid of traditional grading and testing. I'm glad that the research is endorsing ideas that make sense. For me, it has been common-sense all along, to consider that students learn--and will want to learn--when the learning matters, and that achievement rates will increase, because of supportive environments.

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Recent Comments

  • Julie Lott: Environment that fosters learning is one of the three tenets read more
  • Sylvia Barsotti: I am keenly interested in this subject on a personal read more
  • Maxine Judith: Montessori schooling allows a child to advance at their own read more
  • Michelle Smith: I think many Montessori methods are superior to those used read more
  • MC: Yes- clearly! read more




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