The Montessori Method suits all children but it doesn’t suit all parents. Montessori classrooms have stronger and more lasting effects when their principles are mirrored in the home. For this reason, all newly enrolling parents at MIC are required to complete the Ultimate Montessori Parents’ Guide online course to help them develop their understanding of the developmental needs of their child. There are some other wonderful online resources which explain the proven benefits of Montessori. A good place to start is the Montessori Australia website.
There are many aspects to the Montessori difference. Fundamentally, the goal of Montessori is to nurture independent, joyful learners by educating the whole child, while the core aim of traditional education is the transfer of curriculum content. For more detail on the differences please see our section Montessori Education vs Traditional Education.
Authentic Montessori classrooms always have children grouped into three to four year age spans based on Dr. Montessori’s research on the stages of child development. MIC has multiage classrooms with children aged from three to six years, six to nine years, nine to twelve years, twelve to fifteen years, and fifteen to eighteen years.
This three-year multiage grouping is the core feature that energizes or makes possible the other important features of Montessori classrooms: choice of activity, personal connection, and collaborative learning. (See the graphic of the Montessori Solar System.) The multiage structure allows older children to validate their learning by becoming the ‘experts’ in the room. Peer teaching can occur with the older children sharing their knowledge and skills and taking on the role of the caretakers of the classroom. It is these older children that provide the role model for younger children. The youngest three year-olds have a group of willing people ready to help them when help is required. Younger children receive preliminary introductions to future lessons as they watch older children work nearby with the next steps in the progression of materials.
“The main thing is that the groups should contain different ages, because it has great influence on the cultural development of the child. This is obtained by the relations of the children among themselves. You cannot imagine how well a young child learns from an older child; how patient the older child is with the difficulties of the younger.” (Maria Montessori, The Child, Society and the World).
This video further explains the graphic.
In traditional primary schools, homework is generally needed to gauge whether a child has understood a particular lesson. This is necessary when a teacher gives a lesson to twenty or thirty students at a time from the front of the room and so is unable to assess each individual’s level of understanding or attention.
In contrast, our guides work with children individually or in small groups using Montessori materials that are designed to be self-correcting. Moreover each child is in their Montessori classroom for three (sometimes four) years, so Montessori guides know their students much better than teachers in traditional classrooms. These factors combine to allow Montessori teachers to intimately grasp each child’s individual understanding and to know what is needed to motivate them. Traditional homework and standardized tests are blunt instruments which are generally unnecessary in the Montessori system.
Home work, in the Montessori sense, is work that the child does at home as an extension of his or her own interests. Learning experiences at home should emerge from the interests and abilities of each child and the family. Activities may be offered but should ideally be chosen by the child and tailored to suit their interests and needs. They may need the assistance of a parent or sibling at first. This kind of homework can be organized into three categories: experiences (e.g. reading, visiting a museum or going to see a play); skills (e.g. riding a bicycle, cooking, playing an instrument or sewing); and products to be shared (e.g. a letter or story, art work, or plants grown in the garden).
Children might reinforce academic skills at home by reading to a younger sibling, keeping a journal, writing postcards or emails to friends or relatives, and using a monthly allowance to buy things for themselves when accompanying parents on shopping trips. But they can also develop literacy and math skills by reading comics or children’s magazines, playing board games like Monopoly, working on crosswords and hidden search puzzles, collecting coins, learning carpentry, keeping a scrapbook of newspaper articles on an issue that interests them, writing letters to public servants requesting improvements to playground facilities or earning money for walking neighbors’ dogs. Just as in the classroom, activities that capture a child’s interest are more likely to inspire them to persist. Daydreaming and nature play are worthwhile activities too!
Preparing the child’s home environment can remove frustrations that may overwhelm their organizational skills. Once an activity is chosen, ensure that all the materials they need are organized for easy access and that they know how to clean up when they’re finished.
Even in secondary school, homework is only assigned when it’s a practical, purposeful and productive addition to what was learnt in classes during the day. It is never assigned without a specific goal in mind.
From a Montessori perspective every child is a unique individual with his or her own gifts and challenges. All children develop at different rates, so placing them in single-age classrooms and expecting them to be ready for the same concepts simply because they are the same age overemphasizes and pathologizes natural differences. This unnatural learning environment leads to the common tendency to label children as either “gifted” or “learning challenged.”
In a Montessori multiage classroom children are allowed their natural variations within the three or four year age grouping. A lesson on subtraction, for example, might be attended by children of different ages who are nevertheless ready for the same concepts. An advantage of the Montessori approach is that each child can make the most of their unique attributes. Multi-age classrooms with students of varying abilities and interests allow each child to work at his or her own pace.
Montessori students learn to recognize that everyone has their own gifts and their own challenges; that someone who is “gifted” in math may not necessarily be as advanced in other areas. Students whose strengths and interests propel them to higher levels of learning can find intellectual challenge without being separated from their peers. The same is true for students who may need extra guidance and support: each can progress through the curriculum at his own comfortable pace, without feeling pressure to catch up.
The Montessori environment is ideal for children who are not yet peaceful since the emphasis is on the individual with skills and concepts being presented through individual lessons within a social environment. However, the priority is always to get the balance right in each class so every child has the best possible opportunity to make the most of their abilities. Decisions will always be made on a case by case basis to ensure that balance is maintained.
The multiage groupings present a wide array of skills and behaviours which allows for each child to be accepted and respected. The guides are familiar with working and liaising with external specialists either during or after school hours. Supplementary numeracy and literacy programs are integrated into the school day for individual students who need extra assistance and the class guides liaise with parents and specialists should any learning difficulties be suspected.
In traditional schools, retention of material is measured primarily with regular standardized testing and grading. This method of assessment is given after-the-fact as a seal on what the student has (or hasn’t) learned. It is known as summative assessment as it purports to show the sum of a child’s learning. The structure of traditional classrooms further limits assessment. Teachers have students, all of the same age, for only one year, limiting their time horizon. And typically the teacher is the only source of feedback.
Montessori classrooms avoid these limitations. Assessment is mainly formative, meant to guide the child during learning. It occurs in the context of a longer time horizon. And it enables the child to learn from her peers or directly from the world. Activities are open-ended, encouraging exploration and creative thinking, and as such do not lend themselves to grading.
In a Montessori classroom feedback is given partially by the teacher, but mostly through the child’s direct experience with materials and peers. Most materials have a control of error that allows the child to know whether they have used the material accurately without waiting for a teacher. Younger children can also receive help from older children who have been in the classroom longer.
The multiage classroom promotes familiarity and trust among a community of learners that includes children and adults. Returning students have an institutional memory of classroom procedures and rituals, and their daily management of many aspects of the classroom frees adults to teach individually and to carefully observe each child’s progress. Such personalized assessment provides more nuanced information than most forms of testing can reveal.
Primary children take ownership of their own progress through their daily work journal, weekly individual conferences with their teacher, by requesting specific lessons as the need arises, and by maintaining portfolios of work completed. These materials, and detailed daily observations of each child by the teacher, form the basis of reporting to parents.
Not only is comparative reporting often misleading for parents, and a cause of unwarranted anxiety, it is discouraging for students who score “poorly”, detrimental to both their self-esteem and their willingness to persist, as well as potentially negative for those who do “well’ by encouraging the valuing of high scores over the inherent satisfaction of learning.
Students in the Adolescent and Senior Phase program use the national curriculum (although it is delivered in a different way than you would find in a mainstream school) and they can undertake OP subjects and are graded accordingly. But other paths to university have been created, and the International Baccalaureate will be introduced to the College in the next couple of years.