Montessori in the Traditional Classroom? The methods catching on in the mainstream

Despite being over a hundred years old, the Montessori style of teachingremains a progressive and popular method. Over the last decade, it seems like the traditional classroom has started to catch on. The popularity of Montessori has seen a resurgence in the US and the UK, not only with more institutions opening, but also with aspects of it being used in conjunction with traditional classroom methods.

The first Montessori school in the United States was opened in Tarrytown, New York, in 1911. Since then over 4000 have been established. But over the last decade, Montessori methods have also been adopted by state and charter schools in the US. Flipped classroom methods, delivering the material ahead of time and allowing students to research independently and participate in more collaborative activities in the classroom, is increasingly popular in the US. Other schools have seen success with incorporating the learn in your own time element of the teaching style, ignoring traditional pacing and testing in favour of letting students take as long as they need to ensure they fully understand the material. Recently researchers from Texas found an improvement in children’s performance during a study involving the use of Montessori methods at public schools with disadvantaged students.]

Demand has been growing across the Atlantic too.The UK now has a school for adolescents, and 700 institutions that focus on early and primary education, including 4 Government funded schools. And the movement had a recent moment in the country’s education spotlight when Prince George attended a Montessori nursery in Norfolk.

Worldwide today there are about 20,000 Montessori schools, and advocates of the method say that it helps students learn independence, intrinsic motivation, collaborative problem-solving skills and fosters a passion for academics. By providing students with freedom they learn to become confident, self-motivated learners who go on to become well adjusted, goal orientated professionals. It promotes active learning, teaches self-validation and puts emphasis on ownership and accountability. The Montessori method is all about eschewing the one-size-fits-all approach to education and focusing on the individual needs of the student.

It sounds like what every country’s education crisis needs, so why are we still doing things the other way?

The answer is, there are some big differences between the method developed my Maria Montessori and the traditional, mainstream classroom, and most public and private school teachers don’t receive training on the Montessori approach.

In a Montessori school, the teacher doesn’t teach in the traditional sense. In fact, they’re not even called teachers, instead referred to as guides. Guides and students work together to plan a series of activities that while flexible and individualised, still incorporate recognisable curriculum in traditional areas like science, arts, English and maths. This enables students to explore their own interests and helps them develop an enthusiasm for academics while at the same time fostering their independent learning skills. Students begin to realize that they have the intelligence and ability to do things for themselves. This is not only an empowering experience, but can prove a boost to their confidence.

But the approach is not without critics, and the movements popularity has fluctuated over the year. Claims of elitism, and its lack of work that fosters social and group learning, have plagued it for almost as long as it’s been in practice, and in most people’s minds it’s not an educational option for any but the rich and upper middle-class.

There are also practical problems which prevent its adoption by the mainstream education providers too. Students already entrenched in a traditional classroom method may find it difficult to switch. The entire idea of working alone, in mixed class settings and mentoring other students is foreign to the traditional classroom environment. Even with a transitional period, older students may have difficulty adjusting. The Montessori method places students in a classroom based on developmental levels, not age groups. A student suddenly separated from their previous peers and thrown into a classroom with older or younger classmates may find it more of a detriment than a benefit.

There’s also the cost aspect. To be certified as a bona-fide Montessori program requires that a school create physical spaces that comply with the methods guidelines. They also need to outfit classrooms with materials. Teachers will require retraining, and because Montessori teachers require two certifications, it’s no small expense to make the switch.

Despite many believing that Montessori can’t be incorporated by a piecemeal approach. If it’s really the future of education, then the transition will need to take a wider scope. Overlapping parts of the philosophy with current practices allowing the evolution from traditional classroom to Montessori environment to happen organically. It’s clear, before the Montessori Method is applied, there must be a transitional period where parts of the philosophy are overlapped with current practices. The initiatives and research we’re seeing today, may just be the beginnings of that shift.

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