What is Montessori?
According to the creator of this method, Dr. Maria Montessori, an Italian psychologist who studied early childhood development, children learn best when in close interaction with others and their surrounding environment. They are eager to watch other children, to learn from them, and often achieve a greater success in an environment of mentorship and shared learning, than in a traditional classroom. Montessori believed that the task of an educational institution is to create conditions for students to develop naturally, in a stress-free setting, gaining specific skills and knowledge at a pace that is right for them. Montessori schools and preschools in Poland adopt orthodox method to varying degrees.
A Montessori environment is unique. Unlike traditionally organized classrooms—with desks in rows facing the teacher at the front of the class—Montessori classrooms have designated work spaces, with teachers in a mentoring role, following the children, directing them, and helping them when needed. This classroom setting and student-teacher relationship is based on the conviction that the best support that children learn best when they have the freedom to make choices about the what they study, how their time is spent, and the activities are conducted. The Montessori approach allows children to be responsible for their learning, to have opportunities to check their progress, and to experience disappointment as well as the satisfaction that derives from their successes.
In the Montessori method, children are not left alone but followed by a teacher whose role is to help them discover their individual passions and develop their personal interests. Children are aware that they can always count on support from their peers and student mentors. In a majority of Montessori schools throughout Poland, classrooms are multi-aged: there is no division between classes corresponding to the date of birth of a child as in a traditional school. Maria Montessori believed that, in multi-aged environments, children are more motivated and move through the curriculum more quickly and efficiently.
In Montessori classrooms, children typically work alone or in small groups. At the same time they can choose the learning task, satisfying their own interests and developing their skills. This does not mean that there is chaos in the classes, and every student is doing what he likes. On the contrary, classes are quiet. Instructional time and rest time are strictly defined. Students move smoothly from one task to another, each at their own pace, quickly reaching high levels of knowledge in areas that are of interest to them. Likewise, they can devote as much time as they need to any specific task in order to master it. Children have the right to choose the subject according to their current level of knowledge, skills and interest.
That said, there are limitations in place in order to ensure that children gain proficiency with the core curriculum.
The organization of the Montessori approach is as follows:
- level I - kindergarten covering children aged 3 to 6
- level II - primary school with children from 6 to 9 years and
- level III - primary school with children aged 9 to 12 years.
Such age selection facilitates the individualization of the learning process, motivates younger children to learn, and increases instructional efficiency.
Poland's educational realities slightly modify this model. Elsewhere, there are variations in the year span assigned to the Montessori levels, both when in terms of age and the number of years spent in a single level. Generally, it is a three-year level system: kindergarten (3-5 years) and grades I-III and IV-VI. Most Polish Montessori schools also provide day nurseries (from 1.5 years to 2.5 years) and some of them are junior high schools and even high schools (these are currently few in the country).
Lower secondary schools, due to the current reform of the education system, are obviated. Instead the levels will be divided between an eight-grade primary school and a four- or five-year post-primary school. It is therefore expected that in the 2018/2019 school year there will be another level IV in the primary school that will cover children in grades VI-VIII, i.e., aged 13-15.
The vast majority of Montessori schools in Poland are private institutions operating under the laws of public schools, although there are also public schools that use the Montessori method. This means that it is impossible to completely abandon the traditional system of assessing student achievement at the end of the year, provided in the form of a certificate of assessment and promotion from class to grade. Montessori schools, both private and non-public, operate within overall education system and must fully implement the core curriculum established by the Ministry of National Education. Consequently, at the end of each school year, the students must obtain certificates, corresponding to their public school level regardless of the Montessori classroom divisions. Parallel, however, children receive descriptive assessments consistent with Montessori philosophy.
Other aspects of the method are applied consistently across national boundaries, and in fidelity with the approach as Montessori outlined. Students are not motivated by the traditional reward and punishment system, nor is there room for competition. Children learn in a friendly and compassionate atmosphere where they are co-creators and co-organizers of their learning.
In Montessori classrooms there is an understandable and unchanging sense of organization. All items have a permanent place, allowing children to internalize the geography of the classroom, and to trust their surroundings and work with them. Consistent teaching materials (so-called development aids) are selected to provide a transition from simple material to more difficult and abstract concepts, creating curiosity and triggering various forms of interaction with others. According to Maria Montessori classes should also include authentic washbasins, refrigerators, stoves, cleaning utensils, and even gardening tools. There is deliberately one of each, providing a necessity for children to share and, in turn, to be patient and respectful of others.
The above rules also apply to preschool classrooms, which in Poland are the most numerous. Of course, in preschool settings, assessment is not required to reflect national norms.
Characteristics of Montessori schools
- Self-direction: teachers support students only when necessary and in accordance with the principle of "help me do it myself";
- Individual, student-paced instruction: each child is working independently, using the classroom teaching aids;
- Teachers as mentors: teachers prepare the classroom environment and supports the efforts of the students within it;
- Freedom of movement: classrooms are not organized in the traditional way; children are free to chooses where they want to work, and the activities the want to engage within;
- Project-based instruction: children are free to take the time they need in order to master a task or concept;
- Emphasis on specific learning: the student acquires the skill by exploring a topic of particular interest;
- Curiosity-based learning: children choose activities, and work at their own pace;
- Multi-age classrooms: each classroom includes children of different ages, this to motivate learning, encourage peer mentorship, and develop social competence;
- Self-directed learning: the teacher creates a working atmosphere, offering a variety of themes and ways of acting. Children watch older students and are inspired by their actions;
- Cross-curricular instruction: the content of education is linked and interrelated;
- Student-paced learning: students are free to work at their own pace;
- Descriptive assessment: grades are not shown to students. The rating is descriptive and is prepared several times a year. In Poland, pupils also receive school certificates with grades, as required by the Ministry of Education. Children do not compete with each other—there is an atmosphere of friendship and cooperation in the classroom;
- No annual grade promotion: according to Montessori theory, each level of education lasts three years, after which the child goes to a higher level. It is possible to change the level faster, or to stay in a level longer. In Polish schools this is implemented in consort with educational regulations, which means that a child who has not received a grade IV to V promotion does not change the Montessori class and continues to study with the same children.
Benefits of Montessori education
Children learn early on that following their interests and their personal sense of curiosity can lead to positive attitudes toward learning and high levels of academic achievement.
The learning process is flexible. This means that interested students can move faster within the program, face challenges, and get involved in their performance. Students who need more time can take it without the fear of criticism.
Focusing on practical training, especially in the lower classes, leads to more effective learning. It enhances the discipline of work, concentration, and involvement of the student in the learning process.
Older students teach and support the younger, fostering learning more quickly and effectively.
Research in neuroscience (Lillard, 2005) confirms Maria Montessori's observation that uninterrupted periods of work can increase the child's attention, concentration and work discipline.
A love of learning:
Children have a great deal of freedom in choosing the topic of work and the way in which it is implemented. In most cases it leads to constructive learning habits, in the classroom and beyond.
Classroom structure and teacher guidance allow pupils to develop key social skills. They include communication, respect, cooperation, and exchange of knowledge and experience. Such skills are modeled and reinforced by the teacher and older children in the classroom.
Independence and personal responsibility:
Students learn from the beginning of their education to take care of their classrooms, their school, and their environment. They acquire practical skills such as cooking, cleaning, and gardening. This implies their independence, independence, and environmental stewardship.
Students are learn both from the teacher (lessons and directions) and peers (interaction and modeling). Friendships and interpersonal relationships based are strengthened. Children learn to respect others, and gain a sense of stewardship in within the community.
Quick summary of the Montessori method
Montessori schools in Poland are a unique alternative to traditional schools and kindergartens. The progressive approach to children's education, introduced by Dr. Maria Montessori, is used in thousands of schools around the world.
Montessori schools focus on the child. They do not have a pre-planned and specific curriculum. They are flexible and up-to-date, adapted to the needs and interests of children in all areas of education. In Poland, they also deliver the curriculum as set by the Ministry of National Education.
Montessori teachers work to develop a child’s natural desire to learn. By following children, directing and supporting them, allows them to develop freely, which results in increased confidence in their abilities and self-esteem.
Instruction is cross curricular. Teachers rarely lecture and children do a lot of self-directed work, mostly at their own pace. Working individually or in small groups, they often perform tasks that interest them and stimulate them.
In the early years, the Montessori method is based in concrete and practical teaching methods. In the higher classes, the use of abstract thinking becomes dominant.
Classroom organization differs from the traditional instructional organization. Traditional schools are characterized by a distinct distance separating the teacher from the student, with large classes and fewer specialized classes. This is not the case in a Montessori school: the teacher is a mentor who works according to the "help me do it myself" principle; classes are less numerous, and specialized instruction is undertaken based on the expressed interests of the children.
Montessori education is challenging, promotes independence, concentration and discipline. Its tailor-made approach to learning is optimal for many students, especially those who are highly motivated, who like to work independently, and prone to set goals for themselves.