Day By Day© by Chris Muir.

Thursday, February 03, 2005

Montessori rules

As a passionate believer in the Montessori approach to education, I draw your attention to this NY Times article about a formerly failing public school in Massachusetts that is turning itself around (and savings students along the way) by adopting the Montessori approach to education:

The old brick public school is sandwiched between Interstate 91 and the Western Massachusetts Correctional Alcohol Center. The surrounding neighborhood is run-down and starkly commercial. The available playground space is filled with parked cars. Yet the Alfred G. Zanetti School consistently has one of the longest waiting lists under Springfield's districtwide program of school choice. Zanetti owes its popularity not to some new approach to education, but to the methods developed by the Italian physician and educator Maria Montessori almost 100 years ago. It is one of only 245 public Montessori schools in the nation, most of them charter or magnet schools. Dr. Montessori believed that learning is a natural process. Montessori teachers see their primary role as creating rich environments where children teach themselves by manipulating specially designed materials and interacting in mixed age groups.


Ms. Munera reports steady academic progress. "Assessment, all the way down to the youngest classrooms, exhibits a record of success," she says, citing improvements in scores on city and state tests, especially in English language arts. The turnover rate has dropped to 5 percent.

The article does a mediocre job of imparting the Montessori methodology (which you really have to see to understand in any case), but gives a very good sense of the fact that a Montessori classroom is a peaceful place, with children intensely focused on their work.
A visitor to Siobhan Conz's Elementary 1 classroom, for 6- to 9-year-olds, observes A'kala pensively locating New York on a United States puzzle map. Joseph and Rosa kneel at low tables nearby, matching sound-alike words. Alexander reads "Lyle the Crocodile." Sheyla works with a square grid of tiles numbered 1 to 100. Periodically, without prompting, a child puts one activity away and selects another. The visitor goes unnoticed. Ms. Conz moves purposefully from area to area. At one table, she shows Chris, an 8-year-old, how to demonstrate "word dominoes," a language game, to Monique and Elizabeth, both 7. "You present like I usually do, so pull your chair to this side of the table," she tells Chris. Anitra Ruth, one of the teachers in the "Children's House" for 3- to 6-year-olds, said: "Multi-age classrooms are a huge benefit as older and younger children help and learn from each other. The experienced ones are my role models."
What it also fails to convey is how incredibly well Montessori students do academically. The closest hint to the point is this quotation from a student:
Tamonique Johnson, also 13, recalled seeing the new materials for the first time. She especially liked doing long division with test tubes and colored beads. "It was easier to find the answer, but it was a longer process," she said. "You really got it after that." (Emphasis mine.)
What that student is saying in the language I emphasized is that, after mastering a subject, Montessori children genuinely understand the ideas driving that subject. They're not just learning by rote; they actually "get it." And having gotten it, they never forget it and they are easily able to build upon the information they've acquired. You can link here for another post I did about the Montessori method where I try, almost as ineptly as the NY Times writer, to convey this unique, and time-tested, approach to learning.