The principles that underpin Montessori pedagogy have emerged from observing children’s activity and monitoring teaching practice in Montessori learning environments in many parts of the world for more than a century. In other words, the theory has emerged from many decades of practice.
In recent decades a growing body of research has begun to articulate the principles behind Montessori pedagogy in terms recognisable to contemporary educators. This literature includes comparisons of Montessori pedagogy principles with recent insights into child development and with the characteristics of quality teaching, as well as comparisons of Montessori educational outcomes with national and international benchmarks of educational achievement. Montessori principles and educational outcomes stand up well under this scrutiny, and are being shown to have anticipated many educational goals, issues and understandings that are emerging as important in the twenty-first century. (See, for example, Chisnall and Maher 2007; Cossentino 2005, 2006; Cunningham 2000; Feez 2008, 2010; Foschi 2008; Hughes cited in Schmidt 2009: 85-6; Lillard 2005; Lillard and Else-Quest 2006; Martin 1994; Torrence and Chattin-McNicholls 2005) A review of the literature also reveals interest in the Montessori materials by designers of tangible technologies and digital manipulatives. (For example, Leone 2004; O’Malley and Fraser 2004; Zuckerman, Arida and Resnick 2005)
The ideas that underpin the learning outcomes, teaching and learning practices, assessment and evaluation found in Montessori learning environments have been summarised in the following Eight Principles of Montessori Education, identified in research published by Lillard (2005: 29)
- Movement and cognition are closely entwined, and movement can enhance thinking and learning.
- Learning and well-being are improved when people have a sense of control over their lives.
- People learn better when they are interested in what they are learning.
- Tying extrinsic rewards to an activity, like money for reading or high grades for tests, negatively impacts motivation to engage in that activity when the reward is withdrawn.
- Collaborative arrangements can be very conducive to learning.
- Learning situated in meaningful contexts is often deeper and richer than learning in abstract contexts.
- Particular forms of adult interaction are associated with more optimal child outcomes.
- Order in the environment is beneficial to children.
Teaching and Learning Practices – Montessori Pedagogy
Drawing on more than one hundred years of experience and experimentation, Montessori educators identify stages of physical, psychological, intellectual and social development, and prepare learning environments and curriculum content suitable for each stage. This knowledge, combined with the teacher’s observations and record-keeping, enable Montessori teachers to design lessons that meet the needs of individual children in the Montessori environment at any moment in time. In this way the Montessori curriculum is matched to the readiness and interest of individual children, rather than expecting children to adapt themselves to the curriculum. The teaching and learning practices that result are distinctive. Here are some key features of Montessori teaching and learning.
The children learn how to use the Montessori materials by watching the teacher demonstrate their use in an exact and precise way. When the children use the materials in the way that shows they understand how to proceed, they are able, through their own work, to discover the concepts inherent in the materials. In this way the children construct their own knowledge and understanding.
In both the Infant Community and the Children’s House levels, most lessons are given to individuals. After the age of six children who are ready for the same lesson are grouped together and most lessons are presented to small groups. In a multi-age setting this means that younger children have many opportunities to observe lessons presented to older children and the follow-up work done by the older children after the lessons. By the time the younger children are ready for these lessons, they are already familiar with the materials and the activities.
In all Montessori environments, for all ages and stages, the activities demonstrated or offered by the adult are open-ended. Children are then free to repeat any activity until an inner satisfaction is achieved. Children younger than six usually repeat an activity over and over in the same manner until they reach the level of perfection that produces an inner satisfaction. Children over the age of six usually repeat with plenty of variation and by augmenting the activity. This may result in a ‘great work’ that gives children of this age a feeling of great accomplishment and satisfaction. Adolescents enjoy participating in socially-valuable projects in which they have the opportunity to work as apprentices alongside experts of all ages from the wider community.
In the Children’s House children tend to work alone as they construct themselves as individuals. When they begin to prefer working in a cooperative manner with other children, it is a sign that they are beginning to take on the characteristics of children ready for the classroom for six to nine year olds. From six to nine years of age children spend a great deal of time working together with others. It is a time when they are learning how to be part of a group and how to work as a team.
From the age of six children in Montessori classrooms take part in regular individual conferences with the teacher. In these conferences the teacher helps children to develop their ability to evaluate their own work. The last question always asked at the end of an individual conference is: ‘Is there a lesson you would like to have that we have not talked about?’ In this way children are helped to take ownership of their own educational process.
– Extract from Montessori National Curriculum, Montessori Australia Foundation