Sunday, May 27, 2007

Montessori Turns 100

Slate ran an article on the 100th anniversary of the 1907 opening of Maria Montessori's first school last week called "What Exactly is Montessori Education?" It's true, even parents of kids in Montessori schools know little about the "method." There are 5,000 Montessori schools in the U.S. and 250-300 of those are public Montessori elementary schools like the one that Elliot attends. Apparently the public Montessori schools are a great success, churning out students who write more creative essays, have a deeper sense of community and social justice, not to mention they score competitively on standardized tests.

From the article:

Maria Montessori might have called the child "an amorphous, splendid being in search of his own proper form," but far more important, in the end, is a different canny insight of hers: Those splendid kids crave order. Montessori isn't magic. It's fine-tuned and detail-driven and tactile, like a workshop for two dozen good-humored but serious young elves.

And Simon, my irrepressible, short-fused man of mischief, calmly rolled out a mat for himself on the floor, took out the "bank," and proceeded to match the number 3,987, which he'd constructed from short boards painted with numbers, to the correct combination of 1,000-unit cubes, 100- and 10-unit rectangles, and single-unit beads.

Last fall, the prestigious Science gave its pages to a well-designed study that found some measurable advantages for the Montessori method. The researchers compared 59 Montessori students with 53 kids who'd tried to get in to a public Montessori school in Wisconsin and lost out in a lottery (a strategy that addressed the methodological concern that families who choose Montessori differ from those who don't). By the end of kindergarten, the Montessori students outscored the others on standardized tests of reading and math, treated each other better on the playground, and "showed more concern for fairness and justice." By the end of elementary school, the test-score gap closed. But the Montessori kids "wrote more creative essays with more complex sentence structures," responded better to social dilemmas, and were more likely to say they felt a sense of community at school.

The Wisconsin school in the study was urban and mostly minority. That's a contrast to the private and upscale cast of Montessori in the United States. But that norm is starting to change, with between 250 and 300 public Montessori schools now open across the country. Maria Montessori started her revolution among Italy's pauper children, so it makes sense that her method is effective without the head start of affluence.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Gotta agree on the point that most parents don't know what the Montesssori method is. Worse still
when you have Montessori programs in the public schools the top priority becomes the curriculum, NOT the child's own interest and learning path. I have 3 children gone/going thru the program
and have found it to be a 'mixed blessing'. You meet some wonderful people and teachers along the way, but there are many compromises to the method in public schools.
-Lex Port Moody / Coquitlam Montessori Society