Recently, I visited a Montessori school. Except for a quick Google of the term Montessori, I knew nothing about the Montessori philosophy of teaching. According the American Montessori Society, educators who hold this philos0phy view the child “as one who is naturally eager for knowledge and capable of initiating learning in a supportive, thoughtfully prepared learning environment.” The Montessori method “includes multiage groupings that foster peer learning, uninterrupted blocks of work time, and guided choice of work activity” (amshq.org). All this sounded very interesting, and I was anxious to visit.
The first thing I noticed was the quiet. The halls were quiet; the classrooms were quiet. Every now and then I would hear soft music drifting from the classrooms. The classrooms were furnished with tables rather than individual desks, individual work stations, floor mats, and wall and island shelves for supplies. I saw students from ages 3 to 10, actively engaged in learning. At first I didn’t see a teacher in the classroom, but then I spotted her sitting on the floor with three small students. In another class, the teacher was working with a group at a round table.
Throughout the school, teachers were working with groups or individuals while the other students were quietly working. The counselor told me that the students were given a weeks worth of work at the beginning of the week. The students then worked on this work at their own pace. Those who finished early could choose a more advanced project to complete or could choose a play break. The students could work in groups or by themselves. They could work at tables, at computer stations, or on the floor. Some were even working quietly in the hallways.
This school’s state test scores illustrate the success of this type of learning atmosphere. Ninety-six percent of the students scored proficient on the state mandated grade level exit exams. Should I mention that this is a public school?
What I saw were students as young as three years old taking ownership of their learning. I saw students motivated to learn. I saw students learning to work cooperatively. I saw students preparing to be successful in the “real world.”
This school is a living example of the importance of guided student ownership of learning.
Which classroom would you choose?