Maria Montessori: Is the Montessori method any good?
Google celebrates the 142nd birthday of Italian physician Maria Montessori. Does Montessori's 'child-centered' method work?
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"This was very authentically implemented Montessori," she told Scientific American. "It's actually a fairly small percentage of schools that are this strict.Skip to next paragraph
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Other studies loosely corroborate Lillard's findings on the effectiveness of a Montessori education, but they vary in the details. A 2009 study, also in Milwaukee (which is attractive to researchers because students are placed via lottery), found that high school students who had attended a Montessori school performed significantly better on math and science tests, but not in English and social studies.
What accounts for the outcomes among Montessori kids? It could be that the Montessori method teaches them to be more motivated and focused. A 2005 survey of 290 middle-school students by psychologists Kevin Rathunde and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi found that the Montessori students were more likely to report being driven by an interest in academic tasks, and that they were more likely to report getting joyfully immersed – feeling "in the zone" – when doing their work.
Such finding would be very much in line with Montessori's educational philosophy, which emphasizes devoting long uninterrupted blocks of time to tasks. "The child who concentrates," wrote Montessori in her book The Absorbent Mind, "is immensely happy."
The same holds true for adults, even into old age. A number of studies have found that Montessori-based activities can benefit the elderly, particularly those experiencing dementia.
So if the Montessori method is so effective, then why are most American students still getting twelve years of standardized, test-driven, teacher-centered, school-bell-interrupted pedagogy? Part of the reason is that the Montessori method is so tricky to implement. Read this sweet, yet daunting, essay, "Owner’s Manual for a Child," written by author and educator Donna Bryant Goertz, who founded a Montessori school in Austin, Texas.
Taking the perspective of a toddler writing to a parent, Goertz describes how demanding child-centered learning can be. She writes:
"I want to be like you. I want to be just like you, but I want to become like you in my own way, in my own time, and by my own efforts. I want to watch you and imitate you. I do not want to listen to you except for a few words at a time, unless you don’t know I’m listening. I want to struggle, to make a grand effort with something very difficult, something I cannot master immediately. I want you to clear the way for my efforts, to give me the materials and supplies that will allow success to follow initial difficulty. I want you to observe me and see if I need a better tool, an instrument more my size, a taller, safer stepladder, a lower table, a container I can open by myself, a lower shelf, or a clearer demonstration of the process. I don’t want you to do it for me or rush me or feel sorry for me or praise me. Just be quiet and show me how to do it slowly, very slowly."
Goertz's essay is directed at parents, not teachers, but it's easy to see how only the most skilled and patient educators can consistently adhere to this method, even as the child is ultimately leading the way.
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