I wrote most of these articles and conference reports while I was doing my M.Ed.(CI). Originally put up on the website TeachAsiaOnline.com (defunct since 2009), I have decided to archive them here as I think most of the information is still relevant and useful for others. (2012) I'm now picking up where I left off to write about more recent seminars I attended.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Montessori In Practice

[This article was written after a visit to Modern Montessori International (Thailand) Pre-school in Bangkok in 2006.]

Overview * Practice * Challenges in Asia * Final observation

A Brief Overview of Montessori
Maria Montessori
Born in 1870, Maria Montessori was the first female doctor in Italy. During her work in a mental institution, she decided to help the mentally defective children that were usually just kept in a crowded room without any stimulating activities. She designed her own materials and helped them
learn basic skills. Once people saw how fast and well these children developed, her method began to attract attention.

Montessori Philosophy
All children want to learn. With the freedom to investigate the world around them, they will be active learners. (MMI)

Montessori Method
The Montessori method sets the environment for the child to develop itself. The child has the freedom to choose within this environment. Children study mostly individual, using their own learning style, and developing at their own pace. Teachers keep track of individual children and guide them in their development. This way, children construct their own knowledge, creating a positive self-concept and self-esteem. Age groups are mixed so that children can also learn from each other.

Montessori Teacher
Motto: “Follow the child” (Maria) The teacher in a Montessori classroom guides the children and observes them continuously, keeping track of their development. She leads by example; she will model every activity for the child. She does not interfere when children are concentrating on a task. The teacher’s role is vital for the success of the method. Therefore, teachers are required to follow a special Montessori teacher training.

Montessori Learning Environment
The Montessori classroom is completely thought-out. Every classroom has a similar layout, with separate, easily accessible areas and materials for each subject. Furniture is child-sized.

Individual working space is provided through the use of personal mats, with individual and group desks available. Children are free to work anywhere in the room on any activity they choose.

Schools are generally provided with music rooms, exercise rooms, a stage for performances and library. There is a provision for daily outdoor activities. The environment is safe.

Montessori Materials
The materials are simple, natural and real. Children are preparing themselves for the real world, so real materials are used where possible. The materials are self-correcting. This concept is explained in the section Montessori in Practice.

Montessori Curriculum (Pre-school until K3)
Especially with younger children, the activities are all about family work (called “Practical Life”). By contributing to family activities the child gains self-respect, confidence and the feeling it is needed. Other subjects are Sensorial training (the 5 senses), Language, Mathematics and Cultural Subjects (Nature study, Botany, Zoology, Geography and History), for which separate areas are created in the classrooms. Other guided activities are Creative Arts and Physical exercise. (MMI Pre-school)

Montessori in Practice: Examples of Montessori Principles and Activities
Learning environment
The first thing a child will learn, is how to unroll and roll up a mat that will serve at its working space during an activity. Older students will teach the new ones how to do that. This space is exclusively for the child; the activity can not be shared unless the child invites another child. There is only 1 set of each material; if another child wants to do the same activity it will have to wait. This teaches patience.

Practical Life Activity with self-correcting materials
An example activity may be how to pour water from a jug.
  1. First, the teacher will show the child how to do the basics, using eye contact and only basic verbal communication to explain (so at not to distract the child from the action modelled).
  2. The child will then start practicing with a porcelain jug, pouring real liquid. When it spills, it will know it did something wrong (the self-correcting principle mentioned earlier). It will continue practicing until it can pour without spilling.
  3. When it can control the jug, it moves on to a heavier glass jug.
  4. Once the glass jug is under control, the child will pour water for other children over lunch in the canteen. A real-life task and thus rewarding for the child.
photo: Stoneham
Maths Activity with teacher guidance
The child unrolls its mat and sits down in front of it, the teacher sits down on the side of the child’s dominant hand. She teaches the numbers 1-2-3 in the following steps:
  1. She puts the numbers down on the child’s mat 1 by 1, following the sandpaper shape of each number with her finger, while she says the number out loud. The child follows the shape with its finger and says the number. Even if the child doesn’t copy her properly, she won’t correct it. Instead she will continue to give a good example until the child catches on.
  2. She points at one of the numbers on the mat, the child follows the shape with its finger and says the number.
  3. She shows one number and hides the others, the child follows the shape with its finger and says the number. If for example the child identifies the wrong number in the last step, the activity should be repeated from the beginning.
Documenting progress.
Every single step of every single activity of the child is documented. The teacher records what date the child did a particular step and what the result was (from ‘very good’ to ‘needs more practice’).

Challenges for Montessori Schools in Asia
The general perception that Montessori schools let children “run wild”
According to Maria Montessori, discipline is not necessary if children are concentrating on activities they like to do. This viewpoint is not known well enough in the outside world.

Finding qualified Montessori teachers
In some countries it is very difficult to find Montessori-trained local teachers. Even though Montessori is very popular in some countries in the Asia region (there are for example around 300 Montessori schools in Singapore), it is virtually unknown in countries like Thailand.

A Final observation
The Montessori method is a great way for children to learn. However, looking at the fees parents have to pay for a Montessori school, clearly many children will never have this opportunity in their lives, unless the public school system is reorganised to include this kind of philosophy.

MARIA MONTESSORI, MD. The International Montessori Index. 26 January 2006. <http://www.montessori.edu/maria.html>
Modern Montessori International. Modern Montessori International Pre-School. London: MMI.
Modern Montessori International (Thailand). MMI Group. 24 January 2006. <http://www.mmithailand.com/>
Montessori, Maria Dr. The Montessori Method. A Celebration of Woman Writers. 26 January 2006. <http://digital.library.upenn.edu/women/montessori/method/method.html>
Stoneham, Neil. “Guiding Hands.” Bangkok Post, 17 January 2006: Learning Post 1.
(c) cafavier, 2006-2011

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