1. What is the difference between Montessori and traditional education?
For children six and under, Montessori emphasizes learning through all five senses, not just through listening, watching, or reading. Children in Montessori classes learn at their own, individual pace and according to their own choice of activities from hundreds of possibilities. They are not required to sit and listen to a teacher talk to them as a group, but are engaged in individual or group activities of their own, with materials that have been introduced to them 1:1 by the teacher who knows what each child is ready to do. Learning is an exciting process of discovery, leading to concentration, motivation, self-discipline, and a love of learning.
Above age six children learn to do independent research, arrange field trips to gather information, interview specialists, create group presentation, dramas, art exhibits, musical productions, science projects, and so forth. There is no limit to what they create in this kind of intelligently guided freedom. There are no text books. Students set their own goals, with guidance, and work at their individual level. There is great respect for the choices of the children, but they easily keep up with or surpass what they would be doing in a more traditional setting. There is no wasted time and children enjoy their work and study. The children ask each other for lessons and much of the learning comes from sharing and inspiring each other instead of competing with each other.
2. How can children learn if they’re free to do whatever they want?
Dr. Montessori observed that children are more motivated to learn when working on something of their own choosing. NRGLC’s students may choose their focus of learning on any given day, but their decision is limited by the materials and activities—in each area of the curriculum—that their teachers have prepared and presented to them.
Montessori teachers are trained to observe children’s activity very carefully so lessons are matched to each child’s developing needs and interests. Each lesson is selected from an extensive repertoire of progressive lessons and exercises that build upon themselves.
Beginning at the elementary level, our students set learning goals and create personal work plans under their teacher’s guidance. These goals and plans are written and reviewed, by the students and their teachers, every day – sometimes multiple times throughout the day.
3. If children work at their own pace, won’t they fall behind?
Although students are free to work at their own pace, they don’t go it alone. Their teachers closely observe each child and provide materials and activities that advance his or her learning by building on skills and knowledge already gained. This gentle guidance helps the student master the challenge at hand—and protects them from moving on before they are ready, which is what actually causes children to “fall behind.”
4. Do your teachers follow a curriculum?
Montessori schools teach the same basic skills as traditional schools and offer a rigorous academic program. Most of the subject areas are familiar—such as math, science, history, geography, and language—but they are presented through an integrated approach that brings separate strands of the curriculum together.
While studying a map of Africa, for example, students may explore the art, history, and inventions of several African nations. This may lead them to examine ancient Egypt, including hieroglyphs and their place in the history of writing. The study of the pyramids, of course, is a natural bridge to geometry.
This approach to curriculum shows the interrelatedness of all things. It also allows students to become thoroughly immersed in a topic—and to give their curiosity full rein.
5. Is it true that Montessori students have the same teacher for all subjects rather than work with ‘specialists’ in different curricular areas?
Our teachers are educated as “generalists,” qualified to teach all sections of the curriculum. To augment the teachers on staff, we do also provide enrichment classes – including art, music, spanish, and physical education – each of which is taught by a ‘specialist’ in that subject area. Our enrichment teachers work closely with our teachers to ensure their lessons mirror current ongoing lessons, so there is a strong integration across all areas of our students’ learning.
6. Why don’t you give grades?
Studies have shown that grades, like other external rewards, have little lasting effect on a child’s efforts or achievements. The Montessori approach nurtures the motivation that comes from within, kindling the child’s natural desire to learn.
A self-motivated learner also learns to be self-sufficient, without needing reinforcement from outside. In the classroom, of course, the teacher is always available to provide students with guidance and support.
Although NRGLC’s teachers don’t assign grades, they closely observe each student’s progress and readiness to advance to new lessons. Our teachers meet with students independently for weekly student-teacher reflections. All progress is tracked via an online student data management system, Montessori Compass, from which parents are sent weekly progress reports. Additionally, we hold student-led parent conferences a few times a year so parents may see their child’s work and hear the teacher’s assessment as well as their child’s self-assessment.
Monthly presentation days and Parent Night exhibitions, held once a trimester, also allow students to be assessed by parents, community members, peers and themselves.
7. Do NRGLC students take standardized tests?
Because the Co-op is a non-profit home school cooperative, all elementary-aged kids have to be registered as home schooled students by the start of the year that they would be attending public school (WV code as outlined in WV18-8-1). The state code stipulates that testing OR a portfolio review must be turned in by June 30th. Many parents feel the test is a good guide but will not reflect a child’s ability or potential.
We proctor a nationally-recognized test once a year (usually in the spring) for an additional cost. We do not teach to the test. We do cover some review at the school and parents who wish to do so are encouraged to help their children prepare as well.
The portfolio is a collection of the student’s work for the year and a review is done to assess their progress. We have teachers who can provide that review.
Here’s one NRGLC parent’s take on testing, for what it’s worth:
“This is an easy issue for me. Many studies have shown that the information needed to do well on a test is not retained. Testing is a lot of memorization. There are many parts to my child that need nurtured. Character, integrity, compassion are very high on my list. These are just as important as the traditional subjects, they deserve just as much attention. They will shape her for the rest of her life. They are not testable. I need her education to be inclusive. I see her capacity on a daily level, I see her learn and can’t imagine trying to put a number to that in order to measure the teacher’s effectiveness. Testing has a place but not near the importance that [we have been told] to place on it.”
8. How well do Montessori students do compared to students in non-Montessori schools?
There is a small but growing body of well-designed research comparing Montessori students to those in traditional schools. These suggest that in academic subjects, Montessori students perform as well as or better than their non-Montessori peers.
In one study, for example, children who had attended Montessori schools at the preschool and elementary levels earned higher scores in high school on standardized math and science tests. Another study found that the essays of 12-year-old Montessori students were more creative and used more complex sentence structures than those produced by the non-Montessori group.
The research also shows Montessori students to have greater social and behavioral skills. They demonstrate a greater sense of fairness and justice, for example, and are more likely to choose positive responses for dealing with social dilemmas.
By less stringent measures, too, Montessori students seem to do quite well. Most Montessori schools report that their students are typically accepted into the high schools and colleges of their choice. And many successful grads cite their years at Montessori when reflecting on important influences in their life.
Some of the more famous Montessori graduates include: Jeff Bezos (Founder and CEO of Amazon), Larry Page & Sergey Brin (Founders Of Google), Gabrial Garcia Marquez (Nobel Prize winner for literature), Anne Frank (famous diarist from WWII), Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis [deceased] (former First Lady), Helen Hunt (academy award winning Actress), Julia Child (chef & author), Berry Brazelton (noted pediatrician and author), Sean “puff Daddy” Combs (music producer/entrepreneur), Will Wright (videogame pioneer), Katherine Graham [deceased] (Owner/editor of the Washington Post), and Jimmy Wales (Founder of Wikipedia).