Montessori and CBE

Matt’s comment to yesterday’s CBE post got me thinking and Googling.

In case I’ve left the wrong impression, I will start by going on the record as saying that I think CBE is potentially a great idea, and that I am even cautiously optimistic about the practice of CBE in Iowa. My objections, at this point, are about apparent plans to impose CBE on all Iowa districts.

A disclaimer: my Montessori experience is largely with the primary level (ages 3-6) and some familiarity with the elementary level. There aren’t very many Montessori high schools, and Montessori isn’t trademarked, so my impressions are based more on my understanding of Montessori philosophy and practice at the earlier grade levels rather than at the high school level.

Some links:

I think some of the apparent differences between Montessori and CBE are, to some extent, more of a difference in the language used to describe the programs then a substantial difference. However, I have a few initial thoughts on differences between Montessori and CBE.

Interestingly, Montessori developed from the youngest children upward, while Iowa CBE appears to be starting with the oldest children with plans to add younger children later.

Iowa CBE strikes me as still being driven by external motivation (does my teacher think that I have done enough to earn a credit/grade?) while Montessori attempts to preserve and foster internal motivation, learning for self-satisfaction of the child rather than to please the teacher. Montessori does this in various ways, including independent choice, not having grades, and creating opportunities for children to discover and correct their own errors, through either control of error or having children check their own work, rather than having the teacher correct them.

Iowa CBE seems to be looking at relying heavily on technology and data to facilitate student self-pacing, while Montessori has been facilitating student self-pacing for one hundred years through a combination of teacher observations, uninterrupted work periods, multiage classrooms, independent choice in a prepared environment, and materials designed with control of error or that children can check for themselves.

Iowa CBE seems assessment obsessed to me, though this may be at least partly a function of language. I will say that I have never heard Montessori teachers discuss formative assessments; Montessori teachers are constantly observing students at work in the classroom and noting their development, inviting them to lessons as they appear ready for them.


2 thoughts on “Montessori and CBE

  1. Matt Townsley

    Thanks again for taking the time to pull together these links. After a bit of skimming, a few aspects of the Montessori philosophy stood out to me.

    The Tomorrow’s Child pdf included “The Basic Elements of a Secondary Montessori Program.” I am going to summarize them below and then add in a few comments as a comparison to CBE.

    Montessori elements: “It teaches students to think for themselves….rather than having students memorize…” AND “The course of study is an ‘integrated thematic approach'”
    CBE connection: In my opinion, this may or may not happen in a CBE environment. It would depend on how well broad or narrow competencies are written. For example, course competencies in New Hampshire appear to be written as specific as some state standards ( whereas some educators view competencies as much more transferrable and inter-disciplinary. (Note: The narrow vs. broad has been an ongoing discussion at the state CBE task force and now CBE collaborative level).

    Montessori element: “The curriculum offers a broad view of the world…”
    CBE connection: In my opinion, this may or may not happen in a CBE environment as it is not often considered a non-negotiable in CBE conversations.

    Montessori element: “The curriculum is developmentally based and appropriate to meet the intellectual, social …needs of adolescents.”
    CBE connection: In my opinion, this, too, is not a major tenet of CBE

    Montessori element: “The program evaluates students on a logical, objective basis. Students are not graded on a curve, but rather are evaluated individually against clearly stated academic objectives…”
    CBE connection: This may be the strongest connection between CBE and Montessori.

    Montessori element: “The curriculum allows students to learn through experience and practical ‘hands-on’ application.”
    CBE connection: See connection on the first element noted in this comment. Some (many?) in CBE circles would suggest this is a major tenet, however it is not written into the state of Iowa’s CBE pathways document.

    There are additional Montessori elements noted as well, however the connections I observed started repeating themselves.

    Karen – your observation about CBE as HS moving towards elementary and vice versa for Montessori is spot on. From my experience, this is due to some educators that have a strong desire to transform the secondary experience into a more student-centered environment more frequently seen in lower elementary. In other words, some view secondary schools in need of more change than elementary schools. I think the assessment conversation (more observations in elementary, fewer written tests when compared to secondary) is along those lines as well. Does that make any sense?

    Apologies for such a long comment!

    1. Karen W Post author

      Matt, no need to apologize–I am finding this to be an interesting conversation!

      I understand your points about why we are starting with CBE in HS in Iowa. I think it just struck me because there is a preference in Montessori that children should start with Montessori as early as possible. I think this is largely because once children have been in more traditional, teacher-directed classrooms–and have learned to look for external motivation–it can take a long time for them to redevelop the internal motivation as well as other work habits that are essential for success in a Montessori-independent choice/self-directed program. I would be interested to know how the transition goes with HS CBE–are the elementary programs sufficiently similar to ease the transition? Maybe it isn’t so much of an issue.

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