Category Archives: Montessori

Montessori in Iowa

The Iowa State Board of Education is scheduled to consider an application from the American Montessori Society to be approved as an independent accrediting agency for Iowa nonpublic schools at 1:45 pm today.

The Department of Education has recommended that the Board approve the application and “grant AMS authority to accredit nonpublic schools in the state of Iowa.”

A Montessori presentation was made at the April 11th meeting of the Iowa Board of Educational Examiners. From the Board minutes (page 5, lines 8-12):

The board will further discuss Montessori programs, including practitioner preparation, licensing and nontraditional preparation options. There will also be future discussion about the possibility to adopt criteria for Montessori education program practitioner endorsements.

Montessori has been part of Iowa’s education landscape for over fifty years, with Montessori programs located in communities across the state from Council Bluffs to Davenport and Dubuque. Iowa has one public Montessori program, Des Moines Public Schools’ Cowles Montessori, which serves students in preschool through grade 8.

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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.

We Live in a Competency-Based World

The Competency-Based Education Task Force Final Report was released earlier this month.

If you have children who won’t graduate out of the system within the next five years–or are enrolled in one of the ten pilot districts–you may want to read this report plus review the documents available on the Iowa CBE Collaborative page at the Iowa DE website; even though much of the work is yet to be done, plans are already being made for statewide implementation.

Competency-based education may or may not be a great idea–though it seems to me to be an awful lot of effort to reinvent Montessori minus a few essential features–but I am starting to think that there is nothing the DE considers too new or untested that they won’t try to immediately, if not sooner, impose it upon the entire state; if small pilot programs are good, then aren’t Universal Pilot Programs involving every student/school/district in the State even better? See also the Common Core Standards (adopted weeks after the final draft was released), Smarter Balanced Assessments (attempted to adopt before any test items were even pilot tested–and they would have gotten away with it too, if it hadn’t been for those meddling legislators!), teacher leadership and career pathways, tying teacher evaluations to student assessments, and online classes.

A Few Links

Too many tabs open, too little time to blog:

Education Week reports that Arne Duncan is almost out of carrots.

Also from Education Week, life is good right now for the assessment industry:

For testing companies, that means there’s money to be made at the state level, and in local districts. Whether this results in tests that lead to improved classroom instruction or academic gains remains to be seen.

One more from Education Week: Next Generation Science Standards (currently being considered for adoption in Iowa) may be even more challenging to assess than the common core.

The first Iowa Student Learning Institute was held this past Saturday, and by all (Twitter) accounts I saw, it was a great success (#isli on Twitter if you missed it). By the way, it looks to me like their list of what students would have if they could have what they wanted could be shortened to one word, Montessori.

William Pannapacker in The Chronicle of Higher Education on Screening Out the Introverts.

Finally, over at Apt. 11D they have been discussing Lisa Miller’s article on ethical parenting in New York Magazine. I honestly don’t have a sense of how much this sort of thing is actually–or perceived–to be going on locally, but I do think the discussion was interesting.

From Laura in the comments:

Perhaps the problem isn’t that rich people hire tutors. Perhaps the problem is that poor people can’t. Perhaps the problem is that people need to hire tutors, and that schools aren’t teaching all kids equally.

If that is the case, how much can the diversity policy on its own really help?

Independent Choice

To truly be an invitation to learn, and not a mandate, the student has to be free to choose.

In a Montessori classroom, children are free to choose their own work as long as they are respectful of the materials, the other children, and the classroom environment.  Just as infants go through periods of activity focused on learning how to walk, for example, Dr. Montessori observed that older children also have a need to focus on areas of their own development, such as developing their senses or writing or mathematics.  Independent choice allows children to direct their work according to their own developmental needs and interests.  They can spend as much or as little time as they need to master a material before they move on to something else.  This freedom to choose also allows children to develop their powers of concentration and self-discipline, as their work activities are not interrupted or controlled by the teacher. They work out of internal motivation and self-satisfaction rather than learning to depend upon external motivations.

Independent choice is the key feature of Montessori education, in my opinion.  I think of the other features of Montessori education discussed in earlier posts (no grades, the big picture overview of the curriculum, multi-age classrooms, the prepared environment, control of error, and the work period) as essential supports to making independent choice–learning by invitation and not mandate–in the Montessori classroom possible.

A final thought on invitations and mandates: making an effective invitation to learn requires an acceptance that children will progress through the curriculum at not only different rates but at different depths.  This is at odds with the push for standardization and high-stakes testing.

The Work Period

Montessori classrooms generally offer three hour work periods.  During the three hour work periods children are permitted to choose to work with materials from any of the curricular areas.

This lengthy work period allows children to complete work cycles at their own pace (choosing work, laying out the work, completing the work, putting the work back on the shelf ready for another child to choose it).  This permits children to develop habits of concentration and to take rest, bathroom, or snack breaks as needed to prepare for more intellectual work.

An important feature of the work period is that it is to be uninterrupted.  That is that not only will the teacher not disturb or interrupt a child at work, the teacher will not allow other children to disturb or interrupt a child at work.  This signals to each child that the teacher respects their work, and that their work is so important that they should not be interrupted.

The saddest comment I have heard from a Kindergarten teacher is that Montessori children are the worst in class in the sense that “they always cry when you take their work away and make them move on to the next activity.”  What does that signal to the child about school work and learning?

Control of Error

Montessori materials are designed with control of error and Montessori work is designed to be checked by the child.  This way children will discover and correct their own mistakes.  Thus, making mistakes becomes a normal part of learning something new rather than an opportunity for embarrassment or correction by others.

Montessori children learn that a mistake is a reason to try again, not an indictment of their capacity to learn or be good at something.