The Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD; wiki), “a global community dedicated to excellence in learning, teaching, and leading” with 175,000 members in 100 countries, membership $29 to $189, is a pretty big deal. (Note to Montessorians: this is what an international educational organization looks like. It’s all about scale.)
So it’s great news that their monthly member newsletter, Education Update, has an article about Montessori education by ASCD Managing Editor Sarah McKibben, with extensive quotes from NCMPS’ own Jackie Cossentino. The article is behind a paywall, but I saw a copy and I can tell you a little about it. I’m afraid I have to be bit critical, which is a shame, as it’s not a bad piece and we’re always happy for the exposure. But it’s important to get things right.
The article gets some things mostly right, and a few things exactly right, but it also represents the general vagueness the education world has about Montessori. McKibben mentions student choice, which is good, and Cossentino gets in some early licks with the importance of the prepared environment. Children’s House areas are referred to as “stations,” which isn’t quite right, but it’s language conventional early childhood educators understand.
Montessori materials are described, and described well. But let’s remember: not just any “intentionally inviting,” “self-correcting,” and “multifaceted” objects are Montessori materials! There’s a deeply consistent, experimentally described set of materials that are designed with those characteristics in mind, to be sure. But you really have to say, it’s not really Montessori unless Montessori developed it.
The description of “the teacher as guide” is good, and guide Nancy Rawn of the Annie Fisher Montessori School gets a word in about developmental needs. The nature of the child’s work is less well-understood, as young children are being “tasked with wiping down tables” in order to “instill good habits.” Not much suggestion that children might want to wipe down tables for their own purposes, or of Montessori’s observational work which led to including practical life activities. Then again, it’s a short article.
When the article moves on to Montessori elementary, things get a little more vague, talking about “project-based learning.” Montessori elementary students take on projects, certainly, but there’s a lot more to it than that. A follow-up article about how the elementary really works, covering cosmic education, the great lessons, and work journals, would be a welcome addition. 90-minute blocks and projects with teacher-set parameters don’t really do justice to the elementary work. Is it possible to consider that children might develop their own standards of age-appropriateness and academic rigor, and that they might go much farther than what the adult might impose?
The article closes with ways teachers can “be more Montessori”: they might not be able to provide uninterrupted work time, but they can at least strive to be more project-based and hands-on (even if that means no more than having protractors and rulers available). Cossentino scores a few more points in the last few paragraphs as well, suggesting that teachers ask students questions, learn to listen and observe, and rethink the adult’s role in the classroom.
All in all it’s not a bad treatment, and certainly positive. You can’t help thinking that if teachers want to “be more Montessori,” they should take a training course, and that the article might have addressed the foundation of Montessori’s work, the Montessori landscape in the U.S. and around the world, and the training available. But I guess that’s why you have The Montessori Observer to turn to.
Note: McKibben has a follow-up piece on the publicly available ASCD blog, In Service, where she interviews Cossentino further about the effect of student autonomy in high-poverty schools. It’s great exposure for Montessori in low-income populations as well as research linking choice and student engagement:
Studies have also shown that teachers’ orientations that are supportive of autonomy contribute to the development of intrinsic motivation in students—and controlling orientations deter intrinsic motivation
So that’s good..