Stanford Daily: If Only Montessori Did High School…

What’s that you say? Erdkinder?

Alexandra Heeney, film critic at The Seventh Row and Managing Editor (Arts and Life) at The Stanford Daily, has an interview there with director Greg Whitely about his Sundance film Most Likely to Succeed, a documentary about the history and future of education. The film’s depiction of High Tech High, where students are “involved in multi-disciplinary, collaborative projects” makes her think of her own Montessori education, “an educational approach for elementary school students, which emphasizes independent learning and exploration.”

So she asks the filmmakers if Montessori ever came up while they were working on the project. Why, yes, they tell her — it kept coming up. I’ll just give you the whole quote:

“One of the key interviews in our film is [with] this economist named Andy McAfee, out of M.I.T. He was a product of Montessori schools. He gave us this great quote, where he tells this story that for the first few years of his life, [he] just developed this keen interest in x, y and z, because [he] was allowed to explore. [He] was allowed to poke at things and kind of learn in a way that Montessori celebrates. And then, because he aged out, or maybe because his parents moved, he went to a more traditional school, and he said, ’it just killed me. It was just so painful.’ ”

(Longtime readers will remember McAfee from this post. Furthermore:)

[Executive ProducrTed] Dintersmith added that there was an article in the Wall Street Journal a few years ago about the “Montessori Mafia” — people like Amazon Founder Jeff Bezos, Wikipedia founder James Wales, and Google Co-Founders and Stanford Alumni Larry Page M.S. ’98 and Sergey Brin M.S. ’95 all of whom spent their formative years in a Montessori school. The “Montessori Mafia” found that Montessori was the best education experience of their lives. So, Dintersmith asked, “Why is it in 2015, when the world begs for the characteristics that get promoted in Montessori school, [why do] we send kids to this desert called middle [school], high school and college?”

Oh dear. Because Heeney also says this:

As someone who’s a product of a Montessori School — I attended one from kindergarten to grade six, when Montessori ends

Of course, Montessori is more than “an educational approach for elementary school students”, and extends from birth to age 18. Heeney may be interested to learn of the AMI training and classrooms for ages 0-3, developed in collaboration with Dr. Montessori, the proliferation of 3-6 programs, and of the recent extension into adolescent work under the auspices of AMI and NAMTA, as well as the many other Montessori programs extending their work into secondary education since the 1970s. Actually, she is probably aware of it now, since several Montessorians have piped up in the comments on the article. Heeney even referred to the responses on Twitter, so we know she still has that spark of life-long learning we can no doubt attribute to Montessori.

 

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Montessori Mentions (This Is Not About Vaccination)

A couple of “Montessori mentions” in the mainstream media this week. Warning: discussion of vaccinations ahead. This post is not about vaccination and, for the record, Montessori does not take an official position on the subject (although, generally speaking, we believe in science).

With that out of the way: First, from Tuesday, an “info-for-parents” piece in US News and World Report’s Money section, “Can I Afford to Send My Child to Private School?”. It’s a light overview of private school options for the general public, but there’s Montessori, right after religious schools and before Waldorf, as if it’s something you’ve probably heard of. Here’s what the general public is hearing about Montessori:

Montessori schools are famed for fostering environments in which children become independent learners and problem-solvers.

Which is not bad for a one-liner. There’s nice quote and a reference to the North American Montessori Teachers Association (NAMTA) tuition survey (from 2009). Bonus points for the mention of public programs on the second page.

Next, on Thursday, in the Atlantic, in How Schools Are Dealing With Anti-Vaccine Parents, 2300 words about The Children’s House in Traverse City, Michigan, is handling un-vaccinated children. Again, the school is introduced as “one private Montessori school” with no further explanation: of course you’ve heard of that. The article is a sensitive treatment of how The Children’s House, as a private school, worked to balance children’s safety, public health, and parent concerns on both sides of this divisive issue. But some Montessori nuggets come along the way. “Montessori encourages children to ask questions, to seek out information,” says one parent. Further down, we’re told:

The idea behind Montessori schools is that they’re meant to mirror “the real world,” where individuals work and socialize with people of all ages. Mixed-age classrooms are one of the hallmarks of the Montessori teaching method, which means that infants, kindergarteners, and adolescents come into contact throughout the school day.

Which isn’t quite the core of Montessori, but, hey, mom, we’re in the paper! Maybe they’ll spell our name right next time.

Jimmy “Wikipedia” Wales: Take Me Off the List, But Put Me Down For Montessori

I happened to be browsing the Talk page of the Wikipedia article on Montessori Education (in which I have a small, godparent-like interest), when I stumbled on a comment from Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales himself!   It’s Wikipedia, so I think I can quote the whole thing for free:

I have been trying to correct this myth for years, and I’m disappointed to see it repeated in Wikipedia of all places. I should not be in this list! At least we do have the disclaimer that it was a “Montessori inspired environment” but really, no Montessori educator would agree that it was in any way a Montessori school. It would be more accurate to say that it was a one-room schoolhouse after the fashion of Abraham Lincoln.

The sourcing is to the Wall Street Journal (a good source, but wrong in this instance) and a children’s book. The Wall Street Journal only mentions me in a long list, presumably found on the Internet after this myth had started.

I don’t think there’s anything negative about it – I really like Montessori and all my children have (or will, in the case of the baby) gone to Montessori preschools. I just don’t like the historical record to be wrong.–Jimbo Wales (talk) 08:51, 17 December 2014 (UTC)

So there you go, Jimmy—happy to set the record straight.  Montessori actually has a lot to offer beyond preschool, and I’m sure there are some great programs in London.  The Maria Montessori Institute would be happy to help you out I’m sure.

Wait, What Just Happened? Montessori in the White House

Last Wednesday, December 10, my Montessori feed (Facebook, email, etc.) blew up about something called the White House Summit on Early Education and something about $15 million for public Montessori programs.

OK, you got my attention—but what exactly happened? Here’s some context:

First, you need to know that President Obama has been making a big deal about Early Childhood Education (ECE in the education world) since at least his State of the Union speech in 2013 (full videoECE talking points). In his 2014 address, Obama set the goal of a public-private partnership to greatly expand and improve publicly funded ECE. At last week’s White House Summit on Early Education, Obama fulfilled that goal, announcing $750 million in public support and $330 million in private funding through Invest In Us, a major initiative of the First Five Years Fund (itself a project of the Ounce of Prevention Fund—welcome to the world of high-level philanthropy).

More attention and money for ECE is good news for children almost no matter what, given the quality and availability of what’s offered now. But we know that having Montessori in the mix would be even better news for children and good for education in general. And that’s what’s exciting about what happened at the summit. Part of that private $330 million is a $15 million commitment from Trust For Learning, a collaborative fund supporting Montessori education and a project of the McCall-KulakFamily Foundation and the McTeague Catalyst Fund, which organized and funded the Montessori Leaders Collaborative (previously on TMO), which brought together the leaders of the Montessori movement in the U.S. including AMS and AMI-USA, helped launch the Montessori Census, sponsored the State Public Policy Project, and more (TMO here and here).

So on Wednesday, Stephanie Miller, Executive Director of Trust For Learning (along with a team of founding partners, foundation partners, board members, etc.) was at the Summit, a six hour invitation only gathering at the White House with lunch in the Indian Treaty Room, breakouts, and a 30 minute address from the President.  So when we talk about Montessori being at the table, in the room with the people spending money and making decisions at the highest levels, that’s what we’re talking about.

And about that $15 million: That’s a 5 year commitment to programs supported by various partner foundations “aligned with a central Trust For Learning strategy for bringing high quality public Montessori to more children in this country, especially the ones who need it most.”  That means it will be spent locally, and the key, according to Miller, is to “build momentum at the local and state levels.”* This is where Montessorians everywhere can  join state organizations, talk to local leaders, and get involved.  There’s a movement on!

* More about the Trust for Learning and how to connect:

Trust for Learning is a collaborative fund of partners, all of whom are committed to bringing public Montessori and developmentally appropriate approaches to more children in this country.  The Trust is doing this work through a collective national strategy, and does not accept unsolicited proposals at this point.  That said, the Trust always welcomes news and inquiries from the field through the website at www.trustforlearning.org or by contacting the Executive Director, Stephanie Miller, at miller@trustforlearning.org.

Montessori Class Size: Sam Chaltain Aks “What if?”

“National educator and educational change consultant” Sam Chaltain (Wiki) has an interesting piece on his blog (Democracy. Learning. Voice.), cross-posted at Huffington Post: In Trying to Reduce Class Sizes, Are We Trying to Solve the Wrong Problem? Interesting in part because it gives five paragraphs — a third of the post — to Montessori, citing The Absorbent Mind and Dr. Angeline Lillard.

Money quote that brings him to Montessori:

But what if we viewed school with a different set of guiding assumptions? What if, for example, the default mode of instruction didn’t depend on the transmission of knowledge via a single lesson? What if the philosophy of learning was that children should learn from one another as much or more than from any adult? And what if the model of discipline was not based on restricting a child’s movements, but on unleashing them?

Now, Chaltain is kind of big wheel in the education world: former teacher, author or co-author of six books, prolific newspaper, magazine, and internet writer, previously national director of the Forum for Education & Democracy, and the founding director of the Five Freedoms Project, etc., etc.  And he’s written about Montessori before: (Energy or Entropy), and talked us up at TEDx.

And what’s that he’s saying in that first piece: “I spent the other morning in my son’s Montessori classroom.” Nothing like first-hand experience to inform the dialogue!

Testing, Testing…

It’s been a while since I posted…is this thing on?

This caught my eye: “States Listen as Parents Give Rampant Testing An F”

It says “States”, but it’s mostly about Florida, an early and eager adopter of high-stakes testing under the aegis of “accountability”, which is now joining the national movement (FairTest.org, UnitedOptOut.com, Facebook) to push back against standardized testing.  And no wonder:

In Florida, which tests students more frequently than most other states, many schools this year will dedicate on average 60 to 80 days out of the 180-day school year to standardized testing. In a few districts, tests were scheduled to be given every day to at least some students.

Of course, Montessori schools don’t have much use for tests and grades:

The bad marks with which teachers weigh up the work of girls and boys is like measuring lifeless objects with a balance, measured like inanimate matter, not judged as a part of life.  (Montessori, From Childhood to Adolescence)

And they are rarely to be found in Montessori schools.

But Montessori was a scientist, and we can’t turn our back on the science of standardized testing.  The math is unassailable, and it really does give you a detailed, unbiased picture of what you’re testing.  It just depends on what you’re measuring.  Montessori students are hard to measure accurately, for reasons discussed here.  One of the few solid studies we have is Rathunde and Csikszentmihalyi’s 2003 work, which accurately compared Montessori and non-Montessori middle school students while filtering out demographic biases such as race and income.  And what did they find?  Montessori students:

  • liked school better
  • felt more active, strong, excited, happy, sociable, and proud
  • enjoyed themselves more, were more interested in what they were doing, and wanted to do schoolwork
  • reported higher interest and motivation
  • experienced more challenge

In the school I work for, at Elementary conferences, parents get a list of lessons the student has had.  Our guides use software which can record a “status” for each lesson—something like “presented, practiced, proceeding with guidance, mastered”.  We recently decided to use only “presented”, for several reasons.  First, the volume of data:  30 children averaging 5 choices a day gives 150 “work events” per day to record. The laptop would have to be out and humming every minute, and we just didn’t want that to be the center of the classroom.  No doubt guides would record less than that, but how could they be sure of a random sample?

Second, we wanted to represent to parents the reality of what our guides do, which is give lessons.  The work afterwards is the child’s responsibility.  Guides know each child’s work intimately, of course, and they would be happy to tell you how Jason followed up on his Viscosity lesson, or sit down with you and Amber’s work journal. That’s what the conference is for.

Some parents were concerned about what goes on to middle school.  And that got me thinking about the difference between what we do, and grades and test scores.

A grade or score says this:  We warrant that, on this day at this time, this child was able to say or do or calculate these things. It doesn’t say anything about what the child knows or can do today, because no one can know that.

What we do is this:  We warrant that, over the last three years, this child has had all these lessons! And we warrant that we gave them in such a time and in such a way that she could not help but to be inspired and awakened.  Don’t believe us?  Just ask her.

And that’s why content testing is always going to be a challenge for Montessori schools.  Sure, we teach content, and we have the public school requirements as part of our classroom environments.  If the testing requirements will recede to a saner level, we can probably still do most of what we do and our children will pass the tests because they love to know things

But our idea of the whole purpose and program of education is radically different.  In the conventional model, education is about delivering content.  Adults decide what content, and when, and how, and how much, and children stand by to receive and be tested for their successful retention of content.

In Montessori, education is about human development.  That’s it, really: the understanding that humans have an inherent optimal path of development, which includes intellectual curiosity and the acquisition of culture, and that development can be helped or hindered.  Devise a test that can measure that, and we’ll be sure to excel.

Montessori on Facebook

Montessori has been blowing up a little bit on Facebook recently. Three groups I’m following:

AMI Montessori Teachers:

This group is for Montessori teachers of all levels, Assistants to Infancy, Primary, Elementary, Middle School who are AMI trained and passionate about their work. Let’s come together online and create a welcoming community to support one another in our work!!”

1,145 members. New posts every few days or so. Posts are typically at a fairly professional level: implementing second language immersion, AMI job opportunities, computer use, but the occasional question like “where do you get your forks?”

Montessori Teachers:

The Montessori Teachers group is an international discussion page and online social meeting space for professional Montessori educators. The purpose of this group is professional development; to encourage a deepening of our understanding of Montessori philosophy, and support each other in applying this to our daily practices.

3,429 members. An emphasis on professionalism and civil discourse. Multiple posts daily, often with dozens of comments. Recent intense conversations: Montessori-inspired: pro or con?, work journals and work plans, and, what are the essential elements of a Montessori material? This is a very active group.

Montessori 101:

Welcome to Montessori 101, the Facebook group for Montessori newbies! Whether you’re looking for Montessori in the home strategies, creating a Montessori-inspired home school classroom, or thinking about teaching in a classroom, this group will embrace your questions and thoughts with the respect and grace that Maria Montessori was known and loved for.

6790 (!) members. This is wide-open discussion of Montessori which welcomes newcomers and experienced teachers alike. Lots of questions and discussions about homeschooling and Montessori-inspired parenting.

Next up: Montessori on Pinterest.