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The 30-second briefing: What is the Montessori method?

In the next part of her series that summarises teaching ideas and theories, Sarah Wright tackles the Montessori method

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In the next part of her series that summarises teaching ideas and theories, Sarah Wright tackles the Montessori method

What is the Montessori method?

Maria Montessori was an Italian physician and educator. After studying the impact of different structures and environments on children with special educational needs, she became interested in how her findings could work for all children.

She realised that certain environments could have a huge impact on how children progressed and developed a method for teaching based around this idea.

What kind of environment?

A Montessori environment promotes exploration, makes use of sensory approaches and offers children a lot of choice in practical activities. It’s the type of environment that is generally used in early years and key stage 1 settings, but it can work brilliantly for older children too.

Sounds a bit like playtime to me…

Some people talk about the Montessori method being about “learning through play”, but it is really more about learning by process. The approach encourages children to make their own discoveries, whether that’s by completing a practical task, exploring materials or sorting objects.

Pupils should be free to choose what they do, but within a very structured environment.

So, I’m expected to control a class full of children who are just doing their own thing?

The approach does feel a bit like a role reversal at first. Montessori referred to her teachers as “directresses” and encouraged them to guide − rather than control – children within a highly-prepared environment. 

Still seems a bit free-range. How do the children learn if they’re not being taught?

The structure comes from the preparation of materials, areas and activities. Montessori observed that the more children were allowed to learn through doing, the more independence they gained.

In this approach, learning is recorded with thorough observations by the teacher. The children are “assessed” on these observations, rather than on their ability to perform specific tasks.

Okay. There’s no way I’m asking a question about this on Twitter.

Not everyone is a fan of Montessori, it’s true. But the approach is much misunderstood. It really does lean towards the natural tendencies of children to learn by experience and is usually delivered by trained and well-informed staff.

The method aims to create curiosity and a love of learning and is based on the idea that early years and KS1 are central to the development of these traits.

I don’t teach KS1. Should I be trying this approach?

Yes. There are several schools in the UK that use the Montessori method throughout, many of which are judged as outstanding.

When you strip the approach back to its principles, you actually find some of the fundamental things we’re looking for in every classroom − pupil-led learning, independence and resilience. Montessori coined the term “mastery” long before this curriculum did. She wanted children to be masters of their own learning and so should we.

Sarah Wright is a senior lecturer at Edge Hill University. She tweets as @Sarah__wright1

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