While conversations are ongoing in BC and around the world focused on innovation that are linked to larger system goals including a greater focus on personalized learning and giving kids greater ownership of their learning, these are not new objectives. Some practices worth highlighting are not only 21st century, or 20th century learning, in fact, some date back to the 19th century, and are an excellent fit for our current educational directions. At least, this is true of Montessori.
Maria Montessori, who lived in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, developed teaching methods which are often described as part of the “21st century learning” phenomena. When I spend time in our Montessori School, Eagle Harbour Montessori (currently expanding from a K-3 to a K-5 school), I am always in awe of the self-regulation and keen focus these students have. When I walk into the room, students continue to work and there is a sense of calm and alert focus. Students are owning their learning, the conversations with primary students are very articulate; they talk about what they are doing, why they are doing it, and what they need to learn next.
What I have seen at Eagle Harbour is also supported in the recent book from Shannon Helfrich, Montessori Learning in the 21st Century: A Guide for Parents and Teachers which links Montessori teachings with the latest neuroscientific findings.
So just what does Montessori look like in our setting:
Principles Include (from the Eagle Harbour Montessori Program 2012):
- Fosters competent, adaptive, independent and responsible citizens who are lifelong learners
- Emphasizes respect, grace and courtesy for self, others and the environment
- Allows students to experiment with their learning in a safe and prepared setting
- Gives students responsibility for their own learning; allowing for freedom of choice and personal interests within a structure. Students are given the opportunity for movement in the classroom
- Encourages teachers to observe and “guide” students in their learning
- Allows for multi-age groupings; students teach and learn from each other
- Encourages students toward intrinsic motivation minimizing reward and punishment
- Emphasizes community and builds learning communities
- Implements the three-period lesson (instruction, practice, presentation)
- Encourages the use of self-correcting materials and practices
- Opportunities for leadership are encouraged, as well as participation in organization of events and practical life at the school
- Educates and connects students through an integrated approach to teaching and learning
- Promotes order and ritual as part of the structure in the prepared environment
- Promotes inquisitive learners in a cooperative environment
- Practices concrete, real-world problem solving leading to abstract reasoning
- Encourages “the inner language of silence” providing time for reflection
- Emphasizes communication and story-telling
- Gives students ownership of the facilities and responsibility for their care
- Emphasizes humanities connection to the land and larger environment
- Demonstrates an optimistic, proactive world view, and instills in students a belief in the importance of contributing to humanity
This list could easily be taken from any current document on system transformation, whether it be the BC Education Plan, or a similar document that is being produced in so many jurisdictions right now.
There is much to think about, and many options to consider in this current, evolving education system — 21st century learning, personalized learning, or call it something else — and it also includes greater recognition of education systems not necessarily new, but ones that meet the needs of increased personalization.
As I am about to publish this post, I see Val Stevenson, our vice-principal at Eagle Harbour Montessori School, has written an excellent post on a very similar theme about her school. Her look at Montessori as an example of the new culture of learning is well worth the read (here).