Ever since the first Montessori school was established in 1907 by Maria Montessori, parents and educators have argued about the effectiveness of the Montessori teaching method. Despite its relevance to the world of education, relatively few effective studies have been created, which makes it difficult to compare the results that Montessori schools have on children as opposed to traditional schools. However, some conclusions can be drawn about the consequences of an early education Montessori system.
Montessori education is effective in helping children to grow socially and cognitively, providing them with opportunities to learn in an environment that promotes independent decision-making. It harnesses a child’s innate desire to learn in order to more effectively teach them.
There are advantages to both a Montessori education and a conventional education system, but it’s important to recognize that each style has slightly different goals. In examining the case for Montessori schools, we must examine not only the advantages and disadvantages of this style of education but also the purpose behind it.
What is the Montessori Method?
The Montessori Method is a style of education that turns away from traditional practices of homework, tests, and quizzes and instead invites students to choose what they want to learn. One of the principal fundamental beliefs of Montessori teaching is that learning should be self-motivated. Classrooms and curriculum are crafted in such a way that students are free to learn without the stresses and pressures of things like homework. Instead of school being a burden for children (as they sometimes can be), Montessori schools invite the children to learn more of what they want to learn.
This is done by creating classrooms where instead of having desks and a teacher at the front, classrooms have shelves around the room containing different learning tools. These tools are usually collections of concrete objects that the students unpack, interact with, and then clean up and put away. For example, young students might be given a collection of seemingly identical cylinders filled with different materials that make a sound when shaken. The task is for the students to listen to the sound that a cylinder makes when they shake it and find the cylinder that makes the matching sound.
Overall, the trait that sets Montessori methodology apart from traditional schools is the emphasis on self-motivation in students. Traditional schools use different forms of incentives (grades, for example) to motivate all of the children to participate and to learn the material. They set common standards for all of the students of a specific age level to reach, with tests and quizzes to mark their progress. Montessori schools, on the other hand, do not give their students grades. Instead, the teachers track a student’s progress and development in order to provide the support that the child needs.
Without homework, tests, and grades to provide a student with accountability and opportunities to manage themselves, Montessori schools instead create an environment where students must take responsibility for their own learning. The students work independently or in small groups on their different tasks in an environment where everything is geared towards creating independence and a love of learning in the student.
Another feature of Montessori schools is the way that classrooms are constructed. In traditional schools, children are put together with other children of the same age. This provides relatively equal footing to all students, as they are all expected to learn at the same pace and meet the same grading requirements. However, Montessori schools do not expect all students to learn at the same pace and sees no reason not to mix ages in classrooms. Most classrooms in Montessori schools have children whose ages range by about 3 years. This mix is done to create a greater sense of inclusion in learning and to provide an opportunity for the older children in a classroom to teach the younger children.
Comparing Teaching Methods
As simple as it would be to compare the academic advancement of children in Montessori schools with those in traditional schools, there is a lot more to consider than meets the eye. First of all, most Montessori schools require families to pay admission in order to support the higher cost of running a Montessori school. This means that those likely to attend a Montessori school are children whose parents are more wealthy and more concerned about their child’s education.
These factors in parenting likely have a much higher impact on how well a child performs than what kind of school they go to. Furthermore, these admissions, unfortunately, have made Montessori schools places for the white and privileged. These students often have far more support in their learning, and far more resources to put towards their education. When compared with inner-city public schools, the students at Montessori schools are going to perform better.
Another factor that affects the integrity of studies comparing the two methods is the difference in teaching. Montessori schools generally attract teachers who are more involved and dedicated to their profession as they allow for a lot more freedom for the teachers. Montessori schools also require a lot more training from their teachers. These things can have a large effect on a student’s growth that is not necessarily a result of Montessori methods.
Another challenge that comes when comparing Montessori schools with traditional schools is the sheer number of their differences. If any results are found in a study comparing the two archetypes of education, it is difficult, if not impossible, to pinpoint what caused the effect. If students that attended a Montessori school performed better on a test than students of a traditional school did, their differing scores could be a result of the mixed-age classrooms as much as they could be a result of the lack of a grading system. On the other hand, if students of traditional schools performed better on a test it could be because they are more accustomed to test-taking and not because of the way that they were taught.
That being said, there is strong evidence showing that schools that strictly adhere to the Montessori standard are more effective than schools that use a mix of traditional schooling techniques and Montessori learning activities. In one study, researchers examined a school that used both Montessori strategies and materials and written tests. They removed the supplementary tests from two classrooms and examined how they affected the student’s learning.
In the classrooms with only the Montessori learning materials, the students performed better in a few subjects (reading and word identification, for example) than their counterparts. Though the research was done on a small scale, it can be concluded that the schools with the highest fidelity to the Montessori ideals are more effective than those that use a hybrid curriculum. (Source)
Related: Is Montessori good for every child?
Advantages of Montessori
One of the biggest advantages to Montessori learning and education is the emphasis on independence. Students can grow and learn at their own pace and can focus on what is most important to them. In a way, Montessori schools customize an education program for each student by providing them with much more agency and control over their own learning. Children that have special needs in education can play to their strengths and get much more out of their education than they might otherwise get.
Another advantage of a Montessori school is the enhanced social interaction between students. Instead of creating an environment where students interact only during specific times of day, a Montessori classroom provides social interaction all day long. Students have more opportunities to learn from each other and participate in other’s education than in traditional schools.
Montessori schools also seem to contribute to one’s attitude towards lifelong learning. Instead of a task-oriented learning environment with somewhat stressful assignments and upcoming deadlines, Montessori schools seek to make learning much more enjoyable, which can carry over to a child’s adult years. Many successful businessmen and entrepreneurs credit their attitude and success to the things they learned at Montessori schools. Some famous graduates of Montessori schools include Jeff Bezos and Stephen Curry, both of whom have high opinions of the Montessori method.
Disadvantages of Montessori
One of the biggest and most apparent disadvantages to the Montessori method of teaching is the cost. Unlike traditional schools, which are relatively cheap to open and run, Montessori schools demand a lot more. Classrooms require a wide array of specialized Montessori materials for the children to interact with. A school needs hundreds of different materials in its classrooms to occupy all of the students.
Each Montessori classroom is very expensive, especially considering the particular architecture and design of a Montessori Classroom. Another principal cost to running a Montessori school is the teachers. Montessori schools need to employ teachers that have been trained in Montessori methods and that know how to use all of the materials. Because of these costs, almost all Montessori schools charge tuition, with a few rare exceptions being federally funded.
Another disadvantage to Montessori schools is the undefined structure. While some students need to be free to learn at their own pace and by their own direction, many students need the structure that a traditional school can provide. Rows of desks, regularly spaced school subjects, and age-specific classrooms all help provide a structure for students to rely on during their academic careers.
While homework, tests, and quizzes all can be sources of stress, they provide input on a child’s progress that can be measured against students of their own age. They also can help to teach children how to deal with some real-world obstacles like deadlines. The traditional structured curriculum can do a lot to prepare children for a working career.
Montessori learning can also cause students to over-prioritize independence. In modern job environments, being able to work well with a team is one of the most valuable skills that a potential employee can have. Wherever you work, the environment will require cooperation and teamwork to be successful. Montessori schools have a very different environment, however, an environment that encourages independence and self-guided work. Students of Montessori schools are generally taught to work on their own. The lack of team experience may one day be a liability for them.
Effectiveness of Montessori Schools
When we ask ourselves if Montessori schools are effective, we need to decide what we are looking for in an education. If our priority is that our children grow up as independent, lifelong learners then the Montessori structure and curriculum are a solution. However, if we instead see school as a way to prepare us to work as a team in a structured, work environment, Montessori schools aren’t going to be very effective. It all comes down to what kind of education you want for your children.
The goal of Montessori schools is to optimize development in children, allowing them to take a role in their own growth and learning. The goal of traditional schools is to maximize academic advancement, preparing them for college and success in future employment. With these differing goals, it is troublesome to truly compare the effectiveness of the different types of schools. With so many factors and variables setting them apart, it is difficult to draw conclusions about which method does more for a child’s education.
If one clear conclusion can be obtained from the studies on the effectiveness of Montessori schools it is that Montessori schools are a much better environment for children with special needs. In Montessori schools, they can learn at their own pace and have much more enjoyment for school. This has been true for Montessori schools ever since Maria Montessori created her first school, which was originally intended to cater to children with a variety of different attitudes and needs.
As more Montessori schools are opened, more and more families will have access to Montessori methods to choose what is best for their children. If solutions are found to combat the costs of Montessori schools and admission fees were dropped, every family could choose the style of education that best fit their priorities. Though the two methods of schooling have different goals for a child, they both are effective ways to provide education and development.