Key elements of Montessori education that are shared with other educational methods
This article discusses research that has not directly evaluated the Montessori method, but has evaluated other educational methods and interventions that share elements of the Montessori method. These, together with our growing understanding of the science that underlies learning, can be added to the evidence base for Montessori education. Given the huge amount of research and the limited space in which to look, priority is given to systematic observations and meta-analyzes.
One of the best-studied learning techniques is to use phonetics to teach children to read. Phonetics is the explicit teaching of letter-sound correspondences that allow the child to understand the alphabetic code. Montessori’s first schools were in Italy, and Italian spelling had relatively transparent one-to-one comparisons between letters and sounds, making phonetics a logical choice of method for teaching children the mechanics of reading and spelling. However, English spelling is much less common: comparisons between letters and sounds are many to many, and for this reason the use of phonetics as a method of teaching is disputed for the English language. However, there is huge evidence of its effectiveness despite the irregularities of the English language. At the same time, great strides have been made in elucidating the neural mechanisms underlying early reading and reading skills disorders. They also show the importance of successfully reading the integration of audio and visual images.
As always in education, the truth is in the details. It is important that phonetic programs have the greatest impact on reading accuracy when they are systematic.
By “systematic” is meant that the connections between letters and sound are taught in an organized sequence, rather than being taught in fragments. However, within the systematic teaching of phonetics there are two very different approaches: synthetic phonetics and analytical phonetics. Synthetic phonetics starts from the parts and works to the whole: children learn the sounds that correspond to letters or groups of letters and use this knowledge to pronounce words from left to right. Analytical phonetics begins with the whole and extends to the parts: sound-letter connections are derived from sets of words that share letter and sound. Several control studies have compared synthetic and analytical sounds and how they affect children’s learning, but it is not clear which of the two approaches has an advantage.
The Montessori approach to teaching phonetics is certainly systematic. For example, many schools in the United Kingdom use word lists derived from Morris’s Phonics 44. In addition, Montessori’s approach to phonetics is synthetic rather than analytical: children learn the sound letter code before using it to encode words (when spelling) and decode them (when reading). One of the criticisms of synthetic phonetics is that it teaches letters and sounds taken out of their significant linguistic context in a way that analytical phonetics does not. It has long been recognized that the purpose of reading is understanding. Meaning reading requires both code-based skills and language skills such as vocabulary, morphology, syntax and intensive skills. These two skill sets are not strictly separated, but rather interact on multiple levels. Indeed, phonetics training works best where it is integrated with text-level reading instructions. The explicit teaching of phonetics in a rich linguistic context – both spoken and written – is essential to the Montessori curriculum. Assessments of the teaching of phonetics in the Montessori classroom have not yet been made in comparison with the teaching of sounds in the conventional classroom. It is therefore not known whether conventional training is more effective than Montessori.
Research on writing supports Montessori’s view that writing involves many component skills, including handwriting, spelling, vocabulary, and sentence construction.
Mastering these skills predicts the quality of children’s writing. In the Montessori classroom, these skills worked on their own before being combined, but they can continue to be practiced on their own. The growing number of studies from conventional and special classrooms demonstrates that the specific teaching of component writing skills improves the quality of children’s writing.
When it comes to teaching math to young children, there are many recommendations that Montessori teachers would recognize in their own classrooms. For example, teaching geometry, numbers, and operations using developmental progression and using progress monitoring to ensure that math learning builds on what every child knows. Some of the recommended activities, such as helping children recognize, name, and compare shapes, and then teach them to combine and divide shapes, are accurately applied to Montessori sensory materials, such as the geometric cabinet and structural triangles. Other activities, such as encouraging children to label objects using numbers and words, affected Montessori’s early mathematical material. Such as number sticks, spindle box, cards and abacus. The importance of conceptual knowledge as a basis for understanding children in general is emphasized. The circles of Montessori factions, which provide a sensory experience with fractions from one whole to ten tenths, provide just such a basis. Also, exercises for practical life, such as making snacks (how should a banana be cut so that it can be shared between three children?) And folding napkins.
Finally, in this article, it is worth returning to the prolonged retention of attention and self-regulation that are said to characterize children’s engagement with learning materials in the Montessori classroom.
These are important parts of the complex cognitive construction of self-control (EF), which also include inhibition, working memory, and planning. Simply put, EFs are a set of processes that allow us to control our thoughts and actions to participate in motivated, purposeful behavior. The fact that EFs are critical to academic success is supported by a wealth of scientific evidence. Given this key role, EFs have become a target for a number of individually administered interventions, full curricula and ancillary ones. Such curricula in the classroom are music, yoga and martial arts. Research shows that combining the Montessori method with normal classroom activities such as music and writing lessons give exceptional results on the development of EF skills in children.