In a previous blog, we discussed the value of inclusion and how Montessori’s tenet of following the individual needs of the child makes it inherently inclusive. The Circle of Inclusion Project (University of Kansas) and Raintree Montessori (Lawrence, Kansas) listed 11 specific ways in which Montessori education addresses the needs of all children, including those with disabilities. Included in this list is “Personalized instructional goals based on scientific observation and the individual readiness of the child.” In today’s blog, Michelle kindly shares her classroom experiences to provide real-life examples of how Montessori meets that specific goal.
More and more frequently, school districts are employing pacing guides as a means of ensuring that their schools are teaching the same content and achieving the same outcomes. A pacing guide is a type of scope and sequence or instructional calendar. However, rather than providing a general overview of what, for example, a year of math generally looks like, a pacing guide is often a prescribed, detailed schedule that is tied with benchmark district exams.
The trouble with pacing guides is that they look at a classroom collectively. When a classroom of students is thought of as a single unit, children are no longer recognized as individuals. A typical first grade classroom has children as young as five and as old as almost seven, depending on birth month. There is a big difference — developmentally, socially, and academically — between a five year old and a seven year old! A standardized pacing guide does not see the children; it sees a curriculum that must be finished by the end of the school year. There is no room for error, mistakes, re-teaching, or additional learning. Everyone, regardless of ability, must start and stop in the same place at the same time.
Circle of Inclusion: Personalized Instructional Goals Based on Scientific Observation and the Individual Readiness of the Child
I was once asked to take over a fifth grade public school math class for a semester while the teacher was on an extended medical leave. My first day, I was handed a pacing guide and asked to follow it exactly to make sure that the children were progressing according to the district’s timeline. I was also told that district tests were given every six weeks, and student achievement was expected to improve with each test.
The children had had a substitute teacher for the past three weeks and had not done any math, so they were already three weeks behind when I arrived. I was expected to start the curriculum at the date on the pacing guide and not try to ‘catch up’ on the three weeks the students had missed. The concept we were starting was addition and subtraction of fractions with unlike denominators. However, the children did not know multiplication facts or how to find the lowest common multiple or greatest common factor. And because we had to maintain the schedule of the pacing guide, there was no time allowed for in-depth practice or true learning.
While the situation was surprising to me, what did not surprise me was that every single child wanted to learn!
They all wanted to succeed. Thankfully, I was able to draw on my Montessori training to find ways of helping the children. We made our own Fraction Circles; we used co-operative learning; we incorporated movement into the lessons; and we used real-life examples and hands-on learning. In short, I taught the children, not the classroom.
Had these children been in a Montessori environment, the learning would have looked very different. First of all, the teacher would have made observations about individual readiness and she would have tailored lessons to each child, according to what he or she needed. She would also have ensured that the children had a solid foundation of core knowledge before expecting them to move ahead. Without such a foundation, further work only leads to frustration and children start to believe that they “can’t do it.” They give up and fall further behind.
In the Montessori environment, lessons are individualized, not just differentiated.Differentiation implies that everyone is given the same lesson at the same time, with different follow-up work given at the end. True individualization happens when we consider children individually and develop a personal plan for each child in our environment.
The way we present lessons is also different. Lessons may be given individually, in small groups, or collectively. In the Montessori early childhood environment, some lessons are presented to small groups of a 2–3 children and others are given collectively at circle time. However, the majority of early childhood activities are presented individually. The reason is twofold. First, children in this plane of development are not social learners. Social learning happens in the second plane of development, ages 6–12. Secondly, the sheer amount of learning and development that takes place during the early years shapes the foundation for the rest of their lives.
In the elementary years, there are more small group lessons. In my upper elementary classroom, for example, it was not uncommon for there to be at least seven math groups for 30 children, ranging from Year 4 to Year 6. Montessori lessons are typically about 10–15 minutes with hands-on practice as follow up, so fitting these math lessons in a day really added up to the same amount of time as a large collective lesson given in a typical conventional environment.
The Montessori environment welcomes children of all levels and abilities by recognizing and respecting the individual. By meeting children where they are at and guiding them along the way, the Montessori teacher helps each child grow and flourish as individuals, believing in themselves and their own unique abilities.
© North American Montessori Center - originally posted in its entirety at Montessori Teacher Training on Wednesday, October 5, 2016.