The Hard Work of Public Montessori
Montessori Life, Fall 2016
By John Chattin-McNichols
One of the few constants in my life since I began work at a Montessori school, in 1968, is that people are still asking why more children, especially children from low-income families, do not have access to high-quality Montessori programs. “Isn’t that what Dr. Montessori did with her first Casa dei Bambini?” “Wouldn’t she want this to happen today?” Yes, that’s what she did, and yes, I am sure she would be advocating for more Montessori programs, especially for less-advantaged children. But the problem of creating these free or low-cost opportunities has been a struggle since the first Montessori school opened, in 1907.
Of course, many independent Montessori schools offer scholarships. And free Montessori exists, in the form of public school programs, dating back to Sands Montessori School, which opened in the Cincinnati public schools in 1967. However, starting a public Montessori school requires a large initial investment for teacher education, materials, furniture, and so on. Most public schools look to outside funding to cover these costs. For a time, a consistent funding method for implementing new public Montessori schools was federal grants for magnet schools, a way to desegregate schools without mandatory busing. However, this funding source dried up almost completely more than a decade ago. Since then, as more and more states allow charter schools, Montessori has become a popular choice.
The number of public and charter Montessori schools in the U.S. is impressive—the National Center for Montessori in the Public Sector (NCMPS) lists 507 schools, although they are still gathering data (www.public-montessori.org, retrieved May 2016). Launched by AMS in 2012 (and now an independent organization), NCMPS itself is a good example of how the concern for serving low-income families is being addressed; the organization’s mission, as stated on their website, is “to advance Montessori education in the public sector through the support of a robust network of practitioners, researchers, parents, and leaders committed to realizing Maria Montessori’s vision of education as the great work of realizing the child’s potential” (www.public-montessori.org, retrieved May 2016). Still, public Montessori schools make up only a small percentage of the “more than 4,000” Montessori schools in the U.S. (www.amshq.org/Montessori-Education/ Introduction-to-Montessori, retrieved May 2016). I feel strongly that each of us in the Montessori movement should advocate for more and better opportunities for every family to choose Montessori education.
My goal in this article is to write plainly about some of the difficulties I have observed in public Montessori programs over the years. Some are the same difficulties found in independent Montessori programs, while others seem to be unique to public schools, or at least pose a greater problem for those schools.
To begin, we Montessori educators need to understand that district and school-level administrative staff in public education may not have heard about Montessori education. Let me share a short conversation I had with a person who, for a time, made his living writing federal magnet school grants. He said, “You know, I’ve written a number of these grants for school districts that wanted Montessori, and, frankly, it’s not my favorite.” (He forestalls my impending diatribe and research barrage by holding out his hands, palms toward me.) “I know, I know—but getting Montessori going is a huge pain! There is no central training agency—there are more than a hundred training programs, with everyone saying theirs is the best, accredited or aligned with this, that, and the other. The same with the materials. I like the International Elementary School model much better.”
“Why is that?” I asked.
“You buy a whole lot of flags of different sizes and change the names of the food items in the cafeteria.”
It seems that some people involved in making decisions for new programs in public schools don’t know, or don’t wish to find out, about the relative benefits of alternative programs like Montessori. This means that we as Montessori educators need to work harder to make our case. Obviously, not all educators are that cynical, but I think it is fair to say that getting and keeping a good public Montessori program going is a nonstop job. Second, I want to encourage every Montessori educator, teacher educator, and administrator to make time for observations in a public or charter Montessori school program. This is especially important for the majority of us who do not work in public Montessori. It is impressive to see what can be done with children who may not have all the advantages that many children in independent Montessori schools have. Montessori really does work in less-than-perfect settings.
I have spent a good amount of time in public Montessori schools. I helped start two public school programs (through the AMS teacher education program I founded), each a 3-year process. I have visited the Calgary, Alberta, public Montessori schools on three separate occasions. In 1992, I wrote “Montessori Programs in Public Schools ” for the ERIC Digest (ChattinMcNichols, 1992), which now seems more than a bit dated. My most recent work in the public sector began in August 2014 with an email. A public Montessori school in the Seattle area had lost its principal, vice principal, and 3 of its 5 teachers. The district had come up with a small stipend for a Montessori consultant to come in during the school year and help. One of the remaining teachers suggested me. And so began a 9-month adventure. From my first visit to the school, I was awed by the energy and commitment of these teachers and administrators. I appreciated that the district was willing to hire a Montessori educator as a consultant, although the contracted amount of time was just 6 hours a month for the school year.
My year in a local public Montessori school showed me how hard both teachers and administrators must work to achieve good implementation in a public school setting, and revealed issues I believe are common among public and independent schools. I will discuss each of those issues here and talk about why they prove especially difficult in public school settings.
The uneven profile of a child who is one or more grade levels ahead in a particular subject area is not a problem in Montessori; in fact, it is expected and welcomed.
In 2014, during my year as the AMS Living Legacy, I traveled to and spoke at a number of schools. I saw many Montessori programs proudly describing themselves as being other things as well. A common parallel program that schools claimed to be adding was Reggio Emilia, or a “project approach” (that these are assumed to be the same thing is unfair to the Reggio approach). Common Core was another overlapping description; this was in place in the local public Montessori school where I was a consultant. A variety of enrichment programs are used in this way; a version of Great Books or a pre-International Baccalaureate program is being used in some Upper Elementary or Middle School programs. My basic question here is, Are these programs being grafted onto Montessori programs to fulfill a particular gap or weakness? If so, I think the best way forward would be to identify the problem and determine whether or not we can manage this issue within the Montessori model. Describing a Montessori school as also being a Reggio Emilia school seems as if the emphasis is on long, recursive projects, in which teachers redirect children toward more and more depth in their understanding. Also, of course, it suggests a very serious use of art as a work response to the topic under study. Perhaps it also implies more choice by children rather than by teachers. It seems to me that all of these could be done within the framework of any good Montessori class. Second, I think that a program should not be labeled a Reggio Emilia program unless there is full commitment to that program—well-prepared teachers, a serious atelier (the art and supplies room, often centrally located), true child choice, and fantastic Tuscan food for everyone in the school. (Okay, the last isn’t actually required.)
My sense is that sometimes the choice to add a descriptor to the school’s program is not coming from a perceived weakness in the Montessori model but from a marketing viewpoint. I have no experience in the administrator’s chair, so I don’t know from experience how hard it is to keep families and their children in a school—or how difficult it is to attract new families—but I think a really strong parent education program at a school should serve to make parents more aware of what Montessori education really offers.
Another concern is the preparation of the teacher and his or her allocation of precious minutes of the school day. I am told repeatedly how hard it is to get teachers with solid education in Montessori required for the age range the school needs, in both public and private settings. Some schools require these teachers to hold state teaching certificates as well. And now the school wants these same teachers to have native fluency in Spanish; special education training and experience; background in Great Books, Common Core, and Reggio Emilia; and to be able to give lessons that are brain compatible, emotionally appropriate for boys, and that use Gardner’s multiple intelligences! Montessori is difficult enough without expecting teachers to juggle so many other competencies at the same time.
It feels as though the daily struggle to give presentations and allow children time to get deeply involved in their work has gotten more and more difficult over time. “Specials”—specialized teachers in areas such as art, music, PE, second languages, and so on—often seem to be on a schedule that disrupts the long work period in classrooms. In the public school setting, we must explain why we value these long work periods and fight back against the idea that children naturally have short attention spans, requiring that something new be presented as often as possible. In short, the schedule will be something for which Montessori advocates will need to fight, year after year.
HIGH-STAKES ACHIEVEMENT TESTING, AND THE IDEA THAT THESE SCORES ARE THE ONLY IMPORTANT GOAL FOR SCHOOLS
Let’s go back in history to the origins of the No Child Left Behind policies. The legislation (which had bipartisan support) was based in large part on the Texas model of testing and school accountability (Heilig, 2011). In particular, the legislation drew on the “Houston miracle” (of very strong improvements in the graduation rate and test scores in a large and diverse district) during the superintendency of Dr. Rod Paige. Later, as President George W. Bush’s secretary of education, Paige wanted to increase testing and accountability for all schools. It turns out, with careful reanalysis of the data, that the Houston “gains” were largely due to some very interesting policies and practices at Houston schools for collecting this data during this time (Heilig, 2011). For example:
TEA auditors who checked the dropout coding at Houston ISD high schools uncovered school use of PEIMS “leaver” codes that artificially reduced reported dropout rates at most of them. When the auditors reviewed the records of nearly 5,500 students who left those schools, they found that almost 3,000 students should have been coded as dropouts, but were not. (Peabody, 2003, cited in Heilig, 2011)
Between11thand12th grade, all student groups and cohorts show fairly level progression trends with a grade-to-grade loss of less than 4%. Interestingly, the 1996–97 African American and Latino 9th grade cohort gains students between the 11th and 12th grades. This turned out to be due to a school gaming activity: the practice of “skipping” students past the 10th grade so as to avoid the Exit TAKS test at the time where it would be factored into the school accountability ratings (McNeil, Coppola, Radigan & Vasquez Heilig, 2008; Vasquez Heilig & Darling-Hammond, 2008, both cited in Heilig, 2011).
Think of what your experience might have been as a struggling high-school ninth grader when you found you had skipped over tenth grade! One could argue the idea of schools as places whose only goal is to produce achievement test scores had a rather sketchy beginning. Over time, there has been a trend to focus school curricular activities more narrowly on areas that are tested. This seems to me to put the cart before the horse—it lets the developers of tests set the nation’s curriculum.
Montessori education uses a curricular approach and a variety of teaching methods that have been chosen based on information about child development. We start children learning phonetic sounds of letters (“ah” rather than the name of the letter “A”) in the Early Childhood environment, earlier than many other approaches. But we delay teaching content areas of social studies until much later. Instead, we work hard in component areas of geography and history. Later, this rich background, coming from puzzle maps, pin maps, timelines, and so on, lays a foundation for social studies. In contrast, geometry as experienced in the Montessori curriculum, is ahead of state expectations. By definition and practice, Montessori is not well aligned with state achievement tests.
There is a difference, I think, between a Montessori environment that has been set up by a well educated teacher vs. by someone else.
Another central idea of Montessori education concerns goals for a classroom of, say, 6–9-year-olds. If you went to a traditional school, and if you can remember anything from second-grade math, reading, or science, then you may recall that these curricula were largely defined by textbooks or workbooks. The goal was that every child would make it through the entire textbook or workbook by the end of the school year. (Yes, I know that good teachers in traditional classrooms would liven up their teaching with many activities, field trips, and so on, and would also differentiate instruction to some degree.)
In the Montessori classroom, the goal is to have each child get as far as he or she can in each area. The uneven profile of a child who is one or more grade levels ahead in a particular subject area is not a problem in Montessori; in fact, it is expected and welcomed. In a 6–9 classroom, in a fairly typical Montessori school I visited, the range of grade equivalents on the standardized reading test was kindergarten through ninth grade.
In summary, achievement tests are now more central to K–12 than ever before. Montessori education defines itself as facilitating development of the whole child—not only in all areas of the curriculum but also in areas of child interest that will never be tested. We follow the child. We also spend our time in the classroom working on social and emotional development, Cosmic Education, learning how to adjust behaviors to situations, cooking and cleaning, and on and on.
The public Montessori program where I was a consultant in 2014–15 had a number of challenges in meeting basic standards for Elementary Montessori classrooms. But I have also seen quite a few independent schools that were not meeting some very basic goals of Montessori education.
One of these is the 3-year age span. The school I worked with used a 2-year age span. The school within a school consisted of two classrooms of grades K–1, two of grades 2–3, and one of grades 4–5. I have found the 3-year age span to be a hard sell to traditional teachers and administrators. Teachers feel (correctly) that they are already dancing as fast as they can. They have one or more curricula to follow in every area, a large and constantly evolving set of other things they must do, a constant set of demands to attend training (both in and out of school hours), and a steady stream of assemblies—“jump rope for health” days, visits from athletes, folk dancing, bomb threats, and other activities I cannot categorize.
I empathize with teachers’ concerns about this whole complex curriculum for three grade levels rather than one. But what isn’t clear to them, and may not be clear to many teachers until they have a few years of Montessori teaching experience, is that the “three grades” idea is replaced by individualized instruction. And, more importantly, they actually can individualize instruction for a whole class. One trick of the trade is short small group lessons, with individualized follow-up work. Another is peer teaching. A third is the self-correcting nature of Montessori work. A fourth is the way in which the child’s work with the materials exteriorizes their thinking processes—for example, a quick observation of a child’s work with a Math material makes it clear to the teacher what needs to be revisited. And teachers don’t always understand how much their own knowledge of the materials scaffolds their understanding of what comes next and where the child is. (You may have heard teachers saying things like, “Stamp game dynamic subtraction, but he’s messy, so he needs the bead frame very soon.”) Changing teacher thinking from age-based grade thinking to individualization is an important step, and the 3-year age span pushes teachers to take that step. A second basic is good Montessori preparation for the age you are teaching. I believe a MACTE-accredited teacher education program is what is needed. Are there examples of people educated through correspondence courses or video/online courses who have been successful teachers? Yes. But most of us need all the help we can get to become Montessori teachers. We need to be in the same room with our teachers, see the presentations, hear the words and tone of voice, experience the pace, ask questions, learn face-to-face from our peers, practice with the materials while getting feedback, and so on. A good teacher educator is not just robotically reciting an album. He or she gives examples of how the presentation can be modified with children of different abilities and learning styles. He or she models treating children with respect by treating the adult students with respect. Complete Montessori environments for adult learning and actual classrooms with children are necessary parts of teacher education, in my book. A well-chosen internship site and good supervision are also essential. This Montessori teaching is hard work, even when smart people are given the best preparation available.
Before the local public Montessori school hired new teachers, the school district contacted me. I was assured that the new teachers would have Montessori training at the level for the ages taught. However, 2 of the 3 teachers hired had no Montessori preparation, and while the third had training, it was not for the age level taught. In addition, the first two teachers were in their first year of teaching. Was this due to the change in the principal and vice principal at the school, a lack of understanding at a higher level of administration, or additional budget cuts? No one could tell me.
The last basic I will mention is the Montessori materials and the classroom environment that houses them. There is a difference, I think, between a Montessori environment that has been set up by a well-educated teacher vs. by someone else. To see this, think of yourself as a 4-year-old wanting to do watercolor painting. How easy is it for you to get everything you need? When you go to the shelf, you see trays and perhaps a paper liner for a tray on the far left. After you have gotten your tray and lined it, can you then get all the other bits you need? Is there a space to set down your tray while you get paints? Where do you have to go to get the clear water container and water? In a less-well designed area, you may have to go on a scavenger hunt or ask the teacher to get what you need.
Or consider this Elementary example: In a rich 6–9 Language area, the grammar boxes will usually be stacked together, or only a few will be out (the ones currently in use by the children), because shelf space will be taken up by all the other Language work. If Language work is thin, grammar boxes may have a whole shelf to themselves, as if they were the center of 6–9 Language curriculum.
Montessori educators know how important an appropriate selection of materials is; without such a selection, how will children find work that draws them into concentration? Without materials that work for them, they can’t “do Montessori.” The British open education teacher and advocate A. S. Neill wrote in
Summerhill about starting the school year with a mixed-age group and a totally empty classroom. He filled the class and taught lessons and created activities based on the children’s interests (Neill, 1960). We ordinary mortals need materials.
I understand that, sometimes, if there are to be any materials at all, they will have to be ordered by someone not educated as a Montessori teacher. But there is help to be had—for example, the AMS website offers comprehensive lists of materials appropriate for classrooms at each Montessori level (www.amshq.org/School-Resources/ Starting-a-School/Classroom-Materials).
The room layout, wall coverings, the arrangement of materials on shelves, and all of the other details are much more central to the effective operation of the classroom in Montessori schools than in traditional education. Experienced teachers are often found in their classroom in August, sometimes with much-appreciated helpers, thinking their classroom into shape by moving things around. Since every class is a new one, the environment must change to meet its needs. (The need for a 3-year age span shows itself here as well: if you’re following this model, then only one-third of your class will be newcomers each year.)
Materials are a challenge in public Montessori because the culture often sees materials as something extra, a nice thing if there is money and space. Materials in traditional school settings are seen as appropriate perhaps for kindergarten and Primary grades, but much less so after third grade. (Note that Piaget strongly parallels Montessori’s idea that children need hands-on materials to think with until formal operational thinking begins, at around age 11, for typically developing learners (Flavell, 2011)).
In the classrooms I visited, there were specific challenges to setting up the best possible Montessori environments. Someone had decided that each classroom would have a special rug (rather than the usual Montessori circle or oval) for whole-class meetings. The rug was square and gridded into fairly small squares, and rows of squares were different colors. I presume the rationale for this was to be able to dismiss the class by colors—“Orange group, you may go to your work.” The trouble is that most of the children on the gridded rug were surrounded by 4 other children (or even 8 if you count the diagonals), rather than just 2. This seemingly small difference is especially important when classroom rules and expectations are still being established. Also, sitting in a filled square, versus an open circle or ellipse, makes it much harder for children to see and seems to suggest that children should be learning by listening and by looking only at high things (whiteboards) rather than down at materials. Finally, this format makes it impossible for most of the children to come up and do anything—it assumes the teacher will be “doing things” with whatever is being presented.
Every Montessori classroom seems to struggle for space, whether it is for shelving, whole-class meetings, or work. The traditional school approach, in which every child has his or her own desk, makes this struggle even harder. When classrooms move away from this approach to tables and floor work spaces, many classrooms save space by having lots of 4-, 6-, or 8-person tables and fewer 1and 2-person tables. This approach emphasizes social behavior and makes it difficult for some children to concentrate. Even removing one large table and replacing it with 1or 2-person tables will have a marked effect on noise and concentration. Again, we as Montessori educators must continue to advance the idea that young children really can concentrate and that it is part of our job to help this happen.
How could I expect unprepared teachers to be able to order and organize the materials they did have in a Montessori way or even to understand why the organization was so important? In my work at the public school, I chose to focus on basic things: a sense of order and increasing the number of 1and 2-person tables.
SERVING ALL CHILDREN VERSUS REQUIRING ELEMENTARY STUDENTS TO HAVE HAD MONTESSORI EXPERIENCE
A few years ago, one of the changes at the local public Montessori program was that their (tuition-based) Early Childhood Montessori classrooms had been closed. The district policy requires Montessori programs to accept children regardless of their previous Montessori experience. The idea that the percentage of children with prior Montessori experience in your classroom influences what kind of Montessori experience you can provide is, I think, widely accepted. Some teachers have experienced teaching in Montessori classrooms with 30, 40, or 50 percent of children without prior Montessori experience, or even in a classroom with no children with previous Montessori experience. I was privileged to work with Celma Perry on a number of trips to provide Montessori teacher education in Brazil. I got to watch Celma’s teachers working in a well-equipped but improvised classroom with a number of 3–6-year-old children from the nearby village, who had never been in any preschool before. While a lot of floor mopping was needed, everyone could see what Montessori wrote about, happening right in front of us.
I think the general consensus is that you must start where the children are and then offer them more freedom as they grow into the Montessori culture and environment. For example, when I helped start up an Elementary program in which only half of the class had prior Montessori experience, I began with weeklong work contracts. As children seemed ready, I moved them to weeklong reports—they chose the work and reported what they had done in detail. (Of course, I observed as well and had a good idea what they had done during the week.) By the end of that school year, most children had moved from the report system to working without having to check in with me. The idea that every child needs prior Montessori experience to work well in a Montessori classroom is a generalization. I have found that some children without any Montessori experience are so drawn to the materials and the work that they may be “more Montessori” than their Montessori-experienced peers.
One area I worked on with new teachers at the local public Montessori school was the phenomenon I call “the cloud of students.” When the teacher is constantly surrounded by a moving cloud of students, all with questions, permissions, tattling, and so on, it is hard to do the work of a Montessori educator. This can be alleviated by routinizing or automating as many things as possible in the permissions and “What do I do next?” columns. For example, children can learn to use a necklace for bathroom permissions if the bathroom is outside the classroom. Another strategy is organizing Math problems and Language work in designated spaces and according to degree of difficulty, so that children know what they can work on next. Each child should always be reading a book. A strong classroom culture of map work and classified nomenclature booklet work in geography, botany, and zoology also helps. As far as corrections are concerned, my idea is that a child should never waste time waiting for teacher correction or feedback. If it is paper work, there should be a place to turn it in. What if a child finishes a big layout of work on the floor and no adult is free to see it? Take a picture with the class camera. An independent school I visited evolved another teacher-checking idea: red flags. There were a number of flags the same size as those used in the flag work, but each was solid red. The child put a red flag on completed work and waited for an adult to come check the work. This approach seems to encourage children to sit passively. Doing the work must be the focus, not adult approval. Finally, teachers must set policies about tattling, about asking for spelling help, and so on, and encourage children to use peers as much as possible. Each teacher will need to work with an administrator to set up and use policies that will meet their students’ needs.
INEQUALITY OF RESOURCES AND OPPORTUNITIES IN U.S. PUBLIC SCHOOLS
Most of today’s public schools face difficulties, whether Montessori or traditional. The ways in which resources are allocated between wealthy and poor school districts, and even between wealthy and poor schools within the same district, are not equitable. These inequities are well documented in Jonathan Kozol’s several books on this topic; I usually recommend Ordinary Resurrections (2009, new edition 2012) as the least depressing, but see also The Shame of the Nation (2005) and Savage Inequalities (2012). To summarize, schools serving the neediest children employ teachers with fewer advanced degrees and less experience and have facilities that are in poor condition, insufficient quantities of supplies and books, higher turnover of faculty and administrators, and so on.
Despite all that I have written here, I remain hopeful. There is still a case to be made for the power of Montessori education, even in less-than-ideal situations. The school at which I consulted has a high percentage of low-income families but a truly amazing degree of cultural and linguistic diversity. This population contributes to a very rich human environment, in which “good Montessori” and Cosmic Education can flourish.
Early in the fall, one of the teachers asked me if I could do a presentation with her children. Since the materials were still being checked for completeness, and since I knew so little about both what materials were available and the backgrounds of the students, I decided to show them how to make number rolls. When I got to school, I spent a few minutes cutting graph paper into thirds of a sheet and locating tape. I gave a presentation of no more than 5 minutes and hurried off to see the next teacher. (My schedule was to see 3 to 5 teachers and talk about what I saw with each of them, as well as meet with the administrative team for 30 minutes, all within 3 hours.)
When I went back to check on the effects of my presentation, the room looked as if it had been hit with a toilet paper avalanche. I took a picture (see next page).
On another occasion, when I had more advance notice, I gave the impressionistic lesson on the Big Bang, a part of the First Great Lesson. This involves storytelling and dramatically popping a balloon preloaded with glitter. I have never had a more enthralled audience, and when the glitter of “subatomic particles” rained down, several children were so excited they rolled on the floor to get glitter on themselves. Again and again, throughout the year, I saw children who were hungry for presentations, hungry for work. After just two presentations, I could raise my eyebrows to indicate my displeasure with a child who was talking or otherwise misbehaving and get instant silence and attention.
The teachers were given 2 days to observe other Montessori schools, and I set up visits to 2 independent and 1 public Montessori school in another district. On the day of the public school visit, a district mentor teacher came with us. She seemed impressed with the Elementary classroom, but her eyes got really wide in the Early Childhood classroom. It was a very lively classroom, lots of children working at the limits of what they could do with Sensorial materials (i.e., many constructions tumbling down, but still, great concentration, persistence, and cooperation). We in Montessori take for granted that there will be all kinds of different work going on in 3–6 classes and that a great deal of it will be happening with teachers observing but not running the show. The district mentor approached and said with amazement, “But this is just what all the research says should be happening in early childhood!” Um, yes.…
I got an email from a teacher in one of the second and-third-grade classrooms, in early December. The text and photo from the email are used with permission.
Today a group of four third-grade students decided to explore division with the Stamp Game. Now, these guys had only been exposed to a couple demonstrations of this material that I did as a “coming attractions” kind of lesson. I was working with a group of students when one of the young ladies holds up a whiteboard with the problem 19,000 ÷ 429. I told them that might be too much to take on (I hadn’t even talked about remainders!), but they said they wanted to try so I relented. As the morning period was drawing to an end, they invited me to take a peek. At first glance, I did a quick estimate of the quotient being in the mid 40s. But I had no idea what the yellow tiles and centimeter cubes represented. When they explained what they were and why they were there I had to take a seat and asked for a calculator…. They said they weren’t sure what to do with the units when they had to share with the green units skittles. But they realized that each time before they had been trading one place value for ten of the lesser place value. So they decided to trade a unit stamp for ten of the yellow foam tiles. I asked if they knew how much a yellow tile was. They said they didn’t, but it must be a fraction of a unit. MIND GETTING BLOWN! They had created tenths! When they had to trade down from tenths, they traded one-tenth for ten centimeter cubes. They said they didn’t know what they were called either but said it was the pattern of the work. HOLY CATS: HUNDREDTHS!
It is impressive that these children would undertake a difficult problem and then, apparently with incomplete preparation, be guided by the material to invent the idea of a number one hierarchy below units—so that it took ten of whatever it was to make one unit. They didn’t know what it was called, and it is unclear if they had understood or even heard of decimals, but they inferred their existence! And they did this again for hundredths.
Some Montessorians might be upset by crooked, rather than straight, lines of stamps. Others might question the use of the Stamp Game rather than the test-tube division material. Still others might be concerned about the children’s adding in other materials (non-Montessori materials at that!), moving on to an extension, when it is not clear that they have mastered the basics. I would disagree; they are treating the classroom full of materials as their own tools, to be used in service of a challenging problem they have set themselves. This is, in fact, exactly the freedom within structure that we want children to have.
My strongest impression of the children in these far from-perfect settings is that they are hungry for work—this is the classroom across the hall from the one “TP’d” by number rolls.
This is why we need more opportunities for all children to experience Montessori—the liberating, immersive experience of losing yourself in work you really want to do. This concentration, Montessori felt, was the basis of normalization.