Connecting Educational Theory and Montessori Practice

By Bagby, Janet; Sulak, Tracey | Montessori Life, Spring 2010 | Go to article overview

Connecting Educational Theory and Montessori Practice


Bagby, Janet, Sulak, Tracey, Montessori Life


As Montessorians, we encourage quality research that examines what we know: Montessori works for children because the method was designed for children. In this first Spotlight on Research column and in future ones, we will highlight aspects of the Montessori philosophy and method that support current educational research. In other words, we will present evidence of "theory into practice." We begin with the theory of constructivism.

For the past four decades, constructivism has offered a dominant perspective on how students learn and teachers instruct. While the concept of constructivist learning is defined in various ways, most educators agree with the principle that learners construct their own meaning and understanding. Jean Piaget and Lev Vygotsky are two well-known theorists associated with constructivism. Piaget's theory, often referred to as cognitive constructivism, focuses on the individual making meaning of new information through activity-based learning. Social constructivism, as derived from Vygotsky's work, emphasizes that learning occurs best within a social context (Eggen & Kauchak, 2007).

While constructivist approaches are often considered the best method for teaching and learning, Angeline Lillard (2007) stated that few schools offer true constructivist programs. She suggested this is due to the absence of a detailed constructivist curriculum, with the exception being Montessori's curriculum. Lillard's stance strengthens the Montessori-constructivist connection highlighted by Margaret Loeffler (1992) nearly 20 years ago. Former AMS president John ChattinMcNichols stated, "It is sometimes astonishing to see the way that Montessori's thought outpaced that of her contemporaries in the fields of education and psychology" (1995, p. xi).

The following description of lessons on ancient China presents a convincing example of constructivist teaching and learning in a Montessori environment. These ancient China lessons, which occurred in an upper elementary environment, spanned a 2month time period. During this time, fifth-level students participated in a cooperative research project that concluded with an ancient China fair for students, parents, and their teacher.

The learning sequence began with an introductory lesson on early civilizations and Chinese dynasties. Through voting, the students chose to study ancient China and conducted individual research on specific dynasties. Once study was completed, the students shared their knowledge and began to brainstorm ways to present this information to an authence. Again by voting, the students agreed on a fair as the product of their study. They made maps and sketches of costumes prior to their next history lesson. During the third lesson, the students decided on committees needed for designing and operating the ancient China fair and then signed up for specific responsibilities.

Although the fair was the product of this experience, the process of achieving this goal afforded students the opportunity to study China from a multitude of perspectives. Students participated in group lessons, individual research, map-making, costume design, and delegation of responsibilities for running the China fair. …

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