Magazine article Montessori Life

Strategies for Promoting Problem Solving and Transfer: A Qualitative Study

Magazine article Montessori Life

Strategies for Promoting Problem Solving and Transfer: A Qualitative Study

Article excerpt

The world of today may not be reflective of the world our students will inherit. Increasing globalization has led to a loss of unskilled jobs through outsourcing to countries with lower labor costs (Tucker, 2007). The loss of these jobs requires schools systems to prepare a different kind of student to fill the remaining jobs. Today's student must be able to integrate knowledge and then use the knowledge in varied situations; in short, this student needs to master not only the traditional curriculum but also learn to problem solve and transfer solutions to new contexts.

Problem solving allows students to use what they know to achieve a goal when no solution is apparent (Jonassen, 2000; Mayer & Wittrock, 2006). Traditional educational models evolved from an earlier system, based on rote memorization and designed to produce employees for industry (Lageman, 2000). The workforce of tomorrow must move beyond rote learning by both applying current knowledge and using problem-solving skills to understand the issues of tomorrow. Since many of the problems of the future may not exist in today's world, teachers must prepare students to meet challenges that may not have immediately teachable solutions. In order to solve these problems, students need to employ transfer, or the ability to use prior learning to understand new information (Mayer & Wittrock, 1996). This article describes a qualitative study, the purpose of which was to examine the use of problem-solving strategies and instruction within a Montessori environment.

The research site was a private Montessori school for toddlers through sixth grade. Participating in the study were 16 students, one lead teacher, one assistant teacher, and one parent of each of the 4th-6th-gradelevel students. This upper elementary environment was chosen because the majority of these students had been schooled in the Montessori model of learning for a number of years. Many of these students entered the school at age 3. The data collection included approximately 60 hours of videotaped lessons, class observations, and interviews with students, teachers, and parents. The multiple sources of information and collection methods provided a means to validate the data and strengthen the findings.

According to research (Mayer, 1987; Mayer & Wittrock, 1996), specific instructional strategies encourage problem-solving transfer and have a positive effect on the quality of the process. Therefore, this study was guided by the key question, "What Montessori model characteristics are similar to those characteristics reported in the research on problem solving to facilitate transfer?" The quality of the learning and the depth of understanding were two key strategies examined in this study.

Quality of Learning

In problem-solving research, quality refers to how meaningful the learning is for the learner (Brooks & Dansereau, 1987; Mayer, 1987). Incorporating instructional methods, such as discovery learning, concrete manipulatives, and connecting old and new knowledge, encourages meaningful learning (Mayer & Wittrock, 1996). Meaning has to do with the way a concept is embedded in a weblike array of related concepts. The more connections made to other concepts, the richer the meaning of the information (Halpern, 1998). Problems that have real-world applications and are generated by students are particularly powerful (Eggan & Kauchak, 2001).

When students are involved in quality learning experiences, they are more likely to transfer the general principles of learning to situations outside the classroom. In Montessori classrooms, the cultural curriculum strand interweaves science, geography, history, social studies, and the traditional core subjects, such as math and language arts, so students rarely receive facts in isolation. Multiple connections between old and new knowledge allow students to place new learning in the context of previous learning. Linking new learning and old learning also helps students form connections between concepts and may contribute to transfer (Moreno, 2009). …

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