Montessori Method and testing

Tom raised some good questions about the Montessori Method in the comments to “Stupid in America”. Since I have not studied much education theory in general, mostly the Montessori Method, my answers may be a bit biased. My love affair with the Montessori Method is more philosophical than empirically based. However, there are several studies, now going on 70 years or more that demonstrated how phenomenal her method was in educating children. From what I’ve seen, many pre-schools and elementary schools have adopted portions of her method, so it may be difficult to differentiate between particular methods today.

Supposedly, education departments in major universities do research exactly along the lines Tom proposes. This research first started with Maria Montessori, when she established Scientific Pedagogy. Back in the late 1800s and early 1900s, she developed her method by trial and error and found that she could increase the average IQ and the average reading ability of children the world over by double-digit percentages (read any of her books for particulars). Granted, these studies were done many years ago and new educational methods may be able to produce similar results today.

Without going into too many particulars about the method, let me state that the teaching style she advocates is one where the teacher is more of a scientist or guide for the children, rather than a leader or lecturer. The primary purpose of the teacher is to facilitate the child toward their natural learning inclinations. Most children want to learn and absorb as much of their surroundings as possible. It is the teacher’s job to give the children the best tools for accomplishing this learning.

Success in the learning environment is measured by the child’s ability to live independently. In other words, the only standard of measure worth its salt is life itself. The best learning environment provides a child (or adult) with the abilities to cope with living in this world. Can a standardized test measure a child’s ability to cope with the world? The best it could hope to capture is a child’s ability to think, since reason is our only distinct biological advantage. It is only with rational thought that we separate ourselves from the beasts. It is only by rational thought that we have developed the great wonders of our age. If we are to test how we can best survive, indeed flourish, we need to measure our ability to think.

Yet herein lies a problem, the Montessori Method does not stress standardize testing. This is mostly due to a focus away from comparing ourselves with others and more toward comparing ourselves with our self. In other words, it focuses achievement inward, towards reaching new goals and obtaining new values within the framework that we set. The Montessori Method encourages independence of the mind by providing the tools to enhance thinking and learning. This is the brilliance of the method.

As this is the case, standardized tests may only partially capture the strength of the method. Whereas one method may produce good short-term results through drilling and memorization, the long-term results could be disastrous, as the child never learns how to apply that information. Another method may show a child how to problem solve in a particular context, but the child never learns how to apply it to other contexts.

Again, I must stress that the standard for measuring an educational method is the long-term success of that individual in life. The idea that a test can capture that trait is limited at best. It might be able to capture particular aspects of a successful life, but many individual values are optional and have different significance to their lives. Capturing attainment of those values and their resulting happiness is extremely difficult if not impossible.

No comments:

Post a Comment