The core of the Montessori method of education is independence. The slogan: ‘Help me to do it myself’, is often used to summarize this system. In every Montessori school students get time to plan their work. The teacher is not the one who says when you do and what. You decide this by planning your work. During your primary school you will get a paper with the days of the week on it. You can fill in when you are going to do certain tasks. At the end of the week all the work must be done. On secondary school it works the same except for the ‘agenda’. You have to do the planning yourself and after a certain period all the work must be done.
Montessori method of education works in this way as Maria Montessori thought that self-development was crucial for pupils’ conscious development. According to her, a school should not be something that says what you need to do, but which helps you to develop yourself. This is why Dr. Montessori is often mentioned as a freedom pedagogue. Dr. Montessori thought that children are quite capable of developing themselves. The students can choose what they do (freedom of choice) and how long they spend time doing it (freedom of pace). In primary schools kids can also decide on what level they perform their task (freedom of level), and they can move around freely in the room and have to grab and put back the work themselves (freedom of movement).
This independence works very well for many children and helps and encourages them to think for themselves. It indeed gives a certain freedom. However, a large amount of students, especially in secondary schools, are not capable to implement their planning. In my school, for example, we have terms of nine weeks (six in the first three out of four, five or six years). Most of the students do not start working before half of the term has passed. At the end of the period they have to work extremely hard to finish all their homework and they have to learn for all sorts of tests (which are often planned in the final weeks). At the end of the term, most of them finished most of the work but their reports (which also show if you have finished the homework) are full of ‘gaps’. At the beginning of the new term they make good intentions to start working sooner, but this never happens. They have to work really hard anyway and then the circle is completed. The freedom of planning is not meant for everyone.
Next to planning, self-evaluation is also very important. This is why primary Montessori schools do not grade students. In secondary schools, students also don’t get grades but pluses or a minus (In order: -, +/-, +, ++, +++) except for exams. Students are also expected to correct their own homework with answer sheets. After doing this they show their work to the teacher who will note that your work is done. This takes hours and is horrible to do, but it works if done correctly. You can now learn from all your mistakes and the teacher is spending less time for correcting and explaining.
There is one final important slogan which the Montessori system uses: Head, heart and hands. The Montessori education method does not only focus on cognitive, but also on social, emotional, creative and moral skills. You do not just use your head, but perform tasks with your hart. It helps when you are motivated, when you like doing something, when you do it with your heart. When you have the skills to use your head and your heart you can combine these two and create something with it. This is were creativity and hands comes in. For example, you learn to speak German with your head and you really like it which motivates you to work even harder. This motivation comes from the heart. When you are able to speak German you use your hands to make a German movie. Your head represents the cognitive and social skills, your hart the emotional and moral skills and your hands the creativity. These three combined make the perfect learning cocktail.
When you remove the hands part you can apply this theory on my Montessori school. We do a lot of cognitive work like every other school in the country and I like what I do mostly. Although, the work we do is not very creative as we don’t make movies, plays or drawings about English, Mathematics or social studies. We get restricted to written homework, mainly where our essays are the most ‘creative’. Nevertheless, you get encouraged to do creative things besides school. You can join either the school paper, the student Council or choose Art or Theatre as an examination subject.
Altogether the Montessori method of education is still a very effective one and offers an effective way for learning. It is not always applied in the way Dr. Montessori invented it, but still distinguishes itself from other educational methods. I absolutely enjoy my time in a Montessori school. Currently, the teachers are debating about whether we are still ‘Montessori enough’. I think we are as we just adapt it to our own interpretation.