By Cheryl Lynn Jones, Montessori elementary teacher at First State Montessori Academy
When I first joined the RTC, I learned all about their Blueprint for Personalized Learning in Delaware and was amazed to see the extensiveness and thoughtfulness of the plan. I was also encouraged to see that Montessori education fits right into personalized learning.
Montessori education dates back to the 1900s. The creator of Montessori teaching, Dr. Maria Montessori, developed her pedagogy after years of medical training, learning about educational theory, and teaching children with intellectual and developmental disabilities. She spent countless hours observing children of all abilities and realized that children not only learned from their environment but ultimately wanted to teach themselves. She discovered children have an innate desire to learn, are motivated to learn when given a classroom environment that is engaging, safe, and beautiful, and prefer materials that encourage movement and allow them to make discoveries on their own.
In a Montessori classroom, students work at their own pace as teachers meet their needs for various academic concepts. Students use a work plan, which is a tailored document that list specific assignments, group lessons, and activities they should do each day to support their learning. The work plan is often created by the teacher and can be made on the computer or handwritten. Work plans for younger students may have pictures on them, as they are still developing reading skills. Older students may have work plans that include long-term projects and even may look like an agenda book in order to help them refine their time management and organizational skills.
There is a video embedded in the Blueprint for Personalized Learning called Student Voice and Choice: At Their Own Pace. In that video, teachers refer to a time in their classroom, called Workshop, where the students are working on a topic of their choice and are able to receive the help they need to accomplish an academic goal. This is a part of the Montessori philosophy and daily occurrence in a Montessori classroom, it is called work time.
During work time, students follow their individual work plan, meaning everyone could be working on something different at the same time. They are allowed to complete assignments in the order they want, sometimes choosing their favorites, or the most challenging, or the easiest. It is not uncommon to see one student working on phonics skills with a teacher, another completing grammar work, another working on long division, and another laying out a large timeline.
More importantly, there is room for choice on a students work plan and during work time, which Maria Montessori called “liberty within limits.” The Blueprint for Personalized Learning also states that,
Every day, students in my classroom complete their daily assignments at their own pace, using a variety of materials available to them, and still have time to pursue a topic of their choice. For example, the work plan may simply state “Cultural Choice” and the students know what materials to choose from, how to use the work, and different ways to follow up to show their learning. (My classroom favorites include creating instructions for a game and then executing the game with materials on the shelf.)
Cultural Choice in a Montessori classroom refers to what is traditionally known as social studies and science. It covers a wide variety of topics, everything from learning about the seven continents, comparing and contrasting vertebrates and invertebrates, to reading a non-fiction text and reflecting about it in a journal.
In Montessori education, students learn at an early age to take responsibility for their learning. They learn and develop personal interests and start to think about how they can complete any required work, so they may pursue a project of their choice. Students are empowered to develop ideas, work together, try new things, and start over if an original idea does not work out. Montessori education is student centered, just like personalized learning.
When students are given the freedom to learn and make choices, and their own pace, it allows them to develop confidence, enthusiasm, and self-direction for their learning.