Our Fundamental Beliefs and Values as Montessori Educators

by Tim Seldin
President of the Montessori Foundation

Information provided by: www.montessori.org

Basic Learning Theory

1. Whenever real learning has taken place, there will be a distinct and observable change in the learner’s behavior.

2. Learning is an active process. Children learn most easily through repeated exposure, consistent role modeling from others around them, and from repeated opportunities to apply and practice; They learn by doing, not simply by seeing or listening to others.

3. Education should begin with the learner and extend outward. It should be linked step by step with the present reality of her experience.

4. Most children under the age of twelve, and many adults, have difficulty in grasping abstract concepts. It is essential that schools make wide use of carefully designed and presented ‘concrete’ models and experiences which have been developed to help them visualize the principle or concept being taught.

5. When children first begin school they enter as more effective learners than they will normally be in two years. By first or second grade, most will have forgotten how to learn, but will know how to memorize and play the game of ‘school’. As infants and toddlers, children spend their first years of life following the scientific discovery method. They touch, taste, smell, manipulate, and investigate everything around them. They ask endless questions. They are spontaneously curious and motivated. Good education builds upon this fact of childhood, and works to keep the spark of intellect and self-confidence alive.

6. Children need to develop sensitive reality testing skills: observation, a sense of order, and an awareness of logical cause and effect. They must learn to trust their minds’ ability to think logically and to solve problems on their own.

7. Children learn in different ways at different paces. No single approach can possibly meet the needs of all learners. Therefore, an effective school must remain highly flexible and be prepared to individualize and adapt education to the learner.

8. In today’s world, frantic social change makes it harder to understand and creatively adapt to our environment. Because we cannot predict the skills needed tomorrow, the single most socially important thing to teach our children is how to remain open to change, constantly ready and willing to learn new things and master new technologies.

9. Children need to learn how to concentrate on a chosen task, and to develop the patience and perseverance to keep at it long enough to do it correctly. This skill is most easily learned in early childhood, not later in life.

10. Children can learn to pay attention to what they see, hear, feel, taste, and smell. They need to develop the ability to observe stimuli or properties of objects and to use their senses in more sophisticated ways; to recognize more and more complex relationships or differences among things.

11. Children need to learn from their mistakes. Failing should become a relatively anxiety free experience that tells them to try again.

12. Children need to understand and accept the everyday consequences of their social behavior. They should learn to recognize what they are doing – the choices they are making – and what responses they get; to predict their actions into new situations, and alter their patterns of behavior to produce desired results.

13. Children and most adults need order and consistency. Social expectations ought to be consistently reinforced. Everything in the classroom should have a proper place and manner for its use.

Emotional Factors In Learning

14. Environmental factors – the emotional climate of the classroom group, the feeling tone of the class and school, and the general appearance of the grounds have a definite effect on a child’s attitude toward learning.

15. Every human being has the right to feel successful and to perceive herself as a successful learner.

16. When children feel that they are successful, they will normally return to the area of their success again and again.

17. When people feel that they are not successful, they will often give up and try to find some way of withdrawing from the scene of failure. They will often justify their feelings by saying such things as: “the teacher didn’t like me”, “math is dumb”, or “I am dumb”. The ways of minimizing impact of failure are complex and unlimited.

18. “Real” learning usually involves the learner in taking what he thinks of as high personal risks: looking stupid, being ridiculed, being wrong. The risk can come from parent, teacher, or student reaction. “Real” learning is the important kind, involving rather deep self-evaluation, rethinking of your position, or trying out a difficult new task. Even memorization is influenced by the degree of “risk” felt when the learner is to demonstrate. Therefore, learning is facilitated greatly if a climate can be created in the classroom that minimizes risk and threatening situations. This does not mean the elimination of tests, evaluations, or memorization. It implies that learners should be able to perform or try out a skill without the fear of criticism or crushing failure. If mastery doesn’t come the first time, you simply go back and work at it some more.

19. Independence is a natural drive and desire among children and adults. It should not be resisted, but channeled safely through consistent and logical limits. We must help the child to learn how to perform the tasks involved in independent behavior. A good curriculum will deliberately teach the learner to make decisions and to accept the consequences of the choice made.

20. Independence and self-knowledge is facilitated when the learner is involved in self-evaluation and criticism.

21. Learning is enhanced when power struggles between teacher and student are avoided, and when the teacher is perceived as being knowledgeable and someone to be relied on. Ground rules and limits are important, but should be enforced without impulsive punishments, through fairness and consistency.

22. When the teacher perceives her role as a facilitator of learning, power struggles can be avoided and the status difference between teacher and taught minimized.

23. Learning is facilitated when students are led to accept a large degree of responsibility for their own education. They do not study to please anyone but themselves, and should learn to accept tasks without unnecessary teacher presence or pressure. This requires deliberate efforts to create in the learner a high degree of personal responsibility.

24. Whenever possible, students should be involved in the planning of their education. Their contributions or areas of interest should be springboards for future learning.

25. Learners need to know what they are doing, what they should get out of what they are doing, and should be able to set reasonable goals for themselves. Students need to be able to sense the beginning and end of a unit of learning, understand what is expected, have some opportunity to establish some of their own learning objectives, and share in the process of determining when the goals have been met.

26. Feelings, experiences, attitudes, and beliefs are important areas of learning that have traditionally been ignored in education. Teachers need to recognize the total humanity of each child, with an emotional life – however hidden – fully as complex and important as their own. It is difficult to educate the mind and not involve the heart.