Making Up for Learning Losses – A Response

Schools scramble to make up for learning losses that have already occurred in the pandemic, Jessica Wong, CBC

Bravo PEI for changing the curriculum and focusing on what students need now, rather than preserving a previously mandated curriculum.

Humans tend to be blind to the paradigms we have chosen, and this is true for the paradigm of most publicly funded education – Every student should complete the same amount and type of learning each year (the mandated curriculum) regardless of their circumstances, learning style or ability; and students should be moved ahead into the next grade’s expectations regardless of their mastery.

The impact of Covid-19 on all students’ learning has brought into sharp relief the weakness of our current paradigm. Children learn in different ways, at different speeds, with different needs than our graded, one-size-fits-all system can easily handle. All students’ learning has been impacted by Covid-19, some more than others. We need a system that allows and encourages teachers to provide what each of their students’ needs now, rather than focussing on what they will be graded on as a group. We need a system that values mastery of skill over percentages on a report card. We need a system that takes each individual student where they are, provides the support they need to master the next step on their educational journey, and validates that journey. We need this now and we should keep it for the future.

The statistics may show that, “The scores that we measure early on are extremely correlated with what happens later on in life,” as Catherine Haeck has said in this CBC article, but it is more than possible that this correlation is a measurement of the system itself rather than what is possible for our learners.

There is another way. I’ve seen it in action. Bravo to PEI for moving in this direction.

What we inadvertently create when we teach

I recently read an article from BBC about the impact of environment on the way humans perceive things ( Members of the Himba tribe of Namibia who continue to live a nomadic existence without modern artifacts see differently than their counterparts who have moved to town. It seems the Himba are more focused on the particular. They can see the broader context, but their focus is on the particular. However, even a limited exposure to a town setting, visiting once or twice, changes their perception.

This led me to muse once again about the impact the environment we provide our children has on their development.  From visual perception to social mores, our children are changed even more deeply by their environments than we adults. It’s a topic that has intrigued and troubled me for some time.

Covid-19 has demonstrated unequivocally the magnitude of responsibility we give to our childcares and schools in the upbringing of our children. In most modern families, parents are at work and grandparents and significant others live in different households. Our children spend the majority of their time in childcare and school, shaped more and more by these environments and, of course, by the online world that often impacts whatever waking time they have at home.

As we educate our children’s intellects, we are impacting their entire being. Have we given this enough thought? Do we know what we are creating? Is it what we want for our children? Is it what our world needs from the adults our children will become?

Having been a Montessori teacher and head of school, I know first-hand the impact Montessori environments have on behaviour and well-being. The more closely we adhere to supporting the individual young person’s development with a carefully prepared physical, temporal and mentored environment, designed to meet not only the young person’s intellectual but social, physical and emotional needs; the calmer and more focussed the young person, the fewer the disciplinary challenges, the deeper the learning, and the greater the joy for both adult and youth. The emphasis is always on supporting the individual young person – following their lead, interests and developing abilities. There is a curriculum framework but the young person’s path and speed through that curriculum is theirs alone. And this occurs in a social environment of mixed ages, usually three grades together, where the emphasis is on supporting one another in challenges, and acknowledging everyone’s successes – where you are valued for being you within a community.

Whenever a Montessori teacher succumbs to the pressure to push the curriculum, to emphasize it over the needs of a student, the spirit of the classroom dissolves – as quickly as a bubble bursts with a touch. The impact of environment does indeed seem to have a much more powerful influence than we generally acknowledge.

In spite of the challenges that Covid-19 is causing for education, or maybe because of the creative opportunities in these challenges, I am led again to ponder:

When we educate our children’s intellects, whether in a Montessori environment or in a more traditional setting, we are impacting their entire being. Have we given this enough thought? Do we know what we are creating? Is it what we want for our children? Is it what our world needs from the adults our children will become?

Montessori’s Different Approach to Teacher Training Leads to a Different Teacher

So true. The experience of Montessori teacher training is like a visit to a foreign land – everything is seen through a different lens, everything is interlinked and every where you turn holds a new perspective.. No one aspect or quick glimpse can capture the complexity and richness. But neither can one ever to return to not seeing. Once you have visited a well run Montessori community, it will become one of the lenses through which you view all other educational experiences.

Montessori’s Different Approach to Teacher Training Leads to a Different Teacher

Margaret with StudentsThe teacher, when she begins to work in our schools, must have a kind of faith that the child will reveal himself through work.

                                                                        Dr Maria Montessori, The Absorbent Mind

No other year in my life was as intense as September 1985 to June 1986-no, not either of my children’s first year of life-no, not my first year of teaching or even my first year as head of school.  My post-graduate Montessori teacher training in Italy transformed me by regularly upending conventional beliefs about children and education that continues to this day.

Accredited teacher training requires rethinking a teacher’s (or guide’s) role while consuming large amounts of philosophy and specific methodology.   The Montessori method demands deep faith in a child’s potential and inner drive to learn.  It requires letting go of the adult perspective that we need…

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School Reforms That Are Persistent and Admired But Marginal (Part 4)

Dr. A.S. Lillard provides a thoughtful review of the challenges specific to Montessori education being more fully embraced in her article for Educational Psychology: Shunned and Admired: Montessori, Self-Determination, and a Case for Radical School Reform, specifically her chapter on Challenges: Montessori’s Incommensurability with Common School Culture. How do we move from tinkering to ‘radical reform’? Thank you for contributing to our understanding of the challenges and possibilities.

Larry Cuban on School Reform and Classroom Practice

Every school reform is a solution to a problem. How a problem is identified (e.g., unilaterally, multilaterally) and who does the framing of it (e.g., policymakers, practitioners, parents), of course, matters. The cartoonish superintendent (or elected official) sees the problem in test scores declining the longer students are in school. His solution: allow 3 year-old toddlers to start school.

Poking fun at the screwy logic of this solution to an identifiable and well-known problem is easy to do. What’s harder is to figure out amid the never-ending flood of school reforms past and present, why some are adopted by districts but stayed mired in a protected corner of the system. And other adopted reforms spread to all schools in a district.

District officials are on the look out constantly for reforms that solve problems they face in school governance, organization, curriculum, and instruction. But these niche-based adopted programs (e.g., charters…

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School Reforms That Are Persistent And Admired But Marginal (Part 3)

You’ve provided a wonderful description of Montessori education. I believe one of the challenges, in addition to the internal disputes mentioned in Educating Human Potential comment, is the inherent challenge of describing a system that appears simple at first glance but is underpinned by a balance of opposites. Freedom within limits, independence within community, etc. In many ways it has to be seen to be believed, or experienced over time to be understood.

Larry Cuban on School Reform and Classroom Practice

Who am I quoting here? Hint: Quotes come from person born in the 19th century.

If education is always to be conceived along the same antiquated lines of a mere transmission of knowledge, there is little to be hoped from it in the bettering of man’s future. For what is the use of transmitting knowledge if the individual’s total development lags behind?

The ancient superficial idea of the uniform and progressive growth of the human personality has remained unaltered, and the erroneous belief has persisted that it is the duty of the adult to fashion the child according to the pattern required by society.

If you guessed John Dewey, you were wrong. The quotes come from Maria Montessori (1870-1952).

Born in Italy, Montessori became a physician –one of few women to do so at the time. In 1906, she was appointed as head of the Casa Dei Bambini where she…

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