A few months ago, I got together with Céline Guerreiro my new friend in France who has a podcast about child development and neuroscience. Her work aims to support "everyone who contributes to the full emotional and cognitive development of children. My goal is for every child to develop to their full potential. Montessori education is highlighted in many episodes."
The podcast is introduced in French but this episode, after the introduction, is in English.
Today we often hear that children have minds like a sponge, they just absorb everything. Dr. Montessori’s definition is similar to that, but more precise and, yes, it is supported by research. Here's a very quick, high-level outline of the four key aspects of Dr. Montessori's Absorbent Mind (the video has a bit more detail).
Several years ago, I worked with NCMPS, Libertas School of Memphis, and a team of brilliant people to launch a new, radical approach to Montessori Teacher Education. Working closely with fellow Montessorians Elizabeth Slade and Sandra Wyner Andrew and under the leadership of the late Jackie Cossentino (NCMPS co-founder), we took our AMI training backgrounds and adapted our training approach to meet the needs of public Montessori teachers.
We partnered with Libertas School of Memphis to run a pilot Teacher Residency program. We started by designing a two summer residency; this meant we set up our model classrooms right in the public school where the teachers would be working.
My daughter read her first word on her third birthday. My family was amazed. We thought we had a true genius on our hands. But when I visited her Montessori preschool, I discovered the truth—in Montessori school, they explicitly teach you how to read as soon as you’re interested in it. Not to say that my daughter isn’t a genius (she’s amazing), but she was not the only 3-year-old in her class who was happily sounding out words. How could that even be possible?
This post boils the scientific approach to language instruction down to five key concepts:
Writing (constructing words)
Reading (sounding out words).
As you read, remember that no skills develop along a strictly linear path (Fischer & Yan, 2018). So, these steps are happening in order, simultaneously, and in reverse all at the same time. Thus, scientific pedagogy marries explicit, dynamic, and individualized educational approaches.
When I was teaching in Public Montessori School, I had to get my master's degree in order to maintain my teaching certification. I looked at options and discovered the Mind, Brain, Education program at Harvard. Harvard was a two hour drive away from me, I was teaching so I couldn't go full time, and, you know, it's Harvard so would I even get in? But, once I learned about the program, I couldn't bring myself to study anything else. So, I took introductory courses through Harvard Extension School, got totally hooked, and ultimately completed my master's degree with studies immersed on that topic.
What I found is that research is almost completely aligned with the Montessori teachings. When it is done authentically, there is nothing better for the developing child. Yes!
In this video, I highlight some key understandings we have about the brain and how they mesh with the Montessori pedagogy. The biggest thing to keep in mind is that Montessori actually means "scientific pedagogy." It's not a guru model. It is the scientific method applied to education.
Spanking is not a thing of the past. If you are working in a classroom, you most likely have direct experience of this reality. Most of us have students who are spanked.
Many of us also remember being spanked when we were children or have spanked our own children. In fact, about half of parents in the US report that they have spanked their child (under age 9) within the last year (Finkelhor et al., 2019).
In research terms, spanking is called corporal punishment. Corporal punishment happens when someone intentionally causes physical harm (even mild) to someone else in order to give them negative feedback (to punish them for bad behavior).
While spanking is often seen as socially acceptable, new research suggests that even mild corporal punishment in childhood may have negative long-term consequences for brain development. Read on for details.
For my graduate thesis at Harvard, I conducted a research study looking at the movable alphabet. I was frustrated by the literacy assessments we were required to give our students in public Montessori school. It just seemed completely inappropriate to ask a preschooler to try and spell words by writing them down. I mean, preschoolers are just learning how to hold a pencil and recognize what letters look like! It is a big leap to go from there to writing spelling words.
So, I designed a research study to look at a different kind of assessment. One that could still reveal the young child's developing ability to build words but without stressing them out with the added difficulty of handwriting those words.
Here's what the study looked like from the child's perspective. They were randomly assigned to take either the handwritten or movable alphabet assessment first. (Note: I used capital letters because that's what children were taught in the public preschools were the study was conducted; they were not Montessori schools.)
For reference, there were five big things the study found:
Movable alphabet scores were a significant predictor of future literacy (as measured by phonemic awareness and letter knowledge)
Preschoolers spell better using the movable alphabet than a pencil
Children were more willing to try to write words with the alphabet than with a pencil
The words we ask children to spell matter (some words were significantly harder to spell than others)
Age and behavior were not significant factors in the results
In addition, the study's findings suggest that scaffolds (like the movable alphabet) may be key in preventing the decline in self-efficacy often seen as children age through the traditional school system.
"...children were more than two times more likely to refuse to begin the handwritten 43 assessment (n = 10) than the movable alphabet assessment (n = 4). This may demonstrate the children’s developing sense of self-efficacy as driven by their awareness of their own immature handwriting skills. The children may have been less likely to attempt the handwritten words because they did not believe they would be able to write them accurately."
My study's results empower us to give students a different assessment. "The study findings suggest that a movable alphabet spelling assessment is a valid measure of developing literacy." It also found that standard handwritten assessments of preschooler spelling may contribute to a self efficacy decline. Now, with this research in hand, we can advocate to change the handwritten assessments schools may require of preschoolers.
This short video gives you a little more detail about that research study. The full study can be found on the Harvard Digital Scholarship platform. I created it for the AMS research poster session at their annual conference.
I encourage you to print out the study and take it to whoever is in charge of assessments for your district. Use it to advocate for a different spelling assessment in preschool.
I hope this helps. Please add your comments below. If we all work together, we can make it easier for those that follow!
Everyone is busy figuring out or enacting their pandemic reopening plan. I thought it would be helpful to post the things other early childhood schools are doing that work.
As I reached out to schools, I found a lot of ideas I hadn't thought of before; like using a hula hoop to help children maintain social distance when walking in line!
Thanks to Riverbend School in Natick, MA for letting us share their video of hula hoop distancing.
Of course, when you develop your own plan, you'll have to consider your licensing/state requirements. There is no one-size-fits-all way to 'pandemify' your school procedures. That's why we need a lot of ideas!
The following ideas are compiled from schools with an early childhood component in the US and France. Please add your own experiences in the comments below (including your location). Together we can compile the best practices that work in different situations (and with different licensing requirements). It takes a village!
This week, I have spoken with and heard from many teachers/school owners who are struggling with how to reopen school for fall (that's just a few weeks away in many states). Trying to sort through federal guidance from places like the CDC and State Education Departments is cumbersome, confusing, and leaves one with more questions than answers.
One big question is the use of face masks. Is it developmentally appropriate to use face masks in early childhood settings? Are face shields for young children and their caregivers a better option?
Note:The photos are from Wish and DuoKids but many other child-size face shield vendors exist. According to the CDC, the face shield should extend from ear to ear and below the chin (CDC, June 28, 2020). You also want to test it yourself to make sure it doesn't create a visual challenge because of its curve.