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- The Montessori Planes of Development
- Montessori in a Data Driven World
- Social and Emotional Learning at Eton School
- Suggested Reading: Montessori
The Montessori Planes of Development
by Chris Music
Lower Elementary Teacher (Grades 1–3)
Maria Montessori was alive at an amazing time for a dive into the understanding of Human Development. With her background in anthropology and the science of human development being researched by her contemporaries, Piaget and Vygotsky, she worked to solidify her ideas of the Four Planes of Development through direct observation. These Planes represented the many physical and psychological changes we undergo as we develop into adults. The Four Planes are described as Infancy, Childhood, Adolescence, and Maturity. These stages are broken down into six‑year cycles with the initial three years representing the acquisition of skills and the next three year representing the refinement of those skills.
The First Plane of Development, called Infancy, revolves around developing physical and biological independence from birth until six years of age. The ability to be mobile, weening for food independence, and repetitious behaviors, like stacking and placing in rows, are aspects of this Plane. It also focuses on developing mental independence through environmental exploration, the refinement of fine motor skills, speech through language, and a greater ability to focus on extended tasks.
The Second Plane of Development, Childhood, begins and ends between the ages of six to twelve years. This Plane is all about the development of the imagination and the construction of the social self. Children work to define who they are as individuals and how they fit into society by creating tight social groups in which to work and practice social policies. The idea of outward empathy and social norms are forged in this Plane as well. It is also one of the most intense periods of learning and their ability to absorb information is exceptional.
The Third Plane of Development, Adolescence, occurs from the ages of 12–18 and is a time of great reflection and social turmoil. This is the age of constructing the moral self and involves the need for self‑expression and self‑reflection. It is a time of intense physical growth which also comes with an increased need for sleep and an abundance of nutrition. These young adults have an intense need for total social independence from their parents and an overwhelming drive for peer acceptance. At this point, they are trying to see themselves as positive members of society.
The Fourth, and last Plane of Development called Maturity, is from 18–24 years of age. This Plane finalizes the evolution of the personal and social policy that individuals will use to govern their lives. They will finalize their ideas of spiritual and moral independence and move into another intellectual period of mass information absorption.
The Planes of Development were developed through years of observation and analysis. They can be broken down into the basic concepts of first, create the individual, second, explore society, third, experience society, and fourth, enter society as a contributing member. By using them as a guide, teachers can explore the curriculum to best serve children at their peak states of absorption and reflection. Observing children and acknowledging their Developmental Plane allows the maximum amount of knowledge acquisition and personal growth to occur for each individual. This is the primary goal of helping the whole child fulfil their commitment to grow into a happy and prosperous individual. ❧
“The child’s development follows a path of successive stages of independence, and our knowledge of this must guide us in our behavior towards him. We have to help the child to act, will and think for himself. This is the art of serving the spirit, an art which can be practised to perfection only when working among children.”
~Maria Montessori, The Absorbent Mind (p. 257)
Montessori in a Data Driven World
by Lindsey Farmer, Angela Kim, Ashley Tajeda, and Julie Sauvage
Lower Elementary Teachers (Grades 1–3)
Every parent is familiar with standards, norms, and data. Moments after a child is born, they receive an Apgar Score that rates their health on a standardized scale. As the child grows, they visit a health care provider where they are weighed and measured for both length and head circumference. The results are then compared to a norm established using data from a peer group. Each new set of data is compared to the previous ones to note the health and physical growth of the child. Also, parents watch for milestones—when they sit, talk, and walk. Although an age‑range is provided for these important moments, they are not set in stone. Some children reach them early and others later because each child is unique and reaches it when they are ready. Parents understand and become comfortable with this process.
As the child grows older and enters school, standards and norms continue to be applied. In most traditional schools, the standards and norms are grades and test scores. Like the height and weight measurements they received from their health care provider, these grades and scores compare one student to peers in the same grade in the classroom, state, or at the national level. What is missing in these standards is the understanding of the child as an individual learner. A Montessori education excels at providing a complete picture of each child’s educational journey.
Montessori is a child‑centered and process‑oriented model of education. Rather than working toward a grade report or a standard indicative of mastery based on peer data, the emphasis is on the process of learning. Research shows that optimum learning happens when the brain is challenged, so errors and mastery are equally embraced as part of the process. Students do not need to fear a challenge because errors are not equated with failure. When errors happen, they serve as a way to create deeper learning by figuring out how to fix them, which leads the student on a journey towards mastery. In a Montessori classroom, there is adaptability built into the program to allow for, embrace, and enhance the students’ interests in order to inspire learning and sow the seeds of knowledge that lead to greater inquiry and exploration.
The teacher in a Montessori classroom is a prepared and trained observer who continuously observes and assesses a student’s growth, knowledge, and engagement. Maria Montessori in speaking during a training course noted the importance of being a prepared observer:
Any methodical observation which one wishes to make requires preparation. Observation is one of those many things of which we frequently speak, and of which we form an inexact or false idea. It should be sufficient to consider what occurs in all the sciences that depend upon observation. The observers in the various sciences must have a special preparation. For instance, one who looks through a microscope does not see what exists there unless his eye is prepared. It is not sufficient to have the instrument and to know how to focus it. It is also necessary to have the eye prepared to recognize the objects.1
She went even further in equating the role of observation to that of a scientist when she wrote:
The vision of the teacher should be precise like that of the scientist…she has an exact task to perform, and it is necessary that she should put herself into immediate relation with the truth by means of rigorous observation….2
As a prepared, trained observer, the Montessori teacher guides each student in constructing their knowledge over three years through the material‑rich, engaging environment, which is structured to help foster positive work habits such as independence, focus, organization, and initiation. The teacher measures student progress through observation and analysis of work while interacting with the student as a person and learner.
Through observing, the teacher collects “data,” and is prepared to meet students as individuals and unique learners and provides the scaffolding to help them reach new heights of academic and personal growth. The teacher continually assesses a student’s growth, knowledge, and engagement and presents lessons as the student is ready, rather than in a predetermined order and timing that suits a state standard. Individual student work is evaluated for accuracy, material use and support, readiness for abstraction, peer interaction when learning, and a watchful eye for any avoidance of specific activities, materials, and lessons. When avoidance is observed, the teacher evaluates why it is happening and how to guide the student with the work. When a specific interest is sparked, the teacher guides the student to pursue that interest at a more in‑depth and broader level.
Classroom materials also play an essential role in helping the teacher to observe and understand how and what a student is learning. Some materials have a built‑in control of error, so it directs and guides a student’s learning as well as comprehension. All materials move from concrete to abstract in their presentation. When a student successfully translates the information to abstraction, the teacher knows that the student thoroughly understands the concept and is ready for the next level of difficulty or a lesson on a new concept.
In a Montessori classroom, value is also placed on “soft skills,” such as attention, engagement, independence, communication, flexibility, teamwork, accountability, and time management. These skills are intertwined into the day‑to‑day of a student and work in tandem with academic skills. “Soft skills” create a student’s school experience that contributes to the development of character traits, such as internal drive, curiosity, leadership, empowerment, and a feeling of individual value as a human. Trust develops organically between the student and the teacher with the development of these skills resulting in the feeling of belonging and acceptance in the classroom and school community. Students who are self‑confident and feel valued by their school community will find meaning in learning and develop into lifelong learners.
With all this observation, assessment, and scaffolding “data,” the teacher is prepared for more than assigning grades or comparing the student to a standardized chart. Scholar and author Alfie Kohn writes:
The most impressive classrooms and curricula are designed to help the teacher know as much as possible about how students are making sense of things. When kids are engaged in meaningful, active learning—for example, designing extended, interdisciplinary projects—teachers who watch and listen as those projects are being planned and carried out have access to, and actively interpret, a continuous stream of information about what each student is able to do and where he or she requires help.3
So how does all this observation, assessment, and “data” transfer to a grade report? As mentioned earlier, traditional schools and teachers determine grades based on product‑driven work, test scores, and standardized norms for peers at the same grade level. For parents who went to traditional schools, there is comfort in the ease and clarity of this method. However, neither a letter grade or data point on a standardized chart fully represent the complexity of a student’s learning, effort, progress, strengths, or challenges.
The goal of Eton School’s Parent Conferences and Grade Reports is to communicate growth beyond a status check based on a standardized norm. The tools are meant to provide for a better understanding of the journey a student is making. Goal setting and discussions take place during Parent Conferences. Follow‑up conversations and emails continue the communication. Grade reports serve as a check‑in point and distillation of observations and conversations of a semester of learning. This twice‑a‑year assessment communicates the overall growth of each learner including work skills and habits as well as academic, social, emotional, and physical development.
As noted in the opening, shortly after being born, a child receives a score. It is the first of many data points in life. A Montessori education, however, has more to offer than data points of grades and standardized norms. In a Montessori classroom, each child follows a path of learning and growing. Teachers and parents partner in conversation to paint a picture of the whole child. Through this collaboration and partnership, parents gain confidence in their child’s learning progress and understand their child as a learner more thoroughly than a letter grade or standardized norm would ever provide. ❧
1Maria Montessori, “Suggestion and Remarks on Observing Children” From London Training Course 1921, Lecture.
2Maria Montessori, Advanced Montessori Method Vol. 1.
3Alfie Kohn, “Why the Best Teachers Don’t Give Tests” Alfie Kohn Blog, October 30, 2014, https://www.alfiekohn.org/blogs/no-tests/
“Our care of the child should be governed, not by the desire to make him learn things, but by the endeavor always to keep burning within him that light which is called intelligence.”
~Maria Montessori, Spontaneous Activity in Education (p. 240)
Social and Emotional Learning at Eton School
by Kris Meyer Gaskins
Assistant Head of School
Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) is how children and adults learn to understand and manage emotions, set goals, show empathy for others, establish positive relationships, and make responsible decisions.
~The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL)
Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) weaves its way into the fabric of everyday life at Eton School. It begins in the Montessori Pre‑elementary classrooms during work time, on the playground, walking in line, at the Peace Table, and during group activities. Students learn to identify their emotions, share their thoughts, take care of one another, listen to differing viewpoints, and actively work on learning to problem solve and resolve conflict.
The Peace Tables in the Pre‑elementary classrooms are purposefully set up to serve as a neutral place where students can talk through their differences or air their grievances. The teacher will sit with the youngest students to help guide the conversations. By the time the students are in their third year in the classrooms, they can take the lead and discuss differences without teacher help. Third‑year students also become mediators when younger students are in conflict.
While in the Montessori Lower Elementary and the Upper Elementary classrooms, students enter a phase of development where their desire for engagement in social behavior expands. Students work on listening and friendship skills, role‑play to understand inclusion versus exclusion, and participate in class meetings to celebrate successes and problem solve issues. They talk about respecting personal differences, further developing empathy and compassion for others. Recently, a classroom experienced an interesting SEL lesson. The teacher held up an apple and compared the skin of the apple to the students’ skin. The teacher then dropped the apple and asked the students to equate the apple hitting the floor to mean words or thoughts being directed at another student. The apple appeared the same on the outside, but when it was cut open, it was badly bruised and soft. The conversation that followed was about unseen damage to another and the importance of dialogue, kindness, and respect when working out differences.
Middle‑school students are emerging from childhood and are preparing themselves for their adult roles in life. Adolescents are in a developmental period of intense physical, intellectual, emotional, and social transformation. Our middle-school program continues the social and emotional journey that started in earlier grades. In the classrooms, trusted teachers are there as guides to help students value differences and support positive interactions as their world expands through their academics and social awareness. Their own social and emotional issues feel complicated and sometimes overwhelming during this phase of development. Having a smaller middle‑school program enables teachers and students to do the hard work of negotiating social and emotional learning opportunities as needed throughout the day.
Over one hundred years ago, Maria Montessori developed a method of education where students found meaning in purposeful work in the classroom. When given the appropriate developmental tools, Dr. Montessori observed students fully engage in the learning process. Engagement in learning led to students taking ownership of their environment. In caring for their environment, they began to take care of themselves and others. Holistic education was not a new term, yet Maria Montessori developed a method of education that allowed children to grow fully into contributing members of their society.
An Eton education empowers students to take responsibility for themselves. Built into all the classrooms is the expectation that students learn the skills of managing their time, making positive choices, taking ownership of their academic learning and social behavior, and regulating their emotions. Faculty and staff are fully present to mediate conversations as well as lead SEL groups or class meetings.
Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) has been a part of Eton School since its inception. The Mission Statement created and affirmed by the faculty places equal emphasis on Social, Emotional, Intellectual, Physical, and Spiritual growth. The longer a student stays at Eton School, the more significant the benefit from our carefully designed program. When our students do move on to other schools, they are recognized as individuals who care about their learning, have positive relationships not only with peers, but also teachers, and are leaders in their greater school community.
By educating the whole child, we inspire creative, confident thinkers who have an enduring passion for learning and are posed to contribute to the world. ❧
The Child in the Family by Maria Montessori
This book explains the Montessori philosophy. Dr. Montessori emphasizes that children from birth on should be treated with respect, the same respect one would have when a guest in the house. She talks about the newborn period and then she writes about children and teens and the relationship with their parents.
Montessori, A Modern Approach by Paula Polk Liilard
What is the Montessori method? Are its revolutionary ideas about early childhood education relevant to today’s world? And most importantly, are they especially relevant for today’s dual‑career couples? Is a Montessori education right for my child? Paula Polk Lillard writes both as a trained educator and as a concerned parent—she has many years of experience as a public school teacher, but it was her enthusiasm for the education her own child experienced in a Montessori school that led her to become a leading voice in the Montessori movement in this country. Her book offers the clearest and most concise statement of the Montessori method of child development and education available today.
The Montessori Controversy by John Chattin‑McNichols
A review of the strengths and weaknesses of Montessori education with detailed information on its history, philosophy, terms, concepts, research and common misconceptions.
Montessori Madness! A Parent to Parent Argument for Montessori Education by Trevor Eissler
This book follows a family as they wrestle with how to educate their children, why they eventually chose a Montessori school and what they have since discovered. Learn the who, what, when, where, why, and how of Montessori education.
Montessori: The Science Behind the Genius (Updated Edition) by Angeline Stoll Lillard
One hundred and ten years ago, Maria Montessori, the first female physician in Italy, devised a very different method of educating children, based on her observations of how they naturally learn. In Montessori: The Science Behind the Mind, Angeline Stoll Lillard shows that science has finally caught up with Maria Montessori. Lillard presents the research behind nine insights that are foundations of Montessori education, describing how each of these insights is applied in the Montessori classroom. In reading this book, parents and teachers alike will develop a clear understanding of what happens in a Montessori classroom and, more importantly, why it happens and why it works. Lillard explains the scientific basis for Montessori’s system and the distinctions between practices in traditional, “Montessomething,” and authentic Montessori education. Furthermore, in this new edition, she presents recent studies showing evidence that this alternative to traditional schooling does indeed make a difference. Montessori: The Science Behind the Genius is indispensable reading for anyone interested in teaching, training, considering Montessori schooling, developmental psychology, or understanding about human learning and education overall.
Montessori Today: A Comprehensive Approach to Education From Birth to Adulthood by Paula Polk Liilard
Montessori Today: A Comprehensive Approach to Education From Birth to Adulthood discusses Montessori theory and practice as it is applied in the elementary classroom. It includes an overview of the origins of Montessori, and a brief look at how the approach is used at the primary and high school levels.
A Parents’ Guide to the Montessori Classroom by Aline Wolf
This guide book describes in detail the Montessori program for children between the ages of three and six. It is designed to help parents, understand the long‑range purpose of Montessori education and to give them a description of the equipment which the students will be using for approximately three to six years. ❧