1.8.3 Critical Pedagogies 1: Montessori
This scenario develops from the main body of the chapter in which Maria Montessori, and the approach to teaching young children derived from her writings has been introduced. It takes an atypical approach to Montessori, but the scenario suggests some ways in which the child-centric and creative philosophy advocated by this theorist may be adopted to have relevance for learners of all ages. In this scenario, it is the beginning of a new academic year, and you are inducting new learners into the setting. The setting could be a school, an FE college, a university or adult education setting; it does not matter of the course is a full-time or a part-time course, or if the learners are there for compulsory reasons - as in mainstreaming schooling - or attending for leisure or for work-related purposes. As part of the induction, it is customary to offer a guided tour of the setting, so that learners can start to orient themselves around their new surroundings, can locate key services (from the library/learning resource centre to where the toilets are, and from where the break areas are) and start to feel comfortable in their new environment.
Task: With Montessori's philosophies in mind, how might you structure the tour appropriately to ensure the learners get the most out of it?
As new learners, the inductees will be relatively unfamiliar with the setting, and may have not spent extended periods of time in the learning environment before. As such, this is an excellent opportunity to take something from Montessori, and to gather initial impressions of the setting based on the five areas central to the Montessori methodology. As the chapter indicated, those five areas are: practical life; sensorial education; language; mathematics; culture. These areas might need contextualisation to the setting, to the learners, and to the course of study which they are being enrolled onto. Adult learners taking an introductory plumbing course, for example, will have different needs and focuses to those taking a leisure course which is focused on life drawing. However, all learners need to be supported appropriately by the environment in which they are to be taught and which they are expected to learn.
One way to organise the tour is to give each inductee a sheet with the five areas (contextualised to their needs) indicated, so that the learners can note observations as they tour the setting. After an initial tour where the main features of the setting relevant to these learners have been covered, allow them some time to make their own explorations, and to make their own sense of the setting and what it offers for them as learners. The material gathered from the tour and the learner comments can then be used to facilitate a discussion on the setting, on initial learner observations, and on positive and critical observations made by the learners as they have seen the premises in full for the first time.
This next section offers some questions to consider and to raise in discussion with learners after their initial tour. First, considering the practicalities of the setting, questions might range from the nature of car-parking arrangements and availability at different times of the day to local transport links, to refectory/dining room availability and opening hours, to where to go for first aid support, or else to access learner support services. Sensorial education-related questions might relate to the level of resources available to help the learners in their studies, from workshop access to facilities for the loan of equipment, to library availability, and access to computing. Language and mathematical-related issues may extend to diagnosis of and provision for basic skills and educational support needs, and to specialist equipment provision related to the course of instruction. Cultural issues may relate to the wider social life of the setting, the availability of sports and physical fitness resources and clubs, to the social life of the setting, and to events being held onsite for students. The overall aim of this is for learners to not only become a little more familiar with the setting - including, but not limited to, the classroom or workshop in which they might be being principally taught - but also for the learners to appreciate the extent to which the setting has been designed to support them in those studies. Any issues seen as problematic can be identified early, and the issue addressed as appropriate to its context so that it does not persist as a barrier to learning, or to a restriction on the independence of the learners.
Most courses of instruction are somewhat more structured than the Montessori method, but that does not mean that there cannot be latitude within the syllabus or in the learners' ability to use the setting's resources to further their studies in creative and in personalised ways. As with other critical pedagogies, the focus is on learner-centredness and on finding ways to support the learner in making meaning through finding value in their own investigations of the world. You may find that not all learners wish to do this; their needs may be more instrumental, and may be focused on the gaining of a needed qualification, or of gaining of new practical or intellectual competencies. Such learners are perhaps more straightforwardly accommodated, as they demand less in breadth for the setting and from the personnel working within that setting. However, the Montessori method, as the chapter has shown, promotes independence in thinking and in learning, and so all learners should be encouraged to use the setting in creative and meaningful ways, to become part of the wider life of the setting, and to engage with other learners both on a subject and an interpersonal level. To that extent, learners should be supported in developing themselves in all directions, and perhaps in ones which are distinct form the direction of the course of study, so that the fullest, most meaningful, and most independent use can be made of their time in education and of their access to the setting in which the training or learning is being offered.
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