One aspect of Montessori that was challenging for me to get my head around was the ideal class size. All I had ever heard was that small class size and small student-to-teacher ratios were good, while large classrooms were something to avoid. That made sense to me – the smaller the class, the easier it is for a teacher to provide individualized attention to each student. And that’s the goal, right?
Not according to Maria Montessori. Montessori classes thrive when the number of children in the class is substantial...
“We consider that in its best condition, the class should have between 28-35 children,
but there may be even more in number.” – Maria Montessori
The Montessori model of education is not traditional where children are grouped by age, the teacher is the focus of the class and the method of instruction is from teacher to children. Montessori classes place children in three-year age groups (3-6, 6-9, 9-12, and so on), forming communities in which the older children spontaneously share their knowledge with the younger ones. The larger group size in the Montessori class puts the focus less on the adult and encourages children to not only learn "with" each other, but "from" each other. By having enough children in each age group, all students will find others at their developmental level. This process is good for both the tutor and the younger child.
In a Montessori classroom, the guide presents new concepts and materials to individual children or small groups. Children pursue their own work independently or in a small group to practice concepts or to repeat activities shown in order to acquire mastery. The teacher moves throughout the classroom environment giving lessons, offering assistance, and directing children as needed. This creates a dynamic learning environment in which children see many different activities underway throughout the day.
It’s also important to remember that the Montessori classroom is a carefully prepared environment, filled with fascinating self-correcting educational materials. They allow children to work independently in a way that no school that is heavily dependent on texts and workbooks can.
By consciously bringing children together in a group that is large enough that it will allow for two-thirds of the children to return every year, the school environment promotes continuity and the development of a very different level of relationship between children and their peers, as well as between children and their teachers. The age range also allows the especially gifted child the benefit of intellectual peers, without requiring that she skip a grade and feel emotionally out of place. Classes tend to be fairly stable communities, with only the oldest third moving on to the next level each year.
Some parents worry that by having younger children in the same class as older ones, one group or the other will be shortchanged. They fear that the younger children will absorb the teachers' time and attention, or that the importance of covering the kindergarten curriculum for the five-year-olds will prevent them from giving the three- and four-year-olds the emotional support and stimulation that they need. Both concerns are unfounded. To work in a Montessori environment is very unlike “teaching” in the traditional sense of the word. Montessori teachers do not teach. Instead, they guide; they observe; they create an environment of calm, order and joy. They know when to intervene, and above all, they know when to step back. This knowledge isn’t something most people are born with, but it is something that Montessori teachers learn in their training.
In a traditional classroom, whether teachers work with 10 children or 30, they spend most of their time either talking to the entire class or working with one or two children at a time while the other children listen, work, daydream, or sleep. Teacher time is a very limited resource. Time and again, research studies have shown that the most effective classrooms are not necessarily those with small numbers, but rather those that include a teacher who knows and can employ teaching strategies that really work. That is what you will find in a Montessori classroom. That is what you will find at WBMS.