Student-teacher ratios are a hot topic when it comes to choosing the right school for your child. Most people assume that a low ratio is good, and a high ratio is bad. But this is not necessarily the case. Yes, when putting your child in a traditional classroom setting the ideal is to have a low student-to-teacher ratio.
This will make it more likely that your child gets much deserved individual attention, and his needs aren’t simply lost in a sea of students. In a traditional setting, more students can mean more chaos, and therefore more of the teacher’s time being spent on classroom management than student learning.
But in a Montessori school, things are a bit different. Montessori classes for children above the infant and toddler level might include 20-30 students whose ages span three years. All members of the classroom “community” benefit from this set-up. Older students are proud to act as role models; younger ones feel supported and gain confidence about the challenges ahead. Part of the reason this approach works so well is because of Dr. Montessori’s design of the classroom environment. Materials are stored on open shelves in a very specific arrangement. Children are free to choose their “work” independently at any time for however long it takes them to complete their task. Traditional schools assume that the teacher is the sole source of instruction, leading large groups of children doing the same thing at the same time and frequently within scheduled time limits. In a Montessori classroom, the guide instructs each child individually. After instruction, students may repeat their task independently at any time.
You may be wondering “How does the guide manage to instruct everyone individually and still cover all of the important material?” This is where the benefits of a multi-age classroom come to play. Dr. Montessori observed the best teacher of a three-year-old is often an older child. This process is good for both the “tutor” and the younger child. In this situation, the teacher is not the primary focus. The larger group size of a Montessori classroom is engaged in a different manner than a traditional classroom and puts the focus less on the adult and encourages children to learn from each other.
As I mentioned earlier, students are not expected to do each task in unison and on the same schedule. The nature of exploration, open layout and individualized nature of Montessori education actually makes higher numbers more desirable, with more opportunities for social interaction, leadership and learning roles to take place. By consciously bringing children together in larger multi-age class groups – in which two-thirds of the children normally return each year – the school environment promotes continuity and the development of a fairly stable community.
Although Montessori has recommended student-to-guide ratios of 20-30 students per guide, the reality is that state regulations normally dictate a smaller ratio of adults to children. At WBMS, our Children’s House classrooms have no more than 10 children per adult and a maximum of 24 children in each room. Our average class size for 2013-14 is 17 children with one trained guide and one assistant. We are lucky at WBMS to have many assistants that are also fully trained guides. WBMS also hosts student guides from the Montessori Center of Minnesota for their Primary training requirements, which contribute to our rich teaching team.