“If education is always to be conceived along the same antiquated lines of a mere transmission of knowledge, there is little to be hoped from it in the bettering of man’s future. For what is the use of transmitting knowledge if the individual’s total development lags behind?” –Maria Montessori
The Middle School design is an integration of the current research in human development, the trends and issues in education, and the Montessori philosophy. The mission of the program is to provide opportunities for adolescents to be self-confident and gain self-knowledge, to belong to a community, to learn to be adaptable, to be academically competent and challenged, and to create a vision for their personal future; thus, to empower early adolescents.
Middle School is structured to provide a place where early adolescents can develop personal power as well as presenting opportunities to use this empowerment with and for the benefit of others. There are structures in place for enhancing personal growth and self-knowledge, developing communication skills and self-expression, creating a responsive community, learning how to learn, and engaging in meaningful and challenging work.
Holistic education, an important aspect of the Montessori philosophy, has two meanings within the Montessori community. Firstly, that the focus of the education should be on the whole child for optimal health and growth. Thus, the learning environment should not focus on developing only the cognitive potential, but the physical, psychosocial, and moral aspects of the person, as well. Secondly, the academic coursework needs to be interrelated so that the child understands the inter-connectedness of life. Further support for the holistic approach is having the parents aware of the child’s classroom progress. A dynamic student-parent-teacher partnership is an integral part of an optimal learning environment.
In an academic year, there are five cycles of work followed by an immersion week for retreat, internships, externships, leadership development, or service learning. Each work cycle is five weeks in length and the topics and concepts covered in each cycle are grouped under cycle themes. In the fifth week, there is an assessment of the thematic project work. Students also take the time to write an extensive self-assessment. The cycle format is designed to help students learn organizational, decision-making, and time-management skills. In addition to the work cycles, each school year begins with a Prologue and ends with an Epilogue.
The school day is divided into two kinds of work: individual work and group work. Individual work is designed to make a match between the skills, abilities, and interests of each student, and there are work choices in every academic area to be done alone or in small, self-chosen groups. Individual work is assessed individually with mastery tests that may be written or oral.
Group work is done in randomly selected groups, which remain in place for an entire work cycle. These groups work together on academic tasks in the thematic units, which integrate all subject areas. Individual written tests, group presentations, and self-assessments of the group process assess the thematic unit.
Mastery learning is a form of personalized learning that gives students the necessary time to master particular skills before progressing to the next level of work. The student takes on the responsibility of learning new information versus merely accepting a low grade and moving on to the next subject. The teacher’s task is to break down the learning steps, offering suggestions for internalizing the knowledge, and providing the time necessary to learn the information. According to research, the advantage of mastery learning is that it offers clear expectations, fosters mastery of a unit of study, is not competitive, and encourages student responsibility.
Summary of the Middle School Classroom
The Adolescent Is:
-An active, self-directed learner.
-A vital member of the classroom, school-wide, city and global community.
-A vital member of the teacher-student-parent team.
-Responsible for keeping commitments and being honest and respectful.
The Teachers Are:
-Facilitators for learning.
-Consultants for the students.
-Creators of a positive climate for learning.
-Communicators with parents and community.
The Classroom School Structure Offers:
-A learner-centered environment.
-A developmentally-responsive curriculum and teaching team of Montessori teachers with additional adults as resources.
-Multi-aged groupings of 12-14 year olds.
-Blocks of uninterrupted learning time.
-Peer and cross-age teaching.
-Opportunities for student leadership development and classroom policy management.
The Curriculum and Instruction Includes:
-Personal learning plans.
-A strong sense of community and social interaction with peers.
-Meaningful and challenging work.
-Activities for self-expression, self-knowledge, and self-assessment.
-Activities that value all nine intelligences (Gardner) and a variety of learning styles.
-Activities to foster interdependence.
-Activities for learning economic independence.
-Activities for self-reflection.
-School and community service projects.
-Meta-cognition and ‘learning-how-to-learn’ strategies as re-occurring elements of the classroom experience.
-Opportunities for travel.