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Is the Montessori Environment Compatible for the Needs of Highly Gifted Children? Analytical Essay


Abstract

Gifted education has significantly improved learning not only in highly able students, but also in regular students. In the last few years, several modern teaching methods have been developed and used in classrooms.

Teaching methods such as project work, providing meaningful choices for students, self-directed learning, literature-based reading and problem-based curriculum were developed to cater for gifted education. Empirical studies show that gifted children work well within a well prepared learning environment.

Thus, Montessori education is based on the concept of learning in a well prepared environment. In this context, the learning environment should enable students to learn by exploring and engaging in different learning experiences.

This paper attempts to analyze the extent to which an authentic Montessori environment is compatible with the learning needs of gifted students.

In the late twentieth century, most scholars believed that intelligence and academic talent were mainly determined by the student’s genetic makeup. Furthermore, giftedness was considered to be hereditary and determined by an individual’s genes.

During this period, environmental factors were considered to have little or no effects on the performance of students. This conclusion was based on the following observations.

To begin with, early childhood education hardly succeeded in achieving its objectives. Government statistic on education showed a high dropout rate in high schools and a reduction in the number of students who graduated with math and science degrees.

Finally, women showed little or no interest in pursuing math or any science majors.

Recent studies in psychology, genetics and neuroscience have confirmed that genetic makeup is not the sole determinant of high IQ. It is apparent that the current lot of students has a higher IQ than students who went to school in the last ten to twenty years.

Consequently, scientists have realized that a well prepared environment plays an important role in the learning process. In a nutshell, the right teaching intervention can be used effectively in a well prepared learning environment in order to improve students’ performance.

For example, incorporating modern technology in the learning environment can significantly improve learning outcomes. Additionally, learning outcomes are influenced by the students’ economic background.

A gifted student can be easily identified by assessing his or her learning abilities. In general, a student is considered to be gifted if he possesses the following characteristics:

  • Is capable of learning new materials faster and at an early age than his peers
  • Remembers what has been learned without any revisions
  • Is able to deal with concepts that are very complex
  • Shows interest in one or more topics
  • Does not need to watch the teacher or hear what is being said and can operate with multiple brain channels, as well as, process information faster than other students
  • Has an advanced vocabulary
  • Able to see patterns, relationships and connections which others might not see
  • Curious about many things
  • Have unusual hobbies and interest
  • Strongly motivated to learn and do things on their own
  • Has a high energy level and hardly calms down
  • Has an advanced sense of morality, justice and fairness
  • Gets frustrated easily
  • Resists cooperative learning and disturbs others

The following developmental guidelines (table 1) can be used to identify gifted learners at a very early stage.

Table 1: developmental guidelines

Development indicators regular months/ average child Thirty percent more developed in a gifted child
Skips alternating feet 60 42.0
Can ride a tricycle 36 25.2
Can throw a ball 48 33.6
Can jump using both feet 30 21.0
Can run without falling easily 24 16.8
Is able to walk down-stairs with one hand held 21 14.7
Walks on tip toe 30 21

Most educators are always able to identify gifted students in their classrooms. However, most of them find it difficult to accommodate the learning needs of the gifted child in a regular classroom. Gifted children are more interested in learning than teaching.

The difference between teaching regular students and gifted students is that the later already knows what the teacher is about to teach. Thus, the educator’s main challenge is to influence the gifted child to learn new or more advanced materials with the same curricular that is being used to teach regular students.

In order to succeed in teaching gifted children, the educator must utilize the five basic elements of lesson differentiation. These elements include the lesson content, the teaching process, the learning environment, as well as, the assessment criteria.

In a regular class, the teacher is supposed to teach the content, whereas the students are expected to learn. However, in a class of gifted students the learners usually have knowledge of the content at the onset of the lesson.

In this regard, the educator should differentiate the content by making it advanced or complex. In general, the content should be changed in order to make it suitable for future learning needs of the gifted children.

Methodology also plays a fundamental role in teaching a gifted child. The methodology should enhance understanding of concepts and meet the required learning standards. Furthermore, it should promote creativity, productivity, as well as, the use of open-ended questions and problem solving techniques.

The learning method should also promote sharing of knowledge through group work in classrooms. However, the group work should take into account the gifted child’s multiple intelligence style. There should be flexibility in the use of various teaching methods in order to achieve the best learning outcomes.

The educator can predict the success of the teaching methodology through the reflections that the gifted child demonstrates, in terms of his ability to understand and illustrate what has been taught. This perspective is based on the fact that most gifted children often refuse to complete lengthy written assignments.

Thus, it is important to differentiate learning in order to excite the gifted child. Gifted children prefer to spend more time on studying on their own. Besides, they thrive in a challenging environment.

Consequently, the desired learning outcomes can be achieved if the teacher offers more time, guidelines and opportunities for research and studying.

Teaching gifted children requires assessments that help in validating mastery of the curriculum. The teacher should assess the gifted learner’s understanding of the previous lesson before teaching a new unit. Through these assessments, the teacher will be able to understand the child’s ability to proceed with the learning.

Apart from the assessments, the instructor should also allow the student to create his or her own learning rubrics.

Concisely, the child should have the opportunity to design an assessment for his independent learning projects. Gifted students should be grouped together so that they can share their own interests and work on challenging projects.

Multiple methodologies should be used to analyze the data and specifications that necessitate better learning in gifted children. In Montessori education, gifted learning can be successful in an environment that is characterized with creativity and exploration.

In this context, the process of learning should be led by adults who direct and guide children to acquire knowledge through daily learning activities.

The learning activities and materials should be manipulated carefully in order to enable the students to learn in an environment that supports research, inquiry and exploration. The main strength of Montessori education is that it discourages restrictions in learning.

The main goal of Montessori education is to help the child to learn by doing things on his own. Consequently, it promotes independence in the learning process.

The environment in Montessori education promotes uninterrupted learning and encourages higher order thinking, exploration and research. Lillards (1996) emphasizes the importance of a well prepared learning environment by asserting that:

The purpose of Montessori stories is to provide this necessary ‘previous preparation of interest’. It is possible then for the children to follow their own path of discovery with a large measure of freedom.

Montessori realized that in order to pursue their education in freedom, children would need more than preparation of interest which is given through stories.

They would need the means for further discovery through their hands and brains working in unison in independent activity. In the Children’s House, this means of discovery was represented by materials on the classroom shelves. (p. 55)

In a well prepared environment, the children are encouraged to direct themselves. The importance of this approach is that students use materials that encourage self-correction in the classroom. Through self-correction, children are able to verify, retry and explore problems using the correct procedures.

The materials also minimize the interference of teachers and improve self-confidence, as well as, the ability to think deeper. The materials are essentially instructional learning aids which hold the attention of students for a long time. Thus, they give children the opportunity to teach themselves.

Nonetheless, the involvement of teachers in the learning process is still needed in order to reduce chances of making errors.

Montessori education encourages the use of an indirect teaching approach. It emphasizes the development of human potential to the fullest. It also encourages the use of nature to develop knowledge. In this regard, Lillards (1996) asserts that:

However, the elementary child’s tendency is to explore the abstract. These elementary materials then build upon the abstractions already developing within the children through their earlier work with concrete materials into the Children’s House.

For example, the concept of the triangles is carried much further in the elementary level through an analysis of its parts. Again symbols are given to the pieces in the Binomial Cube, which is familiar to the children because of repeated previous manipulation in the primary level. (p.57)

Montessori education can offer a variety of support to the growth of a gifted child. It can help in recognizing the child’s inborn powers and capabilities through many activities. It gives the child the freedom to choose what he likes to learn.

Consequently, this education system motivates children and helps them to set goals for their education. Montessori (1964) refers to this as the development of the will. Montessori (1964) further points out that “for this, knowledge of special technique is necessary” (p. 224).

The teacher should minimize his intervention as much as possible. However, he must not allow students to exhaust themselves by engaging in auto-education. The responsibility of a Montessori teacher is significantly different from that of a regular class educator.

In the Montessori class, the role of the teacher is to guide the child to achieve his or her full potential without any dictatorship. The educator teaches, encourages and closely observes the child in order to control errors and to promote research.

Additionally, the teacher is expected to teach and assess small groups of students in the classroom. According to Silverman (1994), Montessori education can benefit gifted students. In this regard, he highlights the following benefits of Montessori education as presented in table 2.

Table 2: benefits of Montessori education

Bright child Gifted Child
Knows the answers Asks the questions
6-8 repetitions for mastery 1-2 repetitions
Top group Beyond the group
Is interested Highly curious
Grasps the meaning Draws inferences
Copies accurately Creates new design
Enjoys school Enjoys learning

Table 2 illustrates the importance of Montessori education by highlighting the differences between bright and gifted children. According to the table, Montessori education seems to be the best since it provides the gifted child with opportunities that enhance learning.

In Montessori education, teachers are expected to undertake various lesson activities during their training. Moreover, the system emphasizes extension work in classrooms, and the teachers have the freedom to expand the curriculum as required by their teaching environment.

In this regard, the teacher’s role is to guide, observe learning and assess each child’s needs. They also supplement the content by encouraging research and exploration in their classrooms. Montessori educators believe in simplicity and estheticism in their classrooms.

They give priority to students’ work and constantly change learning materials in order to provoke curiosity in their students.

Furthermore, the teachers prefer to use hand-made materials and students’ work to purchased cut-outs for their walls. Montessori (1966) points out the role of the educator in Montessori education in the following statement:

One who would become a teacher according to our system must examine himself and forgo his tyranny. He must rid his heart and be clothed with charity. These are the virtues he must acquire and this inner preparation will give him the balance and poise which he will need.

However, this does not mean that we must completely abstain from judging a child or that we must approve everything that he does or we should neglect the development of his mind and feelings. Rather, a teacher should never forget that he is a teacher and that his mission is one of education. (pg 153)

Flexibility in the curriculum is another benefit of Montessori education. The Montessori curriculum and its transition from one lesson to another can greatly benefit the gifted child. The student is able to learn according to his pace and adopt the right degree of challenge.

In a Montessori learning environment, the teacher and the child are able to adapt the learning process to the prevailing level of interest and readiness. Thus, learners who are extremely gifted in one area can be easily guided to complete research in their topics of interest.

A well planned curriculum for teaching gifted students should focus on essential facts and concepts that facilitate acquisition of fundamental skills and ideas about the subject that is being taught. In general, the curriculum should enable the students to use the acquired skills to solve various problems.

The curriculum of a gifted learner should excite the child and satisfy the learning needs, as well as, the interests of the students. In a Montessori class, the students learn to address issues independently and confidently by using their creative minds.

The learners also focus on using time purposefully and appreciate the freedom of movement, as well as, unlimited access to research and data. Montessori (1995) emphasizes the importance of multiple intelligences and independent thinking power of the human brain in the following statement:

What, in fact, can be the purpose of this ever growing conquest of independence? Where does it come from? It springs up in the growing personality, which then becomes able to fend for itself. But this happens throughout nature; each living being functions separately, and so we see that the child is following nature’s plan.

He arrives at that freedom which is the first rule of life for everything that lives. How does he achieve this independence? He does it by means of continuous activity. He becomes free by means of constant effort. (pg 90)

In a Montessori classroom, the curriculum depends on the student’s ability rather than age or gender. The students’ young minds constantly seek knowledge in an environment where learning takes place according to the learner’s needs.

This environment emphasizes a hands-on learning methodology rather than rote memorization. Additionally, the teacher organizes group lessons that meet each child’s interest.

This enables the teacher to design differentiated lessons and use time wisely in order to achieve the best learning outcomes. Through small group activities and cluster learning in classrooms, the achievement gap can improve tremendously.

A Montessori program can be taught effectively if its principles and mission are incorporated in the teaching process. Concisely, the teaching process should be practical and suitable for the learning needs.

The administrators in a Montessori school should enable teachers to realize that achieving the learning goals mainly depend on them. Therefore, the teachers should be prepared by acquiring adequate knowledge and pedagogical skills that are required in the contemporary learning environment.

The teachers must work in partnership with the parents in every stage of education. They must give special consideration to gender differences in the family, as well as, in the society. The teachers must also focus on encouraging their students to be proactive.

In this regard, teachers must continue to give advice to students even after graduation by maintaining friendship and special associations with them as required in Montessori education.

A Montessori teacher often supports the mission and vision of the school by developing his own formation and serving as a role model to his students.

Integral formation in a gifted child facilitates intellectual development by having a rich stock of knowledge about world traditions, love for the truth, as well as, skills that enhance higher learning and humility.

As a result of training, experience and professional development, the faculty in a typical Montessori program will demonstrate the following characteristics:

  • High level of proficiency in specific content areas and fields of study
  • Excellent classroom management skills
  • Ability to create classroom experiences that are exciting, memorable and meets the course objectives
  • Ability to connect effectively with students in the process of learning
  • A love for learning that is contagious among students, peers and families
  • Knowledge of diverse instructional methods that are suitable for the needs of all students
  • Knowledge of gender specific instructional methods that effectively meet the needs of each gender
  • Attention to the progress of each student and ability to develop practical and meaningful individual plans for student achievement
  • Understanding the student as a person whose intellectual growth is harmonized with spiritual, emotional and social growth
  • Desire to foster not only intellectual formation, but also human and spiritual formation in every student
  • Self-motivation to continually grow as a professional educator, discerning and applying methods of instruction that are inline with the truth of the human person
  • A love for learning that is evident in the classes they teach

In a well established Montessori class structure, the students should be able to recognize the authentic human qualities in their teachers. The teachers should demonstrate faith and focus their teaching on the elements of human life.

These elements include culture, affection, tact, understanding, serenity of the spirit, a balanced judgment, patience in listening to others and giving prudent responses. Additionally, the teachers should be available for personal meetings and conversations with the students.

The Montessori teacher must inculcate virtue, maturity and strength of character that is consistent with the qualities of leadership. In this regard, the Montessori teacher should demonstrate the following characteristics:

  • Ability to make learning dynamic, drive the academic message home, encourage students to ask questions and help them to find answers
  • Ability to foster an atmosphere of trust, spontaneity and security with students, parents and co-workers
  • Respect for students in terms of a willingness to invest time, trust and energy in students’ lives
  • Ability to understand and execute their duty of encouraging students to be self-motivated and being role models to students
  • Appreciation of the dignity of the human person
  • Desire to cultivate human virtues within themselves in accordance with the mission to serve all people by example
  • Ability to assist the student in the internalization and acquisition of human virtues, as well as, social etiquette
  • Motivation to grow professionally, spiritually and in virtue
  • Optimism (living the virtue of hope), generosity, charity and controlled temperament in relations with others
  • Confident in applying positive motivation as the most effective means of true formation

From a school administration point of view, the mission of an authentic Montessori school should be based on the premise that education can be best provided on a one-to-one basis rather than a crowd setting.

The administration should take into account the fact that each student’s life circumstance is determined by their family, social, economic, emotional and moral settings.

An authentic Montessori school not only educates children, but also influences leaders to transform the society according to the principles of justice and charity. Social responsibility is an integral part of Montessori education.

In this respect, the teachers play an important role in the school by making students aware of social realities. For instance, the teacher can organize various activities that bring students into direct contact with places where the poor or the marginalized live.

Academic excellence should be a goal for all gifted and regular students in a well structured school. The main objective of a Montessori school is to offer quality intellectual formation. In such schools, courses are comprehensive, well grounded and rich in content.

They also use the most advanced educational tools. This includes the study of foreign languages. The school must also place great importance on programming the educational effort according to clear goals. The means of achieving the learning goals should also be clearly defined.

An authentic school should have programs that articulate the objectives of the school as a whole, as well as, the goals of each department.

They must also emphasize personal programs that depend on the objectives of the general programs in order to meet the needs of every student. Personalized programs are essential for progression and goal achievement in gifted and over achieving students.

In an authentic Montessori program, the need for communication and contact with the student’s family is a high priority. The teachers consider the home as an important setting where the greatest part of the student’s non-scholastic life is lived and developed.

The home is also important in the development of the child’s personality, character and behavior. The student is likely to be disillusioned if the principles, teachings and guidelines that he receives at home are contrary to those that he receives in school. In this context, the child is likely to dismiss what he has been taught at school.

In an authentic Montessori school, the content standards define the knowledge and skills that students should acquire. It also describes the activities that students should be able to perform in core academic content areas. The educators should develop specific subject domains for each class.

The subject domains should be informed by the broad or the generally stated learning goals in the school. The amount of content to be taught depends on the standards used to assess it. Generally, the content tends to increase with the scope of the standard.

In a well organized Montessori class, the scope and sequence of the content should clearly outline the key knowledge and skills that should be learned in core subject areas such as English, Language Arts, History, Geography, Math and Science at each grade level.

Concepts and skills should be presented according to the requirements of each subject area and standards. Table 3 gives a guide on how to tell whether a given concept or skill is being introduced for the first time, being developed further or has been previously learned, but needs to be maintained and applied to new knowledge.

Table 3 is essentially a guide that enables teachers to make progress and to monitor the curricular and standards in order to accommodate the gifted learner.

Table 3: guide for monitoring content

I introduced Concept or skill is introduced
D developed Concept or skill is developed
M mastered Concept or skill is mastered and or maintained
An apply Concept or skill applied
Not covered Concept or skill should be mastered. Thus, there is no need to cover it explicitly

Conclusion

There is strong evidence that the Montessori education system can benefit gifted children more than any other learning system. This evidence is demonstrated by the strengths of the system which include the following.

First, the methodology used in Montessori education facilitates rapid progression through the education or learning system. In a nutshell, it enables a child to excel and proceed to the next stage of learning without wasting time due to stagnation in one class.

Second, it enables teachers to mix students of different age groups. This is possible since the Montessori system focuses on the child’s ability to learn rather than age or gender. Thus, students of different age groups can be taught in the same class, as long as they have comparable learning abilities.

Furthermore, Montessori education allows students to skip grades which are deemed to be insignificant to their learning needs.

Third, the Montessori education system is offered in an open learning environment. In this context, the system encourages freedom in learning. Thus, students are able to advance their knowledge and to perfect their skills by learning through research and exploration.

Fourth, interference by teachers in the learning process is minimal. The teachers’ main role is to guide the students to acquire the right knowledge and skills.

This encourages independence and innovation among students in the learning process. Students are likely to master key concepts and skills if they are allowed to learn by applying what has been taught in the class. Furthermore, gifted students tend to prefer learning through research in a challenging environment.

Finally, the system promotes respect for the personality of the student. This facilitates achievement of the desired learning outcomes.

References

Lillard, P. (1996). Montessori Today. New York: Schocken Press.

Montessori, M. (1995). Absorbent Mind. New York: Holt Company.

Montessori, M. (1966). The Secret of the Childhood. New York: Ballantine Books.

Montessori, M. (1964). The Montessori Method. New York: Schocken Press.

Silverman, L. (1994). What we Have Learned about Gifted Children. Web.

Smutny, J., & Veenker, S. (1989). Your Gifted Child. New York: Facts on File.

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IvyPanda. "Is the Montessori Environment Compatible for the Needs of Highly Gifted Children?" July 1, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/is-the-montessori-environment-compatible-for-the-needs-of-highly-gifted-children/.

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IvyPanda. 2019. "Is the Montessori Environment Compatible for the Needs of Highly Gifted Children?" July 1, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/is-the-montessori-environment-compatible-for-the-needs-of-highly-gifted-children/.

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IvyPanda. (2019) 'Is the Montessori Environment Compatible for the Needs of Highly Gifted Children'. 1 July.

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