Montessori Class Size.
The idea of having a small classroom size of children with a low ratio of two teachers and 16-20 students between the ages of two and a half and six years is an attractive concept to lure parents that teachers can actually focus better on the children’s needs. I also remembered emphasising this point of ‘the lesser the better’ to students of Diploma in Early Childhood Education. However, I also vividly remember that Maria Montessori had only an assistant with her in her classroom of over forty children of mixed-age group. And yes, I always wonder how does that happen in a classroom of young children.
I was encouraged to look into the ‘size matter’ again after reading Mary Flewelling’s Size Matters article in Tomorrow’s Child Magazine (Sept 2009). How my eyes, mind and heart was opened and expanded by the write up! Mary also shared the same concern and enlightenment as I have, but she was more ‘fortunate’ to work in a class of 44 mixed-age group students.
Allow me to remind you of Maria Montessori’s old records that normalisation actually happened in her class which had a high teacher/student ratio, and schools (in the States and Canada) which practise the Montessori curriculum can actually accommodate large numbers of students. Now, the next looming question would be: how on earth can that happen? Mary Flewelling delved into the matter and found out several reasons and conditions that need to be fulfilled for normalisation to occur in real life.
1) Children of age 2 1/2 – 6 can be seen busy working with the materials in the classroom. Teachers must make sure materials are available for that range of age and are arranged in sequential order. The more children there are in a classroom, chances of seeing them getting busy with an activity is higher compared to a smaller amount of children. Children will naturally get attracted and be inquisitive when they see another child working with a material. This happens all the time, even at home. A positive learning environment will definitely slowly and gradually flourish in this young community.
2) I love this one. “In a well-populated casa classroom… the adults assume the correct role in the environment…finding it impossible to be involved with each and every activity that occurs.” I couldn’t agree more with this. As a result of less involvement of the teacher and more observing and facilitating teachers learn to follow rather than lead. Less interruption from the teacher will provide more opportunities for older students to help their younger mates. On the other hand, children who slowly realise that an adult is not always available to rely on, which is always the case in the real world, will learn to ask help from other friends or become more independent, confident and resourceful to resolve any issues or matter.
3) I’m so in love with this one too. Dr. Montessori once said “…keep running from child to child, thus spreading the contagion of her (refering to her assistant directresses) own anxiety and wearisome lack of calm.” Now, I’ve gladly etched this statement in my soul. I believe that negative thoughts and feelings can transform into negative behaviour and all negative concerns should be thrown outside the classroom before welcoming the first child in the morning. Dr Montessori also reminded us to not to “feel solely responsible for everything that happened around her”, instead as teachers, we should have the confidence in our students that they, and the environment are the best teachers.
4) A large class situation allows a more dynamic and diversified social interaction, and a group of mixed age children reduce academic comparisons and competition. If I’m not mistaken a good proportion of the number of each age group is like a pyramid’s proportion, with the oldest age being at the bottom of the pyramid. So, for example in a class of 30, there would be ten 6 yrs old, eight 5 yrs old, seven 4 yrs old and five 3 yrs old.
5) One thing we need to remember about normalisation, , is a number of 3-year cycles of learning must be implied in a real Montessori setting, which is impossible to be practiced in Malaysia. That means children will have the same teachers for three years before going to the next elementary stage.
Mary Flewelling releases the worms in the can when she bares the ultimate questions to junior teachers and parents, which I sincerely agree and always press on parents especially when discussing about their children’s future:
Are we working to give our students and academic headstart? If the answer is yes, then a low teacher/student ratio is the key to an optimum classroom situation.
Are we striving to impart something less tangible but infinitely more valuable, such as developing a life time of intellectual traits, self-directed learners, independent thinkers, socially adept? If the answer is yes, then a larger or higher teacher/student ration is the key to a successful Montessori classroom.
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