The Montessori Classroom and Linear Learning – I think she got it right

Posted on December 9, 2011


I’m not sure how much this differs from a traditional preschool classroom, but I am impressed by this video:

A Montessori Community

This is the key to education as far as I’m concerned. Creating an environment where students are having fun learning on their own, autonomously.

Learning doesn’t have to be a chore or work if it’s presented in the right way, if the environment facilitates it. All of us want to learn, desperately. We want to improve ourselves.

The problem is that all learning is presented in linear fashion and we’re forced to learn it on someone else’s schedule, not when we need it or are curious about it.

Basically if you want to bore someone then ask them to learn something in a linear fashion that they don’t have any need to learn right now. It makes the whole process feel pointless. If it’s all laid out for me to learn, then why don’t I just come back and learn it when I need it. Interestingly enough, this is how almost all of school is put together. It’s a fantastic recipe for introducing boredom and killing motivation.

There are two solutions to this:

  1. Create a need. There is nothing better than linear learning when there’s a need. If I am trying to write a program and need to solve a problem I would love to find a solution on the Internet that is laid out in linear fashion. Of course if it is that easy then I’m likely to forget it quickly because I know the solution is close at hand and if the linear explanation is too long winded I’ll likely still get bored by it, so at the end of the day it’s still not a very ideal solution.
  2. Kill the linear solution. Make learning feel like a puzzle or a hunt. Make it so that I have to piece it together in a way that doesn’t make sense at first, but where I feel like I’m making progress. I will feel like I’m accomplishing something significant, rather than just following a set of instructions. It will be far more engaging, I’ll be much more likely to remember it, and I’ll feel much more autonomous in the process, giving me more ownership and pride in my learning.

In general I think the second solution is far more ideal, but the first has it’s advantages in some situations. It is harder to facilitate the second option, though. We’re trained to present things in linear fashion, to think in linear fashion. Creating environments and situations and lessons that are not linear is much more challenging.

Ideally you don’t present anything at all. You create an environment that is full of curiosities. The environment becomes the puzzle and is full of learning opportunities that are not only non-linear in themselves, but, because the child has the ability to choose what to explore at any given moment, then the non-linearity is amplified by the environment itself.

This is where I think Dr. Montessori is really hit the nail on the head. She was able come up with learning toys that were much more puzzle-like in their approach. Once she had these toys she was able to simply put them in a classroom and let kids discover them on their own. This created an environment that promoted learning with a great deal of autonomy. The video above shows it in action.

I for one would be very comfortable putting my child in an environment like this. Frankly I think one major goal of education should be to create more environments that promote autonomous learning for all ages. Give students more autonomy and less linearity in their learning and I guarantee you’ll see a more motivated student body. You’ll also see much more creativity as creativity is the ultimate non-linear form of thinking.