Path to normalization: finding and measuring the essentials of the Montessori method
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The Montessori method is growing in public education. But it is a complex method with many aspects, and there is much potential for misunderstanding and mis-emphasis. In the midst of the many external pressures of a public school setting, the risk of emphasis on aspects of the philosophy that miss its essence are even greater. How can Montessori as a discipline keep the essentials of its aims and methods from being severely diluted? This researcher believes that the first vital step is to identify, measure and communicate with clear contemporary language the unique aims of Montessori, both to ourselves and also to the greater educational community. To that end, this action research project first gathered data from authoritative Montessori sources on what the essential elements are. There was a surprising disparity of opinion. But this data, along with a review of literature, including Montessori's own writings, led this researcher to the conclusion that the essence of the Montessori method is "normalization," which Montessori (1967) herself describes as "the single most important result of our whole work." Using the behavioral qualities which Montessori described as the natural result of normalization, the researcher developed simple and objective data collection methods to measure for evidence of normalization, and for its absence, in students at a primary-level classroom. Analysis of the data collection process concluded that these measurement techniques may represent a promising starting point to develop a Montessori assessment system which is both quantitative and objective - attributes that are particularly valued in public school settings. These measurement techniques can be used to 1) help the teacher more quickly identify students that are not getting the work they need to progress towards normalization, 2) to communicate our aims to families in the form of longitudinal data that quantifies a child's progress on that path, and 3) to start to consider success at school as something other than academic scores reflect, with measurements that also consider the whole child.