In a Montessori classroom the child’s effort and work is respected as it is. The teacher carefully plans follow up and individual work to ensure that each child is supported in learning what he or she needs. Through careful observation and detailed record keeping, the teacher intimately knows what each child needs to work on. If it is spelling, lessons at the appropriate level will be presented and through practice and continued writing without worry that a word is misspelled, they will learn what they need to learn. The end result of the process being that they confidently approach the next piece of work, not realising that they are improving with each letter.
For many parents, myself included, this is one of the most difficult aspects of the Montessori education to truly deeply appreciate and respect. I find myself yearning for the spelling to be corrected on projects, math equations to be pointed out as incorrect, “How will they learn if they don’t know it’s wrong?” I think to myself. I have to forcibly hold myself back from pointing out the misspelled words in the beautiful project before commenting on the full and complete punctuated sentences about invertebrates that my seven year old daughter has written.
This doesn’t mean that it is never pointed out that a math conclusion is incorrect or a word misspelled or a fact misstated. It certainly does not mean that indiscriminate praise is used to imply that no matter the actual quality of a piece of work it is excellent simply by having been made by the child. However, the purpose of the work at hand is considered first – is this a spelling list that the child has worked with all week or is this a project on human evolution? If the first, then the purpose is to have had sufficient practice that the spelling is correct, and a child may be asked to check his work again using the materials – thereby discovering and “correcting” the error himself. Instead of a page of red marks at the end of the week, stuffed into a backpack never to be seen again, the work is worked on until it is complete.
The Montessori method is used all over the world, with diverse populations racially, socioeconomically, and ethnically. It is renowned as not only effective in supporting academic development but also emotional and moral growth. It is empirically supported by studies that conclude that children are equal to or ahead of their same age peers academically, and consistently more engaged in their learning, more enthusiastic about school, and more socially conscientious. And yet, sometimes there is doubt. I wonder if this doubt arises from the challenge to truly respect the child’s effort and process and resist our own need as parents to correct, ensure everything is “right”. If our focus becomes only the mistakes they make and not the effort and product that they produce how are we preparing them to take risks? I will resist correcting the spelling of each project in favour of appreciating the deep concentration and long work time it took for my daughter to complete the project. I will also remember that when I pick on the details of her effort and indicate it wasn’t good enough, I am taking away her willingness to share, experiment, and risk. Instead of doubting I am enacting my belief that spelling can always be learned and corrected, and ultimately is less important right now than building diligence, concentration, enthusiasm, and experimentation.