Montessori in the Press
Don't Stop Classroom Chatter; It's Good for
By Alexandra Frean, Times Online
Children should be allowed to move around the classroom and to work
against a background of chatter as classmates exchange ideas, a
leading US academic has recommended.
Angeline Lillard, Professor of Psychology at the University of Virginia,
said that too many schools were still clinging to a traditional
“factory model” of the classroom in which children sitting
silently in ranks were considered blank sheets on which teachers
could imprint knowledge merely by talking to them.
Professor Lillard said that this approach ran counter to everything
that psychologists had discovered in the past hundred years about
how children learn.
“We were designed in nature to think about the world in relation
to how we physically interact with it - it’s called embodied
cognition. So it’s only natural that children learn better
when they get to move,” she said.
“If you ask children to pick out pairs of animals that might
go together, they will remember the pairs that they are allowed
to touch and move, rather than the ones they just look at,”
In maths or physics, handling or building geometrical models helps
students to understand the laws behind them. In history, role-play
enables children to get an understanding of the motivation of leading
Professor Lillard is the author of a seminal study published last
year. In it she suggested that the century-old Montessori education
method, in which tests are banned and pupils of different ages are
taught together and allowed to learn at their own pace, is more
successful than traditional teaching methods.
She was particularly critical of early education in Britain, where
children in preschool settings are encouraged to play and learn
in groups before being moved to more formal settings when they start
“Children under 6 are far more interested in parallel play
- often playing alongside each other without really interacting.
Once they are in primary school that’s when they start being
really interested in their peers and taking notice of how they react.
But that is precisely the time when we take them away from learning
and playing in groups and sit them at desks in ones and twos.
She also questioned the wisdom of forcing children to be silent
in class. “Children seem to be able to work against a hum
of background noise. They can’t learn from each other if they
are told to be silent.” She denied that her methods would
result in a breakdown of classroom order or would hold back bright
Classroom discipline, she said, should be developed by allowing
children to chose the parts of the curriculum that most interest
them and to work at their own pace on it to keep them motivated.
Professor Lillard’s ideas chime with reforms of the secondary
curriculum advanced by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority,
which earlier this year recommended replacing rigid school timetables
and subject lessons with a more flexible approach combining five-minute
bursts with all-day sessions and learning arranged around themes,
rather than traditional subjects.
Professor Lillard was speaking at the weekend at a conference in
London held by the Maria Montessori Institute to celebrate the centenary
of Montessori education.
Robert Whelan, deputy director of the think-tank Civitas and managing
director of the New Model School Company, which promotes traditional
education, said Professor Lillard’s methods were only likely
to be successful with some children.
“The danger of letting children wander around the classroom
and talk to each other is that those from middle-class homes, which
value education, might flourish. But those from homes with no books
and whose parents are only vaguely aware of what it is they do at
school, will suffer because they will not be motivated to work hard.
“To have the teacher imparting information to the whole class
for at least the majority of the time has a lot of advantages,”