With the current globalization trends, student populations are changing. It is important for schools and individual educators to explore pedagogies that may be useful to meet the learning demands of new student populations. In English as an Additional Language (EAL), this is especially important. The Montessori Method is one such pedagogy that should be explored and evaluated to determine its potential uses for young EAL learners.
With the increase in globalization, the importance of learning a foreign language has become more crucial to individuals in order to benefit from educational and professional opportunities. English, in particular, has become a necessary language skill among immigrants, migrants and non-English speaking global citizens. Particularly in an EU (European Union) context, providing English language skills early may be beneficial, as there are many educational institutions and professional environments within a country whose language of instruction and interaction is English. These English learners, however, are not necessarily provided with effective learning methods. Especially very young language learners are left without a means to effectively acquire and or 3rd language skills because young children are often made to wait until school age to receive any formal language education. Unlike other educational frameworks, the Montessori Method offers educational opportunities for children beginning at age 3; with a possibility of an even earlier start depending on the individual child. It can also be applied to multiple social and regional contexts. Through the use of practical learning environments offered by the Montessori Method, 2nd or 3rd language acquisition may occur in a less stressful environment than occurs in traditional educational frameworks. The creativity through tactile learning that the Montessori Method encourages can promote language learning in children as a means of bridging the educational gap. This means that children in the first plane of development (ages 0-6) may be able to acquire the language skills, in this case English, that they will likely need later in life. Examining the language portion of the Montessori Method allows for new applications that can help to address current educational concerns. Taking into account the versatility of the Montessori Method, this paper will evaluate the potential educational applications of the Method for ‘EAL’ students.
Immigration and migration patterns in the EU (European Union) have been increasing yearly and have influenced many aspects of society. As the population changes, so too does the society of the region. ‘Globalization’ is political, technological and cultural, as well as economic’ (Giddens, 2002, p. 10). Globalization here can be understood as social inter connectivity and interaction that has brought about cultural, linguistic and societal diversity. In addition to the influences of globalization listed by Giddens, education and schooling should be added, since changes and fluctuations in population demographics are present in society’s institutions. Because of the increase of social, cultural and linguistic interactions, educational frameworks must be evaluated to identify the model of education that best reflects the aim of promoting a socially just education in the changing world. This examination in particular is concerned with EAL (English as an Additional Language) education and employs the RUFDATA evaluation framework to determine if the Montessori Method can be used to accomplish this aim for young learners in the first plane of development (0-6 years of age).
The Montessori Method was chosen because it is concerned with promoting a quality education that honors the humanity of students while basing educational practices in the reality of the life of students. Teachers should be able to reflect on their time with their students, confident that they ‘have served the spirit of these children so that they have achieved development, …[knowing that they (the teacher)] have accompanied them in all their experiences’ (Montessori, 2007, p. 232). As the lives of students change, so too must the education they are being provided with. It is the teacher’s responsibility to experiment in the classroom and adapt the education being provided to fit the educational, spiritual and emotional needs of the students. Montessori was not alone in her belief of education reflecting life. John Dewey, too, believed that education should be rooted in the practical life of students. Education should be accessible to students, not so far removed from their reality that they are unable to relate to their own learning.
Knowledge and truth are important concepts in education, as both determine how we can say that we know something. To obtain knowledge regarding a truth means that investigation and examination must occur and potential falsities eliminated as much as is reasonably possible. The resulting investigation can then be related to previous knowledge to establish best practice, in our case for schooling and student learning. The evaluation that is required and the relationship between stakeholders and the data collected are determined, in large part, on whether the Evaluator takes on the position of an internal or external elevator.
An insider perspective …[views] the knowledge of stakeholders as paramount in both understanding a program and making it work, and thus engaging with them in developing a shared understanding about program improvements, …[while] an external perspective …[relies] on objective methods to make the judgement about the efficacy of the program, thus treating stakeholders as sources of data to input into these standard research designs (Pawson & Tilley, 2004, p. 12).
For this investigation, both internal and external perspectives are taken. Internal, meaning the researcher is currently involved with a Montessori learning environment and external, meaning the researcher has not received any teacher training in a Montessori program and has only recently come into contact with the Method. The evaluation has been completed by examining sections of text from an educational and linguistic perspective, to determine if and how the Montessori Method can be used as an EAL learning platform. RUFDATA categories have been used to provide a focus for this examination, outlining the ‘reasons and purposes; uses; focus; data and evidence; audience; timing; [and] agency’ (Saunders, 2000, p. 15) of the evaluation. The categories help to provide the context of why the evaluation is taking place and who the evaluation is directed towards.
The first section outlines the current immigration and migration patterns in Europe while establishing the world in which Maria Montessori lived and worked. Commonalities are then established between the practices of Montessori and John Dewey. The second section establishes the importance of experimentation in establishing knowledge and the relationship between the researcher and research in this instance. Montessori’s positivist approach to learning is examined while the differing approach of the elevator, who relies on a constructionist paradigm, is established. The type of data collected and the methodology is then explored. Finally in this section, RUFDATA categories are employed to further focus the evaluation. In the final section, the work of Maria Montessori is examined and evaluated in relationship to its language learning practices and how this can be applied to current EAL learning.
Current Immigration Patterns and the Need for ‘EAL’ Educational Discourse
In the EU, the rate of immigration and migration has been increasing steadily for the past number of years with ‘about 3.4 million people [immigrating] to one of the EU-27 Member States, while at least 2.7 million emigrants were reported to have left an EU-27 Member State’ (Eurostat Statistics Explained, May 2014). It should be noted that not all who migrate to or from EU countries mean to settle permanently. For some, the move may be temporary for work or study. These statistics demonstrate the relationships and exposure that populations are now having with one another. Cultural, social and linguistic groups are now interacting on a much wider scale. This evaluation focuses on a European context, although this is not a uniquely European phenomenon. Throughout much of the world, people are interacting with others on a larger scale in both a physical and nonphysical sense. ‘The internet can be conceptualized as communication medium, information infrastructure and ‘space’ of interaction’ (Beaulieu, 2005, p. 183). The internet, social media and online gaming has given people the ability to interact with others where they may not have had the opportunity to do so previously. It is a world that ‘can become very complex …[and build] up extensive systems of social norms’ (Schroeder, 2011, p. 31). Migration and immigration is only one means of interaction, but other means should not be discounted. Immigration and migration affects not only adults who are moving but also influences the lives of children who move as well. For the purpose of this evaluation, however, physical interaction between cultures and societies for young learners is the main focus and reason for this examination.
This evaluation will focus on children in the first stage of development, those between 0-6 years of age. Maria Montessori’s original work was conducted with children who were ‘two to seven years on a type of “home school” setting’ (Helfrich, 2011, p. 8). This setting can be defined as one in which learning is promoted through natural human interactions and practical daily activities. This included setting the table for meal time, cleaning away dishes and children actively participating in the growing of food being consumed. Montessori’s original age group will determine the beginning age group for the EAL examination. Montessori believed that ‘at three years of age the child has already laid the foundations of the human personality and needs the special help of education in school’ (Montessori, 2007, p. 6). What is particularly interesting is that Montessori never identified herself as being an educator per se. Instead, she viewed her work as that of a researcher. Montessori began her work in Italy but later travelled extensively, teaching her Method and establishing Montessori schools ‘in Europe, North and South America as well as India, Sri Lanka and Pakistan’ (Isaacs, 2010, p. 11). Perhaps the most interesting aspect of her travels was that there is very little in her Method that deals with second, third or fourth language learning. In general, the assumption is that the language being developed in the students is the native language of the students, parents and educators. This has inspired the following evaluation since the world has changed dramatically since the early 20th Century, when Montessori wrote and practiced. This has made the interaction among different groups of people, culturally, socially and linguistically of paramount concern and has made an evaluation of learning frameworks necessary.
There has been much debate about the frameworks that education has adopted and which should be considered ‘best’ and most socially just. Montessori’s focus on practical or experiential learning was not unique. In fact, John Dewey also stressed an educational framework that had its foundation in the acquisition of knowledge that was founded in the practical life of students. For him, learning should reflect life in a realistic way. ‘Education is thus a fostering, a nurturing, a cultivating process’ (Dewey, 1916, p. 15). Language, in particular, is a fundamental part of the process of life and education as laid out by Dewey. He writes that ‘fundamental modes of speech, the bulk of the vocabulary, are formed in the ordinary intercourse of life, carried on not as a set means of instruction but as a social necessity’ (Ibid., p. 21). This is not to say that all experiences are of an educational value. In fact ‘any experience is mis educative that has the effect of arresting or distorting the growth of further experience’ (Dewey, 1963, p. 25). The role of educational institutions is to create aims for students that adhere to practical life. ‘A good aim surveys the present state of experience of pupils, and forming a tentative plan of treatment, keeps the plan constantly in view and yet modifies it as conditions develop’ (Dewey, 1916, p. 95). Here there is echoed the Montessori an viewpoint of teacher as researcher. There is always a need to reassess education and make adjustments accordingly for the betterment of the student population. This is the most important aspect of this evaluation. The aim, although similar with other EAL programs, is seeking to adjust itself slightly so that English language learning may occur in a practical way that relates to young children’s lives and occurs in a natural environment with multi-sensory stimulation and physical movement as its focus.
There are many approaches that can be taken with second or third language development. The psycho linguistic approach is concerned primarily with quantitative data that seeks to establish a causal relationship between multiple variables, while the socio linguistics approach uses qualitative data to establish how social interactions influence language development (Young-Scholten, Herschensohn, & Credo Reference, 2014). In both approaches there is missing a concern for the well being of the individual. The focus is on the end result of language learning without a consideration for the social justice being maintained for the individual during the learning process. Schooling has also adopted these approaches, meaning that the EAL programs are focused primarily on results. What makes the Montessori Method unique is the desire for development while always maintaining a sense of justice for the student and being cognizant of the student’s emotional well being. It is a combination of desired language results with respect for the student’s humanity that makes the Method different, something other approaches do not address.
One of the most fundamental questions of any inquiry is ‘what is knowledge and how do we know?’ Particularly in social science, knowledge is based on an investigation of things that have been previously thought to be true. In some cases, the resulting inquiry suggests that what was believed previously is not so, while other times the investigation reaffirms an already established belief about a certain aspect of society. ‘We spend our time collecting information, interpreting what we have collected, and trying to relate it to existing knowledge’ (Connell, 2007, p. 224). This, however, is not sufficient. The goal is to generalize findings to other groups or facets of society to further understand societies and social groups. ‘Theory is the way we speak beyond the single case. It involves imagination, the search for patterns, the critique of data’ (Ibid., p. 225). This evaluation deals with the first steps of the process, that of collecting information about the Montessori Method and interpreting it in an effort to improve EAL education. Theoretically, the findings could then be used to generalize potential uses of the Montessori Method in differing contexts. The findings cannot be known as fact, however, until further research in the field is completed. The outcome of the evaluation is meant to reflect the reality of the world and offer an alternative educational model that may better suit the current population.
Evaluation outcomes are not descriptions of the ‘way things really are’ or ‘really work’, or some ‘true’ state of affairs, but instead represent meaningful constructions that individual actors or groups of actors form to ‘make sense’ of the situations in which they find themselves’ (Guba, 1989, p. 8).
For this evaluation, this means that a new model of education is necessary that allows for the desired development while simultaneously promoting social justice and well being. How this evaluation is to be conducted, however, depends in large part on the relationship between the elevator and the research.
Pawson & Tilley (2004) discuss the researcher / researched relationship, although there is no conclusion drawn between which is more desirable, being an ‘insider’ or being an ‘external’ evaluator. Instead, the benefits of both positions are explored. The insider perspective views the opinions and knowledge of stakeholders as being of primary importance. In this case, an evaluator engages with the stakeholders, ‘developing a shared understanding about programme improvements’ (Pawson & Tilley, 2004, p. 12). An external perspective, however, relies on methods of inquiry that are objective in nature. In this case, ‘stakeholders [are viewed] as sources of data to input into… standard research designs’ (Ibid). Potential stakeholders, when examining educational frameworks, can include educators, policy makers and curriculum developers. Perhaps the most important stakeholder in any dialogue about education are the students. Certainly, there has been research done to examine student voice as a stakeholder (Alonso, 2009; Finnegan, Merrill, & Thunborg, 2014; Webber, 2012) in education but the research is largely concentrated on students in Higher Education. In this evaluation, students have virtually no power, voice or influence on the education they receive. This is due in large part because of the age and social status of the children; however, it is still their education and as such they do have some ownership over it. Likewise, teachers are stakeholders in this evaluation since they are the means by which the education is being provided. It should be noted that in this case, the researcher would fall into the category of stakeholder and is a member of a Montessori educational institution, although this experience has only been for a short time. Previous experience of the researcher has been in mainstream school settings. This evaluation seeks to focus less on the facts and figures of the success of the Montessori Method and is more concerned with how the Method may be used to successfully implement EAL learning to stakeholders who do not possess a voice in the educational process.
Maria Montessori used a scientific method in her development of the Montessori Method and was a positivist by nature. She conducted educational experiments, studying ‘systematically what is clear, factual and open to observation’ (Pring, 2004, p. 91) and proceeded to develop an educational framework that followed the logic of her findings. This evaluation approaches education from a constructivist paradigm, meaning that reality is a social construct that is ever changing. The findings of the evaluation will come about ‘through the interaction between researcher and that which is researched’ (Ibid., p. 48). Truth is the agreement of individuals that a specific idea or framework is correct. Especially with regards to language learning, this paradigm is especially important. “Communication with other people, therefore, lies in a ‘negotiation’ of their respective worlds of ideas whereby, often for practical reasons (they need to live and work together), they come to share the same ideas’ (Ibid., p. 51). The belief held by the evaluator in this case is that the evaluation seeks to aid in the communication between different groups so that a consensus can be reached and ideas exchanged. Especially when examining language, which is undoubtedly a human construction, a constructivist paradigm is essential, although the position of the author of the text being examined may take on a differing paradigm.
The primary data was collected from two of Montessori’s writings, The Absorbent Mind (Montessori, 1949) and The Montessori Method (Montessori, 1912). Current reprints of the texts were used, as original versions are difficult to obtain and reprints are quite accessible. Qualitative data was used because it represents the complexities of the school environment and its relationship to the wider world. It goes beyond statistical data of percentages and success rates. ‘The schooling process [is viewed] as laden with human values, heavily influenced by the interaction between home, school, and personal variables, and affected by the interplay between the various interpretations of schooling events’ (Barakett & Cleghorn, 2008, p. 24). Language learning is always a complex issue, however, it is even more so when the language in the home, society and school are different. In an effort to accurately reflect the complex relationships in language learning, particularly EAL learning, qualitative data has been relied upon. The concern of ‘inputs and outputs’ (Ibid.) of ‘quantitatively oriented’ (Ibid.) research is a secondary concern in this case. Quantitative data, in the form of language development scales and progress reports would be useful here, but is beyond the scope of this evaluation.
In an effort to give this evaluation a clear aim, RUFDATA categories will be employed. RUFDATA is an acronym that stands for ‘reasons and purposes; uses; focus; data and evidence; audience; timing; agency’ (Saunders, 2000, p. 15). The approach, as outlined by Saunders, brings to light the associated action or actions that can result from the evaluation in an effort to improve EAL education. The resulting actions will be brought to light through examining the theory of the Montessori Method. The first of the categories, that of ‘reasons and purposes’ is particularly important for any evaluation being undertaken. In this case, the purpose is to develop a socially just EAL framework that is focused on the language development of young learners (0-6 years of age). The intended ‘uses’ of the evaluation lay in the development of new language learning applications and educational frameworks that can be used in the future to promote good practice among professionals. It may also be used to help shape EAL educational policy and curriculum that moves away from traditional school frameworks and seeks to promote inclusivity and diversity. The ‘focus’ lays in the texts that were written by Maria Montessori as she was developing the Method. The language aspect of development in the texts will be examined and how the Method can be used in different social, cultural and linguistic traditions explored. The ‘data’ being examined in the evaluation is not focused on practices of the Montessori Method, but rather, the theory presented by Montessori in The Absorbent Mind (Montessori, 2007) and The Montessori Method (Montessori, 2006), both of which can be categorized as ‘life histories’ and ‘research reports’ (Sapsford & Jupp, 2006, pp. 275-276). ‘Life histories…is a means by which an individual provides a written record of his or her own life in his or her own terms’ (Ibid., p. 275). The conversational tone and the progress of the experimental research conducted extend beyond a formal report. She relates stories of specific children; she gives account of her feelings about them and provides commentary on them, which gives the impression of a more personalized account of schooling. ‘Research reports … are reports of social science research written by academics and other researchers’ (Ibid., p. 276). Montessori viewed herself, and other educators, as being researchers. In fact, in her writings there is a call for all educators to take on the role of scientific researcher. Her writings include scientific discussion about the research she undertook and what her findings were. The next category, that of the ‘audience,’ can be narrowed down to include the education community; more specifically, policy makers, curriculum developers and EAL educators. The ‘timing’ for this particular evaluation stems from the current immigration climate and from the critical pedagogy of Paulo Freire, who states that ‘education must begin with the solution of the teacher-student contradiction, by reconciling the poles of the contradiction so that both are simultaneously teachers and students’ (Freire, 1996, p. 53). Particularly in EAL education, the teacher-student relationship is often viewed in terms of the ‘banking system’ of education (Ibid.). Freire’s call for a reformation of this type of education, in our case, EAL education, serves as a call for a re-examination of what EAL education looks like in modern educational contexts. Educational examination and evaluation should be an ongoing process to ensure a socially just education is being provided throughout changing times with changing student populations.
The final category in the RUFDATA model is that of ‘agency,’ or who is conducting the evaluation. In this case, there is an argument that could be made for both internal as well as external evaluators. Participants know the students’ needs and how they learn most effectively. They are able to suggest improvements that may otherwise go unnoticed. External evaluators, however, may give a more objective evaluation. The experience of the researcher, although currently in a Montessori educational setting, has largely been in mainstream, government run schools. The researcher’s experience with Montessori education is relatively new and the following evaluation reflects an inquisitive inquiry of the Method from an educator who did not receive teacher training in a Montessori institution, but who has experience working with EAL children in other educational settings. It was during prior experience with primary school EAL children that a gap in learning and social justice was identified. Upon entering a Montessori setting, the Method was identified as a possible means to fill the gap. In this specific case, the researcher adopts both an internal and external position to give a more realistic idea of whether or not the Method is accessible to different cultures, societies and linguistic groups.
Maria Montessori wrote much about early childhood development and the role that education should play in this stage of a child’s life. Although she believed strongly in the Method she developed she viewed her framework as being a work in progress. Henry W. Holmes describes Montessori’s view of educational progression. ‘A system of education does not have to attain perfection in order to merit study, investigation, and experimental use’ (Montessori, 2006, p. xix). Education should never reach a final stage. Progress, research and inquiry should always be at the forefront of educational thought. Particularly in the 21st Century, the frameworks that were once established need to be changed and modified to meet the demands of our current world. Education must reflect reality. With the increase in immigration and migration, it is particularly important to give attention to ‘the interests of humanity at large, and of civilisation, and before such great forces we can recognise only one country – the entire world’(Ibid., p. 5). Although this was a true statement in Montessori’s time (late 19th- mid 20th Century), it is even more so in the current era, so the call for change and reform of both schools and educators is a much needed one. ‘Education can no longer remain isolated from society but must acquire authority over society’ (Montessori, 2007, p. 11). This suggests that both schooling and educators must change the way education is given to students if integration, diversity and social justice are to be at the forefront of education’s aims.
In an effort to accomplish the social justice aims of education, Montessori called on teachers to expand their role in the educational process. ‘For if we make of the teacher an observer, familiar with the experimental methods, then we must make it possible for her to observe and to experiment in the school’(Montessori, 2006, p. 28). What is most interesting in this statement is the autonomy that is given to the teacher. Educators should not be bound by strict curriculum and policy, but should be able to modify his/her programs based on the observations he/she makes of the students. Montessori also does not specify subject area in this discussion. This principle is to apply to all educators. There are two actions that are required, first the observation of the students and then the experimental component of the equation. ‘If education is to start from birth, there can be but one method. There can be no question of special methods for Indian children or Chinese or Japanese or European children’ (Montessori, 2007, p. 45). Montessori stressed one method for education, but this one method could have numerous practical outcomes depending on the educator’s experimentation in the classroom and the children being taught. For language learning in particular, this allows for a customized program of learning that is never the same from group to group. What is to remain the same among schools is the method being employed not the means by which the subject is taught. Montessori recognized that there is no ‘one size fits all’ for education and the learning process. By adopting the experimental method, teachers become learners in the classroom alongside the students, something Freire also valued as being important. An observation is made, the teacher comes up with an idea about how to best teach a concept and then, depending on its success or failure with the students, it is adopted or discarded. The implications for adopting this method in language learning, could be great and could mean the difference between a student learning a language slowly (or not proficiently) because of difficulty with traditional schooling frameworks and a student learning a language quickly because the program has been customized to his/her learning style.
According to Montessori, there are two periods in language development
a lower one which prepares the nervous channel and the central mechanisms which are to put the sensory channels in relation with the motor channels; and a higher one determined by the higher psychic activities which are exteriorized by means of the performed mechanisms of language’ (Montessori, 2006, pp. 312-313).
Pre-language lessons would fall into the category of lower period of learning. Infants look at the moving mouth of people when they speak and attempt to replicate the sounds being produced. This demonstrates how to move the mouth to form the sounds that are needed for language. A practical application for educators for pre-language lessons would be to produce a consonant sound repeatedly, allowing time for the child or children to mimic the sound. First consonant sounds can be practiced, followed by the more difficult vowel sounds. For higher period language lessons, a teacher may ask the child to use a particular colour of token when playing hopscotch, the child repeating the colour once the token has been chosen. Our primary concern with this evaluation is the higher period of language development. Speech and oral communication in one language is already developed, although this may be in the beginning stages. Regardless, the physical mechanisms needed for speech are already sufficiently developed, thus making additional language learning possible.
Not only did Montessori outline the philosophical underpinnings of her Method, but she included concrete lessons that are to be used by teachers in an effort to teach language correctly and successfully. One such lesson outlined is that of breathing exercises. The exercises ‘teach the movements of the lips and tongue in the pronunciation of certain fundamental consonant sounds’ (Ibid., p. 147). These are to be done with even the smallest children whose speech has not yet developed. When Montessori outlines these pre-language lessons, she does not specify what language is being taught. What she does do, is to stress the importance of practicing how the mouth should move when speech in any language occurs. This means that the breathing exercises can be used in any region, regardless of the language being spoken. These generalized lessons can be found throughout her writings. For instance, for vocabulary learning, she outlines three periods in a lesson to help cement vocabulary in the child’s mind. ‘First Period. The association of the sensory perception with the name. Second Period. Recognition of the object corresponding to the name. Third Period. The remembering of the name corresponding to the object’ (Ibid., p. 177-178). She then goes into more detail about what the lessons involve and the role that the teacher must take in the process of vocabulary learning and assessment.
First. “The lessons in nomenclature must consist simply in provoking the association of the name with the object, or with the abstract idea which the name represents.” Second. The teacher must always test whether or not her lesson has attained the end she had in view, and her tests must be made to come within the restricted field of consciousness, provoked by the lesson on nomenclature. Third. If the child has not committed any error, the teacher may provoke the motor activity corresponding to the idea of the object: that is, to the pronunciation of the name (Ibid., p. 225-227).
Again here, Montessori does not specify any language in particular, but rather the method that should be used to teach language in general. The generality present in the lesson descriptions allow them to be applied to numerous contexts. It is promoting the diversity of applications of the Montessori Method. The assessment of the vocabulary is also of interest. Montessori places emphasis on formative assessment practices rather than summative. In fact, summative assessment does not appear in any of the writings. Language learning and developing conversation skills takes precedence over examination results and percentages. This undoubtedly would reduce stress for the students and allow them to learn at their own pace.
Because there is such an emphasis on oral communication in Montessori’s writings, accurate language being used by both students and staff in schools is of the utmost importance. ‘Nomenclature prepares for an exactness in the use of language which is not always met with in our schools’ (Ibid., p. 232). Montessori stresses the importance of children hearing natural and correct speech. Educators must ensure that children have access to proper language being used in a natural context. ‘The child must be brought with us when we converse with our friends’ (Montessori, 2007, p. 87). This advice, when applied to the school setting, could be reflected in field trips or out of school/ after school activities where the students interact with members of the community.
Certainly, young children have advantages when learning languages that adults do not. Possessing a native accent is one, as well as the ability to adopt new vocabulary relatively quickly.
The mother tongue alone is well pronounced because it was established in the period of childhood; and the adult who learns to speak a new language must bring to it the imperfections characteristic of the foreigner’s speech: only children who under the age of seven years learn several languages at the same time can receive and reproduce all the characteristic mannerisms of accent and pronunciation (Montessori, 2006, pp. 315-316).
Children do not go about ‘learning’ a language. They learn it because they must if they are to communicate with others in a specific environment. Likewise, grammar is not something that needs to be taught per se. Rather it is something picked up from others, yet another reason why exactness of language in the learning environment is so crucial. The precise language learned by the child can then be used by that child to express his or her ‘own experience’ (Helfrich, 2011, p. 121). The implications for the development of children if exact language is not used could be vast. ‘If children are not exposed to opportunities to hear rich language used in the context of everyday life, the potential for their ability to communicate effectively will be limited by lack of experience’ (Isaacs, 2010, p. 16). By limiting the correct language heard and used by a child, the child could be affected negatively in later planes of development. This principle follows along with the duty and desire of schools to provide every opportunity for children to acquire solid foundations for their future, both in their schooling and later their professional life. If a young child has been given the opportunity for EAL learning and is immersed in a rich language environment, it concedes that the accent, vocabulary and grammar learned will effectively serve to produce a completely fluent English speaker.
Teaching a child to read and write follows the same generalizations that are made in oral language acquisition. ‘First, to trace the diverse species of lines. Second, to trace them in various directions and in different positions relative to the plane. Third, to reunite these lines to form figures varying from simple to complex’ (Montessori, 2006, p. 245). In this passage, we see Montessori describing how familiarity with letters should follow a logical sequence. It should be treated much the same way as any other subject. The easy exercises are to be followed by the more difficult. This may seem like a common sense attitude, and indeed it is, but often common sense can be forgotten in educational contexts where curriculum and outcomes are the focus. Here, Montessori is taking educators of all languages through a step by step process of reading and writing skills. The first step, that of tracing the language’s letters ‘fixes the image more quickly through the cooperation of the senses’ (Ibid., p. 266), while the second and third steps focus on how to properly form the letters of any given alphabet. There is also a direct order of letter learning provided. Montessori believed that vowels should be taught first and consonants should follow. Also, it is important that the teacher pronounces ‘the sound, not the name’ (Ibid., p. 275) of each letter so that children may easily be able to spell a word correctly upon hearing the phonemes that make up the word. There is also an assessment that should be conducted by the educator during this process to ensure that the child is grasping the sounds and associated letters. Like other assessments required by the educator in the Montessori Method, formative assessment in encouraged.
First. Association of the visual and muscular-tactile sensation with the letter sound. Second. Perception. The child should know how to compare and to recognize the figures, when he hears the sounds corresponding to them. Third. Language. Allowing the letters to lie for some instants upon the table, the directress asks the child, “What is this?” and he should respond, o,i’(Ibid., p. 276-277).
Unlike more traditional educational frameworks, reading and writing, in the Montessori context should be taught alongside one another. ‘One does not take in sound by sound, noise by noise, object by object, we begin by taking in everything, a totality’ (Montessori, 2007, p. 73). If learning occurs through various senses naturally, perhaps the modes of hearing, reading and writing language should mirror the natural learning process of children that occurs outside of schooling. Instead of children using a pencil and paper to spell words, for instance, proving textured letter blocks allows the child to feel the letter, see the letter and physically place blocks in the correct order to spell a word. Similarly, computer apps can be used to incorporate the technological realities of life with multi-sensory learning (see the letter/word, hear the letter/word and touch the screen to move objects). Fun English, Kids Picture Dictionary and English for Kids are only a few apps that can be used to promote English language learning using multiple formats.
Through much of Montessori’s work, the idea of language learning is present. Which language, however, is always irrelevant and never indicated. ‘It is then sufficient to have eyes to see the development of language and it does not matter whether we speak English, Gujarati, Tamil, Italian or Spanish, because the symbols for the parts of speech are the same’ (Ibid., p. 107). Although Montessori clearly had a definite method in mind for language learning, the language being referred to here is assumed to be that of the first language of the individual. This does not mean that the same rules or principles cannot be applied for second or third language learning. Perhaps the fact that Maria Montessori fails to address second language learning specifically in her work is simply a reflection of the time in which she wrote. Travel was not something done as widely as it is today. What is important for people who need or want to learn English as an Additional Language is that they are better able to integrate into the English speaking environment of which they have or will become a part. ‘Social integration is realized when the individual identifies himself with a group to which he belongs’ (Ibid., p. 199). This is after all, the goal or aim for this evaluation. Students should be given every opportunity to succeed without having language as being a barrier. This is one means by which educational institutions can better meet the needs of changing student populations and promote a socially just educational experience. ‘Justice is to give to any human being all help that will enable him to reach his full spiritual stature, and those who serve the spirit in all ages, must give help to these energies’ (Ibid., p. 233).
The Montessori Method is multicultural and diverse with regards to the educational opportunities being provided to children. In fact, ‘the diversity of children in different cultures, with different languages, and varying socio-economic conditions allowed Dr. Montessori to develop a picture of universal patterns for all children’ (Helfrich, 2011, p. 31). Montessori wanted to create a Method that could be used in multiple social and cultural contexts. She was not, however, able to anticipate the level of interaction among these groups that has been occurring because of immigration/ migration. The Method was developed for use in multiple contexts but does not address the mixing of societies and cultures. Language plays a central role in Montessori’s work because it is the means by which people communicate, develop relationships and form social groups. ‘Impairments in language, memory, and executive functioning are likely to have important consequences for adjustment to academic and social environments’ (Ibid., p. 23). Language is a skill that must be learned by children but should simultaneously honor the humanity of the students, both in the learning and assessment process. The more languages one is able to acquire, the more skillful he or she will be. The more skillful one becomes the more one is to affect needed societal change. Thus, the society so wished for by Montessori can then become a reality. ‘This is the start of a global society based upon an inherent respect for all others, recognizing the commonalities of our humanity and the richness of our differences’ (Ibid., 195). There is much that could be said and examined of Montessori’s writings for this evaluation; however, it is beyond the scope of this paper to do so. What is most important is that the Montessori Method has been identified as being one platform for EAL education that has not been considered before. Maria Montessori’s call for experimental education is one means by which to promote a socially just education that meets the demands for the 21st Century.
Throughout Montessori’s writings, there is much that can be learned about how language learning should occur regardless of the linguistic context of the school or the society/culture of which the school is a part. Perhaps one of the most important points raised is the role of the educator in the learning and schooling process. In the Montessorian context, teachers and educators are not simply vessels used in the transmission of data to the students under their care. They are active participants in the learning process. This opens a whole plethora of how education can be conducted in the school environment and what is to be taught. Method in education is the focus of Montessori’s writings. Giving educators back their professional autonomy is not something that is largely done in education in the current educational framework. Curricula are developed and must be adhered to. There are governmental organizations that are solely dedicated to the assessment of teacher performance. The dangers of educational assessment (summative assessment practices) are identified in Montessori’s writings and are now being applied to both the student and teacher populations. The system, as a whole, is concerned with the input and output process. Montessori calls for a reformation of education that does away with summative assessment of students and teachers and focuses on the growing and development process.
How Montessori designed her Method is also of interest here. She generalized to such an extent in how her Method was to be conducted that it could apply to practically any social, cultural or linguistic context. Although not stated explicitly, this was no doubt an intentional act. She travelled extensively in her career and wanted children universally to be provided with the same educational opportunities. There is little doubt that her travels and interaction with various societies and cultures allowed her to modify her Method to meet the needs of the people she served.
The evaluation that has been conducted based on the writings of Montessori examines the fundamental Method, as was originally intended by Montessori. Since her writings, the Method has evolved but the fundamentals have remained consistent. The call for the professional autonomy of the teacher as researcher allows for a variety of applications of the Method in different contexts. Particularly in EAL education, this Method seems to provide the desired educational framework for a socially just education for changing EAL student populations. This is not to suggest that there are no other frameworks that could also meet the needs of students or promote social justice in education. There are others that may fill this need as well. However, the Montessori Method, based on the writings of Maria Montessori, could effectively provide EAL students with the type of educational and professional opportunities that Montessori and others, like Dewey, sought to provide. Further research must be conducted in this area to determine how the theory of Montessori could be put into practice. Certainly the framework is conducive to an EAL educational application; however, the implementation of a program is necessary to establish the possible success of such a program.
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