What Belongs in a Montessori Primary Classroom?
In 2011 noted Montessori researcher, Angeline S. Lillard, from the University of Virginia, submitted What Belongs in a Montessori Primary Classroom? Results from a Survey of AMI and AMS Teacher Trainers. download of the draft document
This survey is a follow up on earlier research by Lillard (2006) that studied gains comparing what she termed Classical and Supplemented classrooms, this classification being done according to the level of engagement of the children with Montessori materials (being defined mainly as those described in Dr. Montessori's books). Classrooms were labelled as Classical when children had over 95% engagement on average with Montessori-designed materials, whereas Supplemented were those where children spent only around 50% of their engagement with such, and the rest with other materials.
In terms of school-year gains, those in the Classic classrooms outperformed those in the Supplemented ones
on a variety of academic and social measures. They also outperformed those in excellent conventional classrooms serving demographically similar families.
— A.Lillard, Academic Year Change in Classic vs Supplemented Montessori vs Conventional Preschool Programs, University of Virginia 2006
Lillard notes that teachers have sometimes responded that they are not sure about what the classic materials are. Such confusion probably is even greater among the grand public, and it is not a simple one to solve, given the her lack of emphasis regarding Science and Geography, the offerings of even "approved" suppliers, and lists such as the one in the "AMS School Accreditation Handbook". Add to this that AMS, and even AMI have at times "added" to the "classic" list...
All in all, a useful though disquieting paper, given Lillard's earlier research and results. Given that the world is changing, shouldn't the method and materials change also? Had she known them, would Dr. Montessori have included tablets? Whiteboard? Would telephone use and politeness be a Practical Life activity? Interestingly, the most "modern" item that Lillard's 2011 paper mentions is ... the tape recorder!
In this time and age where STEM is due to play a part in education, one is to wonder if it is the materials, classical or supplemental, what actually make the observed difference in gain in the 2006 research. Would it be, maybe that the administrative environment that "requires" classical materials, vs. one less strict plays a part? Would it be some other factor, it being the case that other researchers have seen no significant gain from a Montessori environment compared to a "normal" preschool one? That being a different paper from the one this page refers to, we will defer further analysis. Yet, we are in agreement that a montessori environment, even one generic an lower case, is furnished to a meaningful extent with montessori-design materials and uses montessori methods.
other resources: Google search for list of classic montessori materials