Visiting Professor Presents Research On Neurodevelopmental Benefits of Montessori Education to Crowd of Parents, Teachers, Staff and Guests

Posted on by West Side Montessori

Head of School, Lynn Fisher with Dr. Steven Hughes

The staff of West Side Montessori was delighted to host Dr. Steven Hughes at the school’s Bancroft Campus on February 8, for his informative and exciting presentation, Good at Doing Things: Montessori Education and Higher Order Cognitive Functioning. The information regarding the human brain development from birth and the actions/activities taking place in the environment that work best to stimulate cognitive and executive functions was very interesting.

Dr. Hughes presented the technical information to back up what we already know – that Montessori education is a great educational choice for our toddlers through eighth grade students! If you want to review the information or share it with others, follow the link below to listen to the audiocast of his presentation.

http://vimeo.com/9994321

Many parents and teachers attended and there was an enlightening discussion following the talk. Read below for an overview of the Question & Answer session.

Q:  Can you speak about education with China and the United States?

A:  China is excellent at building things.  You will see this when you look at the number of products you buy that are “made in China” including the Apple IPhone.  What they believe America is good at is designing things.  China is moving more in this direction and, hopefully, America will not move too far away from design expertise to being just good at building things.  China is also moving away from rote memorization and testing toward more Montessori-like learning.  The US seems to be moving towards more testing.

Q:  Do you think that Montessori education is better for one gender than another (boys vs. girls)?

A:  I am not an expert in this area so I don’t feel qualified to answer.  My personal opinion is that Montessori education should not be gender specific.

Q:  What do you think about the increase in the use of technology (ex: IPAD) for children?

A:  Some research has shown that children engaged in playing lots of video games, etc. at young ages show less brain development in the areas for social engagement, verbal communications and those areas dealing with interactions particularly with adults.  Likewise, adults who use technology while interacting with their children send unclear signals about two-way communication.  For example, if mom is talking on her Bluetooth while driving and the child is in the car – the child thinks, “whom is mom talking to and assumes the mom is not speaking to him/her even though she may be.  This is true when an adult is using a computer, texting or whatever.  It would be nice to declare a “cell free zone” so, when you are with your child(ren), you devote the amount of time, eye contact, direct communication, etc. to engage in social interaction and communication.  At school the teachers are cuing children for social engagement.”

Q:  What happens if a child comes from a traditional education to Montessori at elementary or middle school?

A:  The child may not have some of the executive functions as well developed as his/her classmates who have been in Montessori for years.  Also, there would be an adjustment to the classroom environment going from a teacher-directed to a teacher-facilitated environment.  The child then has to take more personal responsibility.  Lynn Fisher explained that at WSM, children entering 1st grade and above come for a 3-day visit.  This gives the teachers, other classroom peers, and the visitor the opportunity to get a sense of being in a Montessori classroom.  A joint meeting occurs at the end of the visit to assess enrollment.

Q:  What about children with ADD in Montessori?

A:  Going back to the part of the presentation about repetition and working memory:  at an early age in the Montessori program, practicing work until it is “mastered” is normal.  This could allow a child who may or may not yet be diagnosed have an opportunity to develop working memory and possibly avoid an outcome of ADD.  A Montessori environment also allows movement in the room and materials such as “game work” that is positive for an ADD child.  Since an individual child’s diagnosis is complex and there could be other issues, each situation needs to be looked at separately to understand the child’s ability to succeed in the Montessori environment.

Q:  What are your thoughts on the way education is evaluated (i.e. standardized tests, etc.)?

A:  I think that frequent, small tests that can be used as a benchmark to measure a student’s progress and the quality of the program make the most sense.  The “high stakes testing is apportioning privilege based upon virtue by performance on a standardized test.  If we measure the things that are easy, we miss the things that are important.  We are not testing for the real world because we are not measuring the developmental environment.”

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