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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 79

The Montessori Experiment at Blackfriars

page 25

The Montessori Experiment at Blackfriars.

More interesting to us, perhaps, than the result of the Montessori schools in England or elsewhere, are the results of the experiment carried out at the Practice School attached to the Teachers' College at Blackfriars, Sydney.

The Montessori system of education was introduced into New South. Wales last year (1912) by direction of the Minister of Education. When Mr. Carmichael's attention was drawn to the work of Dr. Montessori in Rome he cabled for her book, which was not then translated into English, and arrangements were made for its translation here when the English copies arrived. The experiment was begun in the Practice School, Blackfriars, in August, and several times during the progress of the experiment visits were paid to the school by the Minister, the Director of Education, the Chief Inspector, the Principal of the Teachers' College, and many of the senior and other inspectors of the Department.

A Pleasant Morning Task.

A Pleasant Morning Task.

Miss Stevens and Miss Swan, the teachers who first began the experiment, and who are still carrying it through in their classes, took the work in accordance with the usual routine of the school. (See chapter on Abolition of Class Work.) They are both teachers of thought, and of wide experience in other methods. Both have, in common with other members of the staff, carried through previous experiments—the rule of the school being that any member of the staff may be required at any time to conduct an experiment if such experiment happens to be with the class of which she at the time has charge. Although these two ladies carried out the actual experiment, all other members of the staff evinced the keenest interest in its progress and gave most valuable voluntary help in the preparation of material.

page 26

Indeed, from the very first the principle of individual liberty, which is the mainspring of the Montessori method, appealed alike to teachers and children. The experiment was carried out strictly along the lines laid down by Dr. Montessori in her book, and the most astonishing results followed. Children broke into writing of their own accord and without any formal teaching. The phonic elements were mastered and applied by most children in two weeks. One boy made over forty words with the cardboard letters in ten days. These words were not suggested by the teacher—they were the child's own. After words came script sentences on strips of cardboard. These were eagerly seized and read. One little fellow of 5 years and 9 months took a bundle of these strips into a corner of the room by himself and kept at them the whole day until he could read each one. I consider this child taught himself to read in one day. Soon there was a demand for print, and at this stage the children appeared to he seized with an acute hunger for reading. In order to satisfy this hunger we had sentences and paragraphs printed in large, clear type on strips and on stout cards. These the children eagerly seized and devoured. Everyone was busy and happy, and the joy of achievement and delight in their work shone in their faces. This was true of teachers as well as of children.

In all other subjects (for in taking up Montessori we did not drop any of the work we had been doing) the same zest and eagerness prevailed. Not only did the children progress far more rapidly than by any previous method, but they did so without fatigue or mental strain of any kind. This seems to me a very important point. If children progressed no more rapidly by Montessori than by anything else, this method of learning without mental strain is worthy of our attention. Even in the best kindergarten rooms everywhere there is danger of mental strain, and fatigue, and over-stimulation.

The Montessori classes now under Miss Stevens and Miss Swan, notwithstanding the following drawbacks:—
(a)Poor attendance for months owing to vaccination and smallpox scare;
(b)Absence of Miss Stevens for ten weeks through illness consequent on influenza; and
(c)My own absence in Europe during the greater part of the year,—
are now very much ahead of similar classes taught by other methods. The children in Miss Stevens' class, for example, who began the formal work of reading, writing, and number about the middle of August last year (1912), are now reading of their own choice, and with considerable fluency, the book they are required by standard to read when leaving the infant school nine months hence.

The opinion of the teachers carrying out the experiment, and of the whole staff of expert teachers of the Infants' Practice School, all of whom have carefully watched the progress of the work, is that the Montessori system of education is far in advance of anything we have previously had, page 27 and their unanimous decision is—that they would not go back to the older methods of teaching for any consideration whatever.

The general results of the Montessori system at Blackfriars may be summed up as follows:—
1.Children made more rapid progress.
2.There was no anarchy, no disorder, no disobedience, and no one sided development.
3.There was no mental strain.
4.Retarded children in the classes in each case made exceptional progress.
5.The work was carried out in two classes with over fifty children under one teacher in each class. If classes were smaller better results could be obtained but the experiment shows that the method is possible even with large classes.
6.As far as one can judge from the experiment carried out, the Montessori method is particularly well suited to our conditions and should be easy of application.