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An ‘F’ for Standardized Tests: Our 3rd Post on The Learning Game

As we stated before, the Learning Game, is a relatively new book by Ana Lorena Fábrega and a very worthy read for every teacher, parent and education administrator. In this third article on this book, we take a look at its evaluation of standardized tests and we make a comparison with Montessori’s views on assessments in general.  Fábregas 3rd chapter is titled, How Tests and Rewards go Wrong. For now we will focus on the first part, and our next article will be on the second part. Let us state up front: we fully agree with her position  on standardized tests. The Learning Game reminds us that standardized tests were introduced about 100 years ago. Initially, it was a positive tool that provided useful information,  but in the late nineteen sixties, standardized tests achieved ‘ importance within the system’. Since then, its importance has increased to an absurd level, where they have now become the whole point of the education system. We will now list how standardized tests hollowed out education since then, according to Fábrega. 1. It mostly measures test-taking abilities, as opposed to knowledge and skills. 2. Students repeat grades, enter gifted programs, earn scholarships, and get into college, all based on standardized test scores. 3. Teachers lose their jobs and public schools lose funding when students don’t perform on these tests. 4. Schools are victims of Campbell’s Law, according to which, “Measurements destroy learning when they’re set up as a goal”.  5. Standardized tests create poor learning environments. “Kids spend much of the year in test prep instead of engaging in authentic learning experiences.” 6. Tests can compromise the mental health of students. Every teacher and parent knows  of this terrible affliction. Education has been turned into periodic bouts of anxious terror.  7. Tests do not reflect whether a student will succeed in the real world. Cases are plentiful of highly successful individuals who were unsuccessful at school and or dropped out of school. 8. Tests incentivize corrupt institutions. “Kids, parents, teachers, schools, districts, and even states have been caught falsifying results”.  In addition, some schools are known to force out weak students in order to improve the schools’ chances to improve overall standardized test scores. 9. Students feel set up for failure. Montessori has written a profound critique of assessments.  In her view, Student work should be judged as a ‘product of life’ and not as ‘inanimate matter’. In other words, as authentic (real) work instead of work for the sake of work.   The following passage covers a key insight of hers on the issue. “And on these marks the future of the student depends. So study becomes a heavy and crushing load that burdens the young life instead of being felt as the privilege of initiation to the knowledge that is the pride of our civilization.” And, “ The young people are formed into a mold of narrowness, artificiality and egotism. What a wretched life of endless penance, of futile renunciation of their dearest aspirations!” These statements from Montessori are from her book, The Discovery of the Child. How profound are these passages? They home in to the core issues, namely, the true needs of the child, as well as the need to articulate education with the achievements of human civilization. The Discovery of the Child - Maria Montessori Where to go from here? The Learning Game proposes a way forward out of the vice grip of standardized tests. The key lies in making standardized tests less important and to find multiple ways to measure student progress. This should include portfolios, but it would be vital to find ways to empower students to show what they have learned in a way that suits their style. M. Montessori   Of course we can extend the views on standardized tests to include all tests and exams. The problems with standardized tests as indicated by The Learning Game, are fully in line with our Montessori perspective. The solutions recommended are in line with Montessori views, except that the Montessori Movement abhors all assessments, in favor of the alternate ideas, and more, put forward by Fábrega. Montessori’s words on this are highly instructive, and we share them, “My vision of the future is no longer of people taking exams and proceeding on that certification from the secondary school to the university, but of individuals passing from one stage of independence to a higher, by means of their own activity, through their own effort of will, which constitutes the inner evolution of the individual”. Overall, this is an excellent treatment of a very pertinent issue in education and a worthy read in the original. Look out for our next post in which we will focus on Fábrega’s views on rewards in the classroom. You can also enjoy our video on the same topic on our YouTube Channel here: An 'F' for Standardized Tests: On The Learning Game LINKS, CREDITS FOR IMAGES AND CLIPS Video clips and music are thanks to Clipchamp and Vimeo. Some images are from Photo Vibrance The Learning Game by Ana Lorena Fabrega Here is the link to The Learning Game on Amazon.  ttps://www.amazon.com/Learning-Game-Teaching-Themselves-Challenge/dp/1804090093?utm_source=substack&utm_medium=email  

11 May 2024

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On The Learning Game, By Ana Lorena Fábrega Part 2: How Children Learn

 In Chapter 5 and going into 6, Ana’s analysis is similar to Montessori’s, who was very strong on the importance of what she called, natural education. “The problem is that formal school does not match the usual way humans learn.”(p.63)  Learning has been taken out of its ‘natural context’ and put into an ‘institutional framework’ (p.63). The learning that takes place in a formal school, is ‘mostly’ an imitation of learning. “Learn for a test and lessons fade.” (p.63) “With the framework we’ve created for school, what incentives do kids have to value learning over grades?” (p.64). “As a result, the average student figures out how to graduate from school, but not how to learn the knowledge and skills they need to succeed in life.  (p.64).  Ana makes a strong case for student learning to be around their own interests and curiosities. “We’re born with a natural ability to think independently, but school trains it out of us.” (p.74-75) “We need to let kids follow their natural intuition. We must allow them to throw away the instructions, and practice discovery and adventure on their own.” p.233. Maria Montessori elaborates on similar ideas in many places, but there is an excellent section in You, Me, and Montessori by Grace Bosman and Leon G. Caesar, that brings many of these strands together in an excellent manner. We publish much of the extract below, from page 2-5:  “Freedom. The basis of the Montessori Method, which is a veritable pearl of wisdom to Dr. Montessori’s credit, is the revelation that ‘...children must be free to express themselves and thus reveal those needs and attitudes which would otherwise remain hidden or repressed…’ (The Discovery of the Child, p.46). A term she links with this freedom, is spontaneous actions; gone is the notion that children must sit quietly on their behinds, they are free to move around in Montessori classrooms! The purpose is for children to ‘manifest their natural traits’ (Ibid., p.46). She wrote of this freedom, ‘It was this part of the problem, which had not as yet been taken up by educators, that seemed to me to be most important and most pertinent to teaching since it has direct reference to a child’s vital activities’ (Ibid., p.46).  A child is surrounded by restrictions (at home and at school) that limit her/his activity. In, The Secret of Childhood (New York, 1966), Montessori puts this last point in the following manner, ‘A child cannot develop and expand as it should because an adult “represses” it’ (p.13). Her approach on this point can be summed up quite simply:  1. We do not fully understand what is developing naturally within a child; therefore, throw aside our prejudices and let the child teach us how to teach her/him.   2. Every child is propelled by a natural drive to develop and grow, and only freedom of action will allow the child to develop in as  normal (natural) a manner as possible.  3. In the process of this development, the child’s personality is formed, which means an adult is formed. In this sense,  “The child is the father of the man.” (Ibid, p. 36).   Obstacles, or barriers, have a profound impact on the child’s development as they negatively impact on the child’s need to “secretly perfect his inner life over a long period of time” (Ibid, p.34). In fact, it is a strong belief of hers that this freedom is an “innate” (natural) requirement (Ibid., p.31). The child’s “great mission” is to grow up and become an adult (Ibid, p.62). The child is filled with the potentialities of life, which are the sources of growth (Ibid, p.61)...  Maria and a girl A child can also not develop freely if an adult keeps on pointing out “mistakes”. These are not mistakes, but experiences on the road to success and the child should be guided along the correct path in a manner that promotes independence.  Constant corrections have a “lowering effect” on the child’s “energies and interests” (The Absorbent Mind, New York, 1995 p. 245). Madame Montessori believed that corrections did not improve the child, who required additional skills “...and how can he do this if, being already below standard, he is also discouraged?” (Ibid, p. 245). She recommends exercise and experience with long practice, but the child must do so voluntarily (Ibid, p. 246).  In a different context, but very relevant to our discussion, Montessori states, ‘What are the interests of education centered on today? On the child’s mistakes! These small errors hide the true greatness of man’ (The 1946 London Lectures, p.5).”   For us here at Youmemontessori, Ana’s views dealt with above fall well within our own pedagogical views. The Learning Game Book Here is the link to her book on Amazon. https://www.amazon.com/Learning-Game-Teaching-Themselves-Challenge/dp/1804090093?utm_source=substack&utm_medium=email You, Me and Montessori - What Every Child Deserves Here is a link to You, Me and Montessori on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/You-Me-Montessori-Every-Deserves/dp/1543751857/ref=sr_1_1?crid=7YWTKW2XKOM6&dib=eyJ2IjoiMSJ9.PTdZy2lj7h81Z90zkPhOQg.SLLa48-hnRJdl0esbsPTDqTMTbQCTCxPV5ChNl7q70E&dib_tag=se&keywords=You%2C+me+and+Montessori+by+Grace+Bosman&qid=1712807320&sprefix=you%2C+me+and+montessori+by+grace+bosman%2Caps%2C659&sr=8-1  

12 April 2024

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The Learning Game

On The Learning Game, By Ana Lorena Fábrega   When Amazon was still taking pre-orders for the book, we published a preview. We think it useful to restate some of the points we made.   The author is a former teacher who had become disillusioned with the school system and committed herself to work on a better way “to prepare younger generations for the game of life…” In this book Fábrega sets out to answer questions about: How the ‘game of school’ can be transformed into the ‘game of learning’. How life-long learning can be made sustainable. How to get back to what makes children excited about learning. How to prepare children with the tools for success in learning as well as in ‘the game of life’. In The Learning Game, the author provides a collection of her ‘work, lessons, and findings’.  “It’s about how to challenge things we’ve all taken for granted, from the roots of our education system to the modern school curriculum.” One key aim of the book is to arm the readers with ‘practical tools to design a new approach to learning’. Fábrega is a key player in the future-focused education movement that Elon Musk inspired, being the Chief Evangelist for Synthesis School, one of the most exciting components of this movement. Our website has published numerous articles on the different components of this movement, many of which have become the most popular attractions on our website. Part 1: An Insightful Account of the Problems with the Traditional Education System   Ana starts her book by looking at the failings of traditional education. Many people have done this before, but she brings a unique personal touch to the discussion. We follow her as a teacher, get an insider peek into how she tried to make a difference but came to the realization that school is not really about education but a game that students learn to play in order to survive it. She called it an ‘imitation’ of learning (p.2), and we cannot agree with her more. She, as her book informs us, was a master at playing this game when she was a student! In addition, she shares with the reader the enlightening critique of the education system by John Taylor Gatto, former New York Teacher of the Year. In this post we look at how she and Gatto go to the heart of the matter.    “...you succeed by pleasing your teachers, getting good grades, and advancing to the next grade. You win if you follow the rules of order, obedience and compliance. Sit up. Be quiet. Pretend to pay attention. Raise your hand to speak. Do as you are told. Don’t question things. Follow a bell schedule. Fill out worksheets.” (p.2). She had her own ‘learning game’ which happened outside the classroom. She didn’t like school, but decided to become a teacher. As a teacher Ana realized that all students were playing the game of school - that it was universal. She added more points about the game of school: “imitating their teachers instead of thinking for themselves, losing points for mistakes instead of learning from them,...and waiting for instructions instead of figuring things out.” (p.3)  She tried a different approach as a teacher. It did not work for long. Her students played the game of learning, but after moving to the next grade, they fell back into the game of school.   Her critique of the system is incisive: “How can teachers cultivate in students a love for learning that lasts forever, when they are forced to teach a one-size-fits -all curriculum that rewards grades and standards over creativity and choice?” (p.5)   In her second chapter she digs into the origins and evolution of the traditional education system. She traces traditional schooling to its Prussian origins. Education was first used as a mask for government indoctrination. Its goal was to raise a loyal army that would win wars. After WWII, the focus shifted to educating managers for corporations and factories. School became an assembly line. After that, the US led the next phase in the development of education, essentially standardization. She points out how the system failed in the US, with a bunch of statistics that bear out her argument. “ As we’ve seen, the history of education has led to a system of learning that prioritizes state and government needs instead of individual learning.” (p.30). The problem is systemic, “Teachers … aren’t to blame. But the incentives of school nudge them in the wrong direction. No matter how hard they resist, the system takes its toll and leads them toward counterproductive habits.” (p.23).   Through her book she is attempting to answer 4 questions: 1. How can we transform the game of school into the game of learning? 2. How do we make learning sustainable through childhood and into adulthood? 3. How can we go back to the root of what makes kids excited to learn? 4. How can we arm kids with the tools they need to succeed in the game of learning - and the game of life? (p.6)   The Learning Game, is a treatise against traditional schooling as it no longer meets the needs of our kids today (p.6). What does she propose? We will get to that in a later post.     Here is the link to The Learning Game on Amazon. https://www.amazon.com/Learning-Game-Teaching-Themselves-Challenge/dp/1804090093?utm_source=substack&utm_medium=email

16 March 2024

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NEW PREMISES FOR THE LOVE TO LANGA MONTESSORI ACADEMY

Youmemontessori is extremely proud to have been updating you on the journey of Love to Langa. This has been a journey to erect from the ground, in an impoverished township in Cape Town, South Africa, a state of the art premises for the children of Langa to receive education according to the Montessori Method. The school has been named Idayimani Montessori Academy, and it opened its brand new doors in January 2024. This great achievement, which has the ring of legend about it, was possible with funds raised from the global community. To keep going at the high standards it set for the children of Langa, well-wishers are needed to make donations. You can help by just clicking on their donations link: https://www.flipcause.com/secure/cause_pdetails/MTExODkz We have analyzed and reported on this groundbreaking venture in numerous articles. If you wish to delve into it, just click on the links below. Previous Blog Posts on Love to Langa https://www.youmemontessori.com/blog/post/73 https://www.youmemontessori.com/blog/post/76    

16 February 2024

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PUBLIC MONTESSORI PROGRAMS GLOBALLY AS AT 11/22

Please enjoy this 3rd post on the research paper on the 2022 Global Montessori Census. The full name of the paper is, Global Diffusion of Montessori Schools: A Report from the 2022 Global Montessori Census. In this post we delve into the research results concerning government-funded Montessori schools globally. Previously we shared the following key data from the paper: Total Number of Countries With Montessori Schools: 154 Global Total of Montessori Schools: 15,763 Percentage of Schools in the Public Sector (government-funded): 9% Top Ten Countries With Montessori Schools: USA, China, Germany, Thailand, etc. According to the paper, “ the United States, Thailand, the Netherlands, and India have the largest number of government-funded or public Montessori programs.” Nine per cent of the total comes to a total of 1,419 schools. The report does not give a breakdown of the countries, except the USA (579 schools). This figure for the USA is fully in line with our reporting in various posts and on our YouTube Channel. We reached out to the research team for this information, and we are very pleased to state that Dr. Mira Debs, Corresponding Author of the research team, was very kind to reply to our request. She shared with us their breakdown of the countries that have government-funded schools. In the covering email, she stated “Please see the attached document for our estimate of the 21 countries with government funded Montessori programs, as well as notes about the source and reliability of our data”. Dr. Debs pointed out very clearly that this is an estimate, a point we explained in our first post on the census when we explained the methodology used to compile it, but we would like to underscore that explanation with a statement by Dr. Debs in her email, “ As we note in the paper, we were often triangulating information from multiple, conflicting sources”. The research team was very careful not to overstate any numbers, therefore we accept their results, which we know are conservative. Furthermore, she added something in her email that warmed the cockles of our hearts, namely that AMI is planning a global census in the future. The 2022 Global Census certainly is an excellent milestone in the journey towards a sustainable and live global census of Montessori schools. Top Ten Countries By Public Montessori Schools USA: 579 Thailand: 266 Netherlands: 223 Russia: 100 India: 100 Colombia: 40 Canada: 31 Poland: 20 New Zealand: 17 China/Bulgaria: 15 There is no surprise regarding the top spot occupied by the USA, but there are many surprises in this list. One would have expected China to feature much stronger, and the East European countries are positive surprises. But by far the most surprising finding of the census, is the fact that Italy, the homeland of Maria Montessori, has only 1 public Montessori school. We eagerly await the future global census to be brought out by AMI, and we are sure that the picture will be very different then, as the Montessori Movement is on a growth trajectory worldwide Once again, our appreciation to Dr. Mira Debs for getting back to us. To contact the research team, you can find Dr Debs’ email address in the research paper; we share the link below. Research Paper: Global Diffusion of Montessori Schools: A Report From the 2022 Global Montessori Census

05 January 2024

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The 6 Core Montessori Principles According to the 2022 Global Montessori Census - Part 2

We indicated in part 1 that seeing Montessori in the name of a school, does not necessarily mean that it is a Montessori school in reality. The Census research team navigated this in a very authentic manner, by comparing definitions and practices followed in different locations globally and creating a common list. “Despite these variations, we found overall consistency across country definitions in the following categories for focusing on these six ideas and practices as central pillars of Montessori implementation…” Remember (from Part 1), that the AMI was part of the research team, thereby ensuring the highest level of quality control over this process. By means of this process, they came up with the following list: Supporting Montessori philosophy Mixed-age groupings Montessori-trained teachers Montessori materials Freedom of choice Uninterrupted work block We fully support this succinct minimum set of Montessori principles, and we believe that it should be adopted by the entire Montessori Movement as the bare minimum for a school to be accepted as part of the fold. As we can see, the Census did much more than count the number of Montessori schools. It is a treasure trove of relatively current information on where the Montessori Movement is at, and amongst other, it provides guidance to the movement on how to define an authentic Montessori school. Last updated in November 2022, we hope that the census will be updated regularly. Source: Global Diffusion of Montessori Schools: A Report From the 2022 Global Montessori Census

02 January 2024