Participant Pedagogy: Montessori for higher ed? #moocmooc Day 4

My daughter will soon be beginning her second year at a Montessori school. While I highly doubt that folks in higher education and MOOC circles have ever reflected on Maria Montessori’s philosophy of learning I couldn’t stop thinking about it as I read today’s intro by Jesse Stommel (Participant Pedagogy). For those of you not familiar with Montessori pedagogy let me give you snapshot.

1. the student drives the learning.

2. the teacher is the guide.

3. the student is also the teacher.

4. the student learns through play.

Here’s what this looks like in the classroom:

1. the student is instructed to choose challenge work. The students makes her own selection from the work in the room. The only limit is if they’ve never done the work before than an older student needs to give them a lesson first. (see point 3)

2. the teacher observes the classroom. This observation is the objective assessment. Is the student learning new things? Choosing challenging work? How might I encourage them?

3.  The classroom is intentionally multi-aged (multi-leveled) with older students teaching the younger students.

4. All lessons involve manipulatives. That is things, objects that students ‘play’ with to learn and discover new things. Whether this be multiplication with beads or geography with map puzzles. All lessons are playing/creating.
So learning does not happen simply by reading or reciting or copying. It is participatory. It is peer to peer. It is play.

As was mentioned in an earlier reading, these ideas have a history (if Foucault ran a MOOC). What can we learn from looking at the Montessori Theory for creating more Participatory Learning Spaces?


7 thoughts on “Participant Pedagogy: Montessori for higher ed? #moocmooc Day 4

  1. This is really interesting–my wife and I looked at a Montessori near us. We loved what the kids were doing, but there wasn’t enough supervision and, sadly, the place was a little run-down (you know, a random hammer laying out in the open). But overall, there’s something to what you say here–I saw engaged kids, working independently. I didn’t see spontaneous collaboration and the range of tasks seemed limited, but maybe that had to do with the age of the kids and/or the specific school. Anyway, really interesting idea.


    • How unfortunate to hear that the school is not well tended. My daughter is pretty young so what I’ve seen of spontaneous collaboration is more like “hey I’d love to do this today, can I help you with it?” I’d like to observe an older classroom to see how the students are interacting. There are not too many Montessori high schools. There is one here in MKE. Ohio has a pretty famous one. There is growing interest in expanding Montessori beyond lower grades because the students are consistently high performers with excellent critical thinking skills.
      I think that’s what I like best about Montessori and Participant Pedagogy – they are great at developing critical thinking skills and lifelong learners.


  2. I like the analogy here; MOOCs as Montessori, scaled way up. I wonder what Madame would think of this?

    I hear that there are a handful of Montessori schools around that are working to shed the label, which might be sad or might just be truth in advertising. But if they have sustained the basic concepts, they can certainly lay claim to being at the forefront of something exciting. The question is how and to what degree they embrace the idea of taking Montessori to a new level–in terms of technology, new ideas in pedagogy/peeragogy, and new concepts of community engagement.

    As for that hammer: Think how many schools keep their (figurative) hammers hidden well away but use them liberally as teaching “tools.”


    • It would be exciting if they were able to connect to the movement or at a minimum get engaged with the peeragogy discussions. I think they have good experience and perspective to offer.

      I see movement in my daughter’s school to incorporate technology. They now have iPads and computers in the classrooms. I’m not sure how they are being integrated. I will have to explore that.

      Another connection point between participant pedagogy and Montessori is reflective learning. Older students keep a journal reflecting on what they’ve learned. This could be scaled up to in a higher ed model as student portfolios. So instead of getting letter grades on their work they can track their learning experiences in an online portfolio.


  3. I was about four when I did Montessori, so I certainly didn’t know about these core values before reading your post, but I find them so interesting and looking back, I can see how they influenced my experience in Montessori. For example, I remember we could choose books based on our own reading level at the time. I also remember learning about multiplication through little cubes representing ‘units’ – there was one single cube, a row of ten cubes, a square of 10 x 10 cubes, and a cube of 10 x 10 x 10 cubes. I think having something to handle physically was helpful to understand the concept. But one memory that sticks out the most to me was painting with octopi. Literally. We took octopus legs, dipped them in paint, and put them onto paper to make designs with the little suction cups on their arms. For some reason, that sticks out in my mind!

    I love your idea of applying these principles to higher education, as well. I think you’ve hit the nail on the head. These principles don’t become any less important as the student gets older; in fact, maybe they become MORE important. I think you should take this idea and run with it! Maybe start another discussion around it in Canvas?


  4. I think there are a lot of “alternative” schools out there that promote the student-driven and cooperative learning and they’ve been around for decades now. It’s quite scary in a way to see that they hardly had any effect on the “official” institutions. It shows how rigid they are, how resistant to any change – especially the one that takes away the power.
    Thanks for bringing this up.


  5. The New College of Florida ( lets students chart their own degree. It is not predetermined. Students set their learning goals and work closely with faculty to guide them. Given Day 5’s topic of assessment it would be interesting to find out if they self assess as well.


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