Montessori versus Kindergarten

Montessori versus Kindergarten


 Schools offering Montessori instruction were matched with schools offering Kindergarten programmes based on fees charged. This was done to partial out effects of socio-economic factors. A total of 147 children in Grade I took part in the study.

Children were assessed on basic literacy and numeracy skills in the first term of Grade I. They were asked to read a short passage to assess their reading accuracy and speed.  The spelling battery assessed a child’s knowledge of phonics and ability to spell regular and sight words. The mathematics component involved basic numeric concepts in the 1-50 range. Children were also given a task to assess their oral comprehension.
The findings

Overall, results indicated that there were no striking differences between Montessori and Kindergarten schools. However, certain trends were observed in the data that merit discussion. First, schools catering to children from higher socioeconomic backgrounds fared better than children from less affluent backgrounds. Both quality of schooling and parental involvement in children’s education is likely to have contributed to this result.

The second striking finding was that all schools performed well on the math assessment.  While children from richer homes did slightly better, the differences between schools was not as pronounced as on the language assessment. The main difference that emerged between schools was in literacy skills in English. Children from more affluent homes did better on reading and spelling tasks. A reason for this is that their parents are more likely to be fluent in English. This was supported by the fact that these children also did better on the oral comprehension task that involved carrying out instructions given in English.

While children in Montessori schools exhibited better phonics knowledge, this knowledge did not necessarily translate into better reading skills. Some Montessori children were unable to use this knowledge to “sound out” words. We also noticed that children who were not fluent readers, in both groups, used an inappropriate and inefficient strategy while reading connected text. A large percentage of children spelled words aloud, letter by letter, while reading. This strategy of reading aloud impairs fluency and also hampers comprehension as the child is more focused on spelling and saying words aloud than meaning.

Recommendations
Promoting fluency is essential for developing language competence in children. An area that is often neglected in literacy instruction is fluency, which refers to the ability to read accurately, with appropriate speed and intonation and to comprehend the text. Schools should follow a holistic instruction programme that focuses on phonics, building sight vocabulary and oral language skills.

Further, the programme should teach and provide practice in decoding strategies. The teacher may model how to “sound out” words based on knowledge of individual sounds. Furthermore, schools should provide regular and frequent exposure to sight words which are words that are irregular in their spellings, like ‘the’ and ‘could’. It is important that appropriate instructional texts are used while teaching fluency; if the text is too complex, it can cause frustration as the child’s focus is on deciphering words, thus, making it difficult to work on fluency.  Research has indicated that repeated reading aloud is a key strategy for improving children’s fluency.

This may be done in several ways, which are effective and at the same time, provide children with enjoyable, learning experiences.For example, an adult (or a child who is a fluent reader) and the child may indulge in paired reading. This involves reading chorally, a passage that the child is comfortable with, until the child wishes to read independently. One may also tape the child’s reading and then replay the tape, while the child follows along with the book. The child may mark words that deviate from the text. The child may listen to audio books (e.g., Karadi Tales series) and follow along with the text. After hearing the story a few times, the child may be asked to read parts of the text.

Intonation
Another useful strategy is to model oral reading by using appropriate intonation and expression, using different voices for different characters.  A story may be converted to a short skit with different children and adults taking on various roles. Further, during any reading activity, it is important to emphasise that the goal of reading is to obtain meaning from a text. Finally, schools should also use appropriate assessment procedures to monitor fluency development at regular intervals during the academic year.

For schools to implement a programme following the above guidelines, it is crucial that they adopt a skill-based, rather than merely a content-based approach to English instruction. This involves teaching beyond the textbook. For majority of Indian children, school is the only place where they are exposed to English.  Hence, it is essential to focus on skill building rather than simply memorising content by rote as in the long-run, it is an individual’s skill in a language, both oral and written, that will play an important role in the work environment. 

Email: prayatna@vsnl.com

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