The Montessori Adolescent Program
Unlike the other Montessori age levels, there is at present no international consensus defining Montessori secondary education. Maria Montessori’s vision of a residential farm school for ages 12 to 18 has yet to be realized (ask the office about the article “The Erdkinder Vision”). What follows is a composite of the program of several existing school-based Montessori middle schools (usually ages 12-15).
Middle school ushers in a new level of independence that must be provided for in the Montessori environment by increasing activity from the point of view of work level, choices, and planning. In the middle school, the Great Lessons, timelines, and charts are replaced with overviews of general sequences of learning for which the student becomes responsible in the context of an integrated whole. Within this overview, the student has open time to collaborate on both self-initiated and instructor-initiated projects. Open time allows for individualized instruction, a natural pace for absorption of material presented for both mastery and emotional understanding, unlimited depth of pursuit based on student interest, and ample time to study art, science, music, business, and other topics students choose.
The general premise for the adolescent program is that it must bring into consciousness the moral and world view of the elementary years. Philosophical ideas related to natural and cultural history now come into play. Great Lessons evolve into great ideas derived from a serious approach to the humanities. For example, “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” may be tied to a specific area of American history, but this ideal also has a life in the history of philosophy and literature.
Consistent with the moral relationships stressed in the elementary program, the adolescent can make great cognitive leaps while integrating ideas and values in conjunction with current events, home life, or community activities.
Service programs such as working in a soup kitchen, farming as a community venture, and apprenticeships or mentorships in the workplace are part of an advancing “going out” that gives the adolescent a combined vocational and liberal arts curriculum with a particular emphasis on economic enterprise.
Adolescent programs characteristically have discrete spaces for specialized activities: photo lab, science lab, stage, art room, and lesson rooms all adjacent to open space that unifies the side rooms.
The following curriculum areas are offered in a school-based Montessori middle school:
Social Sciences, science, and geography: The student integrates history, utilizing themes from earlier studies in natural and cultural history, including interdependency, evolution, life cycles, matter and energy, behavior and culture, mental health, physical health, agriculture, government, manufacturing, communication, world systems, earth preservation, and so on, in the context of social responsibility and governance. Primary readings from each historical period are emphasized.
Language Arts: The student develops confidence in self-expression utilizing the seminar, oral presentation, debates, drama, video, photography, essays, play-writing, poetry, and short stories, and explores related accounts of historical and philosophical material through literature, utilizing components of style, genre, characterization, interpretation, and the art of discussion.
Second Language and grammar: The student learns a second language through the conversational approach while also revisiting grammar. The study of grammar in relation to the second language prompts a review of complex sentence structure in English.
The student uses higher-order thinking skills to solve problems in relation to a variety of challenges, from practical money transactions to algebraic relationships and explores numbers, properties, simple equations, higher measurement, computer calculation and graphics, geometric proofs, and algebraic equations.
Practical management: The student manages reality-based operations in economic and social enterprises, including yearbook, school newspaper, student social events, agriculture, fundraising, travel, volunteerism and service, apprenticeship, and computer programming.
Fine arts: The student utilizes a discipline-based arts education plan that presents individual artistic areas of painting, acting, singing, composing, photography, dance, and sculpture, and includes a general education for aesthetic literacy, integrating the arts with other academic endeavors.
Farming (optional): The student engages in elements of farming as an economic enterprise through care of plants and animals, maintenance of simple machines, understanding of land use, and operations of accounting, sales, personnel records, and working relations in ongoing projects.
Kahn, David, et al. The Whole-School Montessori Handbook: for Teachers and Administrators. NAMTA, 1999.