In conventional schools knowledge is defined by learning objectives that allow the use of pre-set methods and materials. These may be realized in a syllabus, a textbook, curriculum guides, or increasingly, online learning modules.

Response modes for the students are limited, defined by structured classroom discussion, specific assignments, and tests based on content and not discovery.

Learning activities are divorced from ordinary experience, fragmented into short blocks of time, and framed within narrowly-defined disciplines. The pace of instruction is usually set by group norm or teacher.

The breadth and depth of information that is accessible in a globalized, technological society no longer makes content relevant.

Learning takes place by an original and personal process of discovery. Each child’s natural learning styles and preferences are respected and supported.

Child is able to choose his or her own work, direct their own progress, set own learning pace to internalize information, and seek help from other children and adults when they need it.

Students are driving more of the decisions in how learning takes place. There are varied pathways to instructional goals. These new routes are intended to be more efficient and avoid barriers to success.

Our best teachers try to anticipate learners’ preferences and needs, watch the varied learning that is taking place, and measure success towards learning goals in innovative ways. They adjust their subsequent learning designs based on new insights on the interaction of their learners with the more flexible design of learning.



Teacher has dominant, active role in classroom activity; child is a passive participant in learning.

Instruction, both individual and group, conforms to the adult’s teaching style.

Teacher acts as primary enforcer of external discipline.

Teacher has unobtrusive role in classroom activity; child is an active participant in learning.

Instruction, both individual and group, personalized to each student’s learning style.

Environment and method encourage internal self-discipline.



Most teaching is done by teacher and collaboration is discouraged.

Child is guided to concepts by teacher with structured curriculum.

Emphasis on the individual devalues contribution and collective responsibility.

Children are encouraged to teach, collaborate, and help each other.

Children achieve levels of competence independently and often revel in their mastery by showing others.



Child usually assigned own chair; encouraged to sit still and listen during group sessions; group work is prescribed and teacher-directed.

Learning is reinforced externally by repetition and rewards/discouragements.

Montessori classrooms encourage deep learning of concepts behind academic skills rather than rote practice of abstract techniques.

Child can work where s/he is comfortable, moves around and discuss at will (if not disturbing others); group work is voluntary and negotiable
Specially designed, concrete materials constantly engage the children in their own learning, allowing each to learn—and to understand—by doing.

Learning is reinforced internally through the child’s own repetition of an activity and internal feelings of success.



There are real-world limits to what standardized tests can usefully do. Standardized exams offer few opportunities to display the attributes of higher-order thinking, such as analysis, synthesis, evaluation, and creativity.

The school experience is increasingly defined by testing and test preparation.

More attention goes to students just on the verge of passing, and schools don’t have capacity to focus on students who are doing really well or really badly.

Relying solely on scores from one test to determine success or progress in broad areas such as reading or math is likely to lead to incorrect inferences and then to actions that are ineffective or even harmful.

At a Montessori school each child is taught a system to manage their independent work with a clear sense of purpose and organization. Through observation, reflection, and discussion they receive ongoing feedback, much of which is constructive and positive, building self esteem and the ability to self correct.

Performance based assessment, portfolios, student designed projects and student led critique are regarded as more authentic for the Montessori curricular goals and methods of instruction.



Single-age groups create normative pressures on the children and the teacher to expect all the children to possess the same knowledge and skills.

Students are expected to learn the same things, in the same way, on the same day, at the same time.

The wide range of knowledge and skills that exists among children within a single-age group suggests that whole-group instruction, if overused, may not best serve children’s learning.

Learning approach integrates the independent and autonomous aspects of learning with group study.

In a multiage classroom, children learn in a continuum; they move from easier to more difficult material and from simple to more complex strategies at their own pace, making continuous progress rather than being promoted once a year or required to wait until the next school year to move forward in the curriculum.

Community learning fosters individual differences as strengths, and promotes groupings of various abilities.



A single subject perspective often has limitations in that it is driven by the norms and framework of a particular discipline, without consideration and incorporation of alternative views.

The single disciplinary view can lead to bias, which prevents critical assessment of both their own and other perspectives.

The daily schedule often fragments learning so that the teacher defines a time block to cover material that will likely be assessed on a state-mandated test. Teachers are unable to engage students in studying any material in depth and to make connections between subject areas and topics.

Interdisciplinary study allows for students to work at a pace commensurate with their interests, skills, and experiences.

Integrated instruction helps teachers better utilize instructional time and look deeper into subjects through a variety of content-specific lens.

Interdisciplinary study connects content and consciously identifies the relationships between subject matter.

Interdisciplinary study connects content and consciously identifies the relationships between subject matter.



Learning is reinforced externally by rote repetition and rewards/discouragements.

If work is corrected, errors usually pointed out by teacher.

Satisfaction comes from doing, getting it done is less important than the process.