Being a non-graded school has so many advantages for the children and only a few disadvantages for the parents! Non-graded as it applies to us has two meanings: it means that by and large the children don’t receive grades for their work, and it means the children are grouped without grade barriers and have multiple overlapping ages. This ingenious idea of Maria Montessori, now practiced in most Montessori schools, to put children of three different ages in each class with a range of materials as broadly based as their ages, enables children to progress at their own rates of learning. No matter what a child’s age is there are appropriate materials for each learner. This system also discourages competition because there are so many different levels of progress and performance that children don’t give a lot of value to being on the same page of the same work as another child. They feel safer to be themselves and frequently reveal themselves more completely, making it easier for a teacher to appropriate her lessons to them and their needs. Of course without artificial grade level barriers above them, children are able to receive curriculum that would otherwise be withheld from them until they reached a higher grade level in school. At the other end of the continuum, children who need more practice in order to master a particular skill may do so without fear of being held back a year in school or some other way of being isolated or singled out. Because teachers are aware of the cumulative effect of learning, the Montessori curriculum is not relegated to incremental learning where in each grade every child covers a specified amount of work; rather, children are permitted to ebb and flow in their learning patterns because we know that learning is naturally uneven many times.
For all the reasons that this kind of structure is so perfectly suited for young and old children, it sometimes challenges parents. After all, we parents like grades. We have been shaped by them ourselves. We want to be reassured by our children’s grades that they are learning, doing well, and are just a smart as we think they are! We are judging ourselves as parents by our children’s grades. When they get good grades, we’re getting good grades, too. In fact, most of us believe that when our children get good grades, it’s because they are so smart. And we then believe that when they get bad grades or do less than what we expected, it’s the fault of the teacher or the school. Grades have a way of tricking and manipulating us and causing us to manipulate our children, too. Grades do a real number on most of us, but it’s hard for us to free our thinking about education from the grading system. We’ve even got it entangled with being a successful, happy person.
But what makes people happy are their own thoughts and deeds and having the freedom to create them. So while we’re doing all we can to create and provide a learning environment where the children are not just physically safe but are emotionally safe, where children feel like their school is an extension of their family, where children feel like the adults around them know them and care about them, where children are accepted for who they are, we must remind ourselves that how well children do in school is a function of how they are taught and of who they are. And at this school how they are taught is our most prized talent.
Director/Elementary 1 Teacher