The theory of elaboration in learning resonates with Montessori educators with its multiple components of order, sequence, and scaffolding. For students, elaboration is as simple as expanding on what they already know. Current research identifies elaboration as being an essential component of an optimal learning environment.
Montessori Environments are Built upon the Principle of Order which in turn Elicits Elaboration
If there is one thing that unites all adopters of Montessori pedagogy, it’s a love for the scope and sequence of its meaningful and relevant curriculum. The content covered relies on an elaborative approach that is adaptable to the interest and development of each student. When delivered with the assistance of the guide, the student’s quality of engagement with the materials increases along with their learning.
Subject areas for ages 3-12 are clearly identifiable as curriculum materials are in an order following the direction of writing of that culture. For instance, left to right, top to bottom orientation in English speaking countries.
Easy peasy, right? Well, kind of.
The important point is that these subject strands are further ordered from easy to more difficult, concrete to increasingly more abstract, and large to small. In addition, many practitioners utilize a visual framework of a spiral curriculum to assist them in connecting concepts. Elaboration, Montessori-style.
It seems elaboration was intentional on Dr. Montessori’s part: “[Traditional teachers] talk about something completely different, which has no logical connection with the preceding topic [taught]”.
Guides use elaboration strategies connecting content to be learned with information students already know. The child in 3-6, who has been making maps using the geography puzzle maps is invited to a lesson with the botany cabinet by the guide. The child’s skill development and familiarity with the type of materials used (puzzle maps) reduces the stress working memory has on learning everything anew. The observant guide is able to apply the “art of the invitation” to entice a child to work in a related subject in the vast web of the Montessori curriculum. Guides proactively nurture cross-content connections through careful observation and record-keeping.
Relying on this web of connective learning experience eases the stress off of the students working memory as the connections generate economy of learning and memory.
Students in Montessori elementary environments are entranced by the Great Lessons or Cosmic Lesson that ignite the student’s imagination. Five great stories (and hundreds of supporting stories) set the stage for all areas of the curriculum to interweave experiences that trigger the learners memory with ease.
Free Quick Tip #6 on How to Implement Elaboration in Your Classroom
You might wonder how do effective teachers manage to create these necessary connections?
The first step is to observe your student’s interests and areas of mastery. Remember what lesson the child last received. The second step is to map this concept laterally across the curriculum, identifying a material new to the child that is sure to stir what they already know, elaborating their learning. The next part may be the hardest, delivering an invitation to the lesson that entices with just the right balance of contained enthusiasm and nonchalance and the confidence that they already know part of the lesson.
Once you’ve hooked your student, make room for them to talk about what they notice about the materials, what they already know. Younger students may want to give you the lesson instead! Listen, be humble, and make space for your students to make their own connections. Then point out a few more as you complete the lesson.
Finally, record your overall impression of the child’s learning, aiding you in your plan for what to introduce next.
Montessori curriculum is designed to serve children in a multitude of ways including reliance on an integrated, spiral curriculum that is connected further by the observant guide. Elaboration strategies of order and actively connecting content areas supports current research showing increased memory function and learning.
Take a moment and ask yourself, “What am I doing to encourage cross-curriculum learning and reveal previously learned knowledge to enhance student learning?” We’d love to hear what you come up with!
– By Tammy Oesting
Our ABCs of Learning: Montessori Edition is inspired by the work of authors Daniel L. Schwartz, Jessica Tsang and Kristen Blair, Professors of Education at Stanford University’s book The ABCs of How We Learn: 26 Scientifically Proven Approaches, How They Work, and When to Use which was reviewed on our Great Titles for Educators web page.