Cultivating Motivation in the Montessori Environment

January 11, 2014

Cultivating Motivation in the Montessori Environment

Originally posted by NAMC’s web blog, which reflects the Montessori curriculum as provided in its teacher training programs.  © the North American Montessori Center – originally posted in its entirety at Montessori Teacher Training on Tuesday, December 31, 2013.

The Montessori environment is created to develop focus, stamina, and motivation to learn through the use of a well-prepared environment and developmentally appropriate materials. The desire to learn is intrinsically motivated by the environment and the gentle guidance of the Montessori teacher. But how do you keep the momentum of that motivation as children mature?

Making a Resolution to Cultivate Motivation in the Montessori Environment

Carol Dweck, professor of social and developmental psychology at Stanford University and a leader in the field of student motivation, tells us there are two types of students: those who believe in a fixed IQ and those who believe in untapped potential.

Fixed IQ

Untapped Potential

  • “All in the genes”
  • “Practice makes perfect”
  • Ability comes naturally
  • Success comes from trying hard
  • Learning shouldn’t require effort
  • Requires effort, time
  • When faced with a challenge, they quit or give up
  • When faced with a challenge, they ask for help, study harder, and look for new ways to solve problems

Many teachers and parents believe that praising children for their success is motivational. However, as Dr. Montessori asserted and Dweck supports, this is counterproductive. Statements such as “You’re good at this” or “I’m proud of you” emphasize success based on personal attributes. In other words, challenges are signs of personal weaknesses, thus reinforcing the Fixed IQ school of thought.

NAMC Montessori motivation in the environment laughing girlDweck contends that rather than give a child oriented praise, teachers and parents need to focus on process and task oriented praise. This is also very in keeping with Dr. Montessori’s philosophy regarding praise. When we praise effort and work strategies with phrases such as “You tried really hard,” “I like how you figured that out,” and “All of your math problems were correct,” we reinforce the importance of problem solving and working it out, focusing on the process rather than the outcome.

Dweck’s conclusion is based on experiments on motivation. In one, she took young children in a room to solve puzzles. Some were praised by telling them how smart and capable they were, while others were not. As the puzzles grew more and more challenging, the students who had been personally praised quit trying rather than risk losing their status of being smart. Those who had not been praised continued to work hard and try new solutions.

We live in a world where we want our children to succeed and to have high self-esteem. We clap when they learn to walk and talk. We praise them for being good or being smart. We want them to feel good about themselves. However, Dweck points out that this method of praise limits their growth and can even be detrimental down the road. Children who believe that ability is fixed and they do not have to try or work hard to learn, are at risk.

Changing the way we praise children requires a conscious effort on our part. As the New Year approaches, make a conscious resolution to focus more on the process of learning rather than the product.

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