This is a touchy subject. We all recognize the educational value and beauty of Montessori materials. We shun the idea of teaching from textbooks. And yet, there might be a place in Montessori for worksheets and workbook exercises.
Please realize that I am speaking exclusively about elementary when I talk about using worksheets. I do not think there is a place for them in primary (3-6).
I also see a danger in relying on them too much. I remember a Montessori school (well-known in the Chicago area) that I visited during my training. The children sat around tables and did workbook pages all morning. The Montessori materials sat, dusty and unused, on the shelves.
The harried teacher told me that she was trained “in-house” by the school director but had never taken the Montessori training. It was painful to watch “Montessori” practiced so poorly. I still shudder when I think about it.
Is there some middle ground, a way to use them to complement rather than replace the Montessori curriculum? I’m going out on a limb and saying “yes, sometimes”, and I’ll explain why and how.
Reasons to Use Worksheets in Montessori
1. To teach test-taking skills
There are some things a child needs to know unless they are blessed enough to stay in a Montessori program through the end of high school. How to take a test is one of them. There are a variety of test-taking skills that are important for a child to learn.
Here are a few:
- multiple choice
- figuring out what the question is asking
- process of elimination
- answering questions that have both a written and oral component (the test-giver reads something aloud that is related to the question)
- filling in bubbles on a test answer sheet
One of my trainers simply called it “exposure”. Children don’t need to do 50 pages of multiple choice questions in order to understand the concept; they just need to be exposed to it. Then, when they take a test, the “how” of taking the test will not stand in their way.
2. To practice math facts
In Montessori, we have a wide variety of math materials and among them are specific exercises (like the Math Bingo Games) that are meant for the memorization of math facts.
I have found that in some cases, a child needs more practice than even the Bingo Games can provide. They need to write down answers to problems rather than say them out loud. They need a variety of work to memorize math facts, including math materials, flash cards, and worksheets.
Rather than having a child do a worksheet of 20 math problems, the worksheet could be laminated and cut into smaller cards so that a few can be practiced at a time. Also, laminating means that all the children can use one copy rather than making copies for everyone. To use, they could write on the laminated page with a dry erase marker or give answers orally.
3. To fill in gaps not covered by the Montessori curriculum
One of the reasons I first created my Pink, Blue, and Green Series Spelling Cards was because there is no formal Montessori spelling curriculum and using word lists does not always cover all the bases.
Once the child has moved beyond the Pink, Blue, and Green Series work, a spelling workbook with age-appropriate spelling words could be quite useful.
There are some other areas that can use additional materials, especially in math. They include: time, money, fractions, and graphing. Workbook exercises can be quite useful to learn those kinds of concepts.
4. Use worksheets to create “Montessori-type” material
For instance, you might laminate a workbook page of word problems and cut them apart, placing them in a small basket or holder. Children can use them as needed, and they can be used again and again. Many types of materials can be made this way.
Give it Some Thought
Some of the common objections to workbooks and worksheets include the idea that they are busywork, repetitive, and require little or no thought on the part of the teacher.
In order to redeem them for use in the Montessori classroom, they must be used differently than in a traditional classroom. They should not be used thoughtlessly, as time-filling busywork, or for mindless repetition once the child has mastered the skill in question.
One thing I urge when using worksheets (or other non-Montessori materials) is to use them as seldom as possible, and only when needed to address a problem or “gap”. If one child needs extra help in math or spelling, that doesn’t mean the whole group needs to do a worksheet. Tailor your use of worksheets to fill a specific need.
What do you think? Can/should workbooks and worksheets be used in a Montessori elementary setting? Why or why not?