Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Montessori and Dyslexia: The Einstein Effect

A post of mine here really resonated with a dear friend of mine, exciting her. Her reaction to the specifics of the Montessori method were so affirming for me. It seems so clear to me, how wonderful it can be to just take another view on education, but when other people get excited about my excitement, well who doesn't cherish that? My own struggles with ADD and the comorbid dyslexia were really very mild, because in my specific case, the school environment was actually good for me due to a variety of factors in my home and school life. Chief among those school factors was a very early diagnosis of "giftedness," and a removal at least once a week from the traditional classroom. From my earliest years in public school, I was sorted out and given a different way to do things-- because I was gifted.

Because I was gifted.

This is important to note: even as a child of eleven years of age, I realized that the way they were approaching my education was so cool, so interesting, that every student would benefit from it. They gave it to us, as a prize for being "smart" when we came to them. How much more does the child who needs that different approach benefit from the extra time and consideration? To this day I can rattle off the names of people I saw fail out of school, one way or another, who really had it in them to do so much better. No one gave them the option to learn things in a way appropriate to them. They were just counseled to do better, to try harder, to "really listen." Maybe Montessori isn't for everyone; I can accept that. But in my experience, it sure works for most. It's not so much that Montessori caters to individuals who learn differently, it's that the method allows for so many different individual approaches to learning. It's that subtle, child-centric distinction coupled with tactile materials that makes it so effective.

I did some quick research tonight while I was thinking about this in general, and came across the following (clickable) snippets.

From Myomancy:

The modern classroom with its tightly controlled and scheduled syllabus is not a good environment for dyslexic children. Any children who falls behind the learning curve is in deep trouble as they have no opportunity to catch up. The classroom is like a production line than forces children to move on to the next class whether they are ready or not. However the Montessori classroom isn’t like that.

Devised in the early 1900’s by Dr Montessori, it is an approach to education that is child centric, focusing on individually-paced learning and development. The Montessori Method should suit a dyslexic child better. Allowing child and teacher to spend time on their basic literacy regardless of the rest of the class’s ability level. As the Montessori method also does away with traditional grading of students there should be less issues about confidence and self-worth. In fact, Montessori and dyslexia should be perfect together.

Another way that Montessori and dyslexia go together is the teaching materials used. Montessori has always used a multi-sensory approach to teaching involving wooden letters to handle and sandpaper letters that children trace out with their figures for a strong tactile feedback. Lots of the Montessori teaching uses physical objects for teaching basic number skills. Making learning movement based, rather than purely paper-and-pencil, increases the opportunities for hand / eye coordination and cross lateral movement.

From Montessori Life:

Dyslexia is caused by anatomical differences in the brain. If an appropriate preschool program is offered to this child and reading, writing, and spelling are introduced through a Multisensory Structured Language (MSL) approach, the learning difference does not become a learning disability. This neurological difference cannot be cured but it can be treated, so that the child can have functional written language skills.

This article goes on in the specifics but I loved this line: the learning difference does not become a learning disability. That's Montessori for you: Difference does not equal disability.

Furthering that idea, there is a school in Florida whose mission is to educate dyslexic children using the Montessori method. This is my favorite snippet to share here, because it also discusses Albert Einstein. I love me some Einstein. He was brilliant, but was also ADHD and dyslexic. From the website for Einstein Montessori School:
"Zach Osbrach founded this school to better educate children with reading and spelling delays. Our dyslexic students have achieved the highest reading gains among their peers in the state of Florida. Our extensive testing has shown a 285% increase in reading gains." Their FAQ on dyslexia and its life prognosis is fairly extensive. Yet it is their page on Einstein, and why they started the school they did, with which I will end this post:

Einstein showed language impairments at a very young age. His speech was severely delayed. He only began to talk at the age of three, and had trouble with language throughout elementary school.

During a parent meeting, the Headmaster told Einstein's parents that he did not have the ability to be a successful professional. He recommended that Einstein attend a trade school. In fact, his teachers thought he was borderline retarded.

Young Albert did not listen to them. Instead, he moved to a different type of school. This school de-emphasized rote memorization. Unlike his old school, they stressed creative thinking and hands-on learning. Young Albert's academic performance improved dramatically.

Einstein suffered from dyslexia. He is a clear example of a person who would be labeled as learning disabled in today's educational system. With the right approach to education, these labels cannot prevent great accomplishments, as proven by Einstein and others.

Children with learning disabilities have one or more processing or learning weaknesses. At Einstein Montessori School, we would rather not use the term "learning disabled," because many of our great thinkers had dyslexia--geniuses and statesman like Alexander Graham Bell, Thomas Edison, Leonardo de Vinci, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Winston Churchill, Walt Disney and so many others. Most of us do not think of these men as having been "disabled."


  1. I think this one exchange will explain to you simply why H1's teacher is one to measure other's by.

    After telling us what a joy H1 is and that each day she looks at her and wonders what she is going to be in life, she knows she will be great at whatever she does, because of "who she is". Her words.

    Then the nitty gritty. We were going over where her reading was. And H was so concerned about where the "other" kids are. What is the benchmark for passing at the end of the year...

    This woman who is the nicest lady on earth - got VERY stern with him.

    "So what? Really... so what? Who cares where the rest of the kids are? That is not important. What we need to focus on is where H1 is and to watch her progress. You can only measure her against herself, no one else."

  2. I've been enjoying your Montessori posts. Keep them coming, please.

  3. Yes, great post and so very true! Traditional education does a total disservice to kids with dyslexia, ADHD, and a myriad of other learning issues. This: "I love me some Einstein" made me laugh!