Friday, August 19, 2016

Circle of Inclusion: Individualization within the Context of a Supportive Classroom Community

namc montessori circle of inclusion individualization classroom young boy

In a previous blog, we discussed the value of inclusion and how Montessori’s tenet of following the individual needs of the child makes it inherently inclusive. The Circle of Inclusion Project (University of Kansas) and Raintree Montessori (Lawrence, Kansas) listed 11 specific ways in which Montessori education addresses the needs of all children, including those with disabilities. Included in this list is “Individualization within the context of a supportive classroom community.” In today’s blog, Michelle kindly shares her classroom experiences to provide real-life examples of how Montessori meets that specific goal.

Case 1

After working with three boys on the Stamp Game, I invited them to select a static addition card from the basket that they would like to work on with the material.
Michael and Ephraim took a card that contained four-digit numbers. Jeremiah chose a card that contained two-digit numbers. I then asked the boys how many equations they were going to accomplish that morning. Michael and Ephraim told me they were going to work together and finish the card — all six equations. Jeremiah took a minute, considering the card, and then told me he was going to work on his own and he would maybe finish two equations. The all wrote their work choices in their math journals and set off to finish their work.

Three boys came to the same lesson. Two boys were going to complete six four-digit by four-digit static addition equations and one boy was going to finish two two-digit by two-digit equations. Two very different tasks for the very same lesson.

Case 2

Studying ancient Egypt is always fun and exciting for my upper elementary class. It seems that everyone wants to do something different to explore this fascinating society. One group is digging through the costume bin and writing a script for a pharaoh murder-mystery drama. Another group is writing messages to each other in hieroglyphics. One student works independently, busy with geometry equations about pyramids. A few students are designing torques and jewelry. Others are researching Egyptian cuisine and planning a class luncheon. And another group wants to mummify something! There are many different projects going on at the same time. No one is left out; everyone is included in some form of hands-on, real-life learning. All abilities and learning preferences have been addressed within the student community, and peer accountability is high since it was all student choice and not arbitrarily assigned by the teacher.

Case 3

Monday’s spelling lists have been made. Most of the lists have ten words: five words chosen by me, and five words chosen by the student. Because of this, each list is different. Many of the students make their choices by poring over the dictionary to find “hard” words. Marne’s list is shorter. Her list has five words: four chosen by me and one that she chose. Even that is often too much, but she insists on having that many. “I can do it, Miss Michelle,” she tells me with determination.

Freedom and individualization with the Montessori environment

When I taught in standardized, conventional education it was common to hear students say things like:

“This is too hard/boring/easy.”
“I can’t do it.”
“Why do we have to do this?”
“I don’t get it.”

Working like that was frustrating for both the students and the teachers. Nobody wants to struggle to learn or to be required to learn in a specific manner, such as using only auditory and visual processing. Children come in all shapes, sizes, and abilities. Some are extremely gifted academically, others struggle with learning disabilities such as dyscalculia and dyslexia, and others are somewhere in between. Some are musical, others excel physically, and others are exceptional mathematicians. No one is exactly the same.

It is said that only 40 percent of the students in any classroom are in the range of average to above average intellect. (Autism Speaks, 2012) That means that over 50 percent of any classroom can be classified as below average! And one of every 88 children in the U.S. is classified as being on the autism spectrum, with 25 percent of those children classified as non-verbal. (Autism Speaks, 2012)

With statistics like that, how can we prescribe a one-size-fits-all curriculum for children? How can that address what is clearly a wide range of abilities?

The Montessori philosophy of education respects all children, regardless of ability or level. To that end, the Montessori environment is carefully prepared to accommodate everyone at the same time, in the same place. Children are not separated from their peers to have their special accommodations met outside the classroom. Instead, the instruction is fully integrated and inclusive. Lessons are given individually or in small groups, allowing the teacher to focus on the needs of each individual child. Follow-up work and practice are also decided and agreed upon according to their specific needs.

It is rare to hear Montessori children complain about the fairness of how much or how little work another child has. This is, in large part, due to the culture of respect that is cultivated from the very first day in the Montessori environment. No child is asked to do more than what he can handle. Children learn that we are all unique, and it is those unique qualities that make us who we are. When questions of fairness arise, the Montessori teacher can use them as a teaching moment, discussing the gifts, strengths, and assets of the individual, and how these contribute to the whole community.

The Montessori community recognizes that all children are unique. It is up to the Montessori teacher to observe and prepare the environment so that each child’s gifts are not only recognized but nurtured and brought to fruition.

Works Cited
Autism Speaks. Autism Speaks Family Services School Community Tool Kit. 2012.

Michelle Irinyi — NAMC Tutor & Graduate
As much as possible, NAMC’s web blog reflects the Montessori curriculum as provided in its teacher training programs. We realize and respect that Montessori schools are unique and may vary their schedules and offerings in accordance with the needs of their individual communities. We hope that our readers will find our articles useful and inspiring as a contribution to the global Montessori community.
© North American Montessori Center - originally posted in its entirety at Montessori Teacher Training on Friday, August 19, 2016.


  1. Without realizing it, I have used the "Montessori Method" without ever having studied it. I used what I call "good walking around sense" to teach, connecting ideas to other ideas, facts, and observations. Knowing where each student "stood" in mastery of topic always enabled me to individualize and to meet need. Regardless, a good teacher knows what her (his) student knows and what that student needs to learn/understand is an imperative. I have found this to be true in both English and English as A Second Language (ESL)instruction. Actually, teaching derives from the paradigm of life and living. Questions--from teacher-to-student AND from student-to-teacher are an essential component of genuine teaching and reflect state of being. So encourage questions! "WHY" is the best question word!


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