Empowering Students Through Progressive Education

Through an innovative use of spiral learning, students at Council Oak Montessori School benefit from this progressive approach to education. Learn how.

As a part of their progressive education, students who used Montessori’s binomial cubes in earlier grades at Council Oak Montessori School for puzzles rediscover the cubes in the upper levels for more difficult algebraic expressions. 

The Binomial Cube introduces abstract math concepts to students as young as 3 years old and is revisited repeatedly for furthering sensorial and mathematical knowledge. This is an example of a unique spiral teaching method in which materials and topics are revisited multiple times to deepen student understanding with each encounter. 

Progressive education practices at Council Oak Montessori School
Photo Credit: Council Oak Montessori School

“To ensure true comprehension of a topic, students are encouraged to revisit concepts that have been presented in lessons. Guides observe the work of the child for increased understanding of the topic and know it is time to present another part of that topic with increasing complexity,” says Jennie Bonko, lead guide in the Upper Elementary program at Council Oak Montessori, an innovative PreK-8 Montessori school located in Blue Island. “This attention to the spiral nature of learning happens throughout the child’s experience at Council Oak.”

How spiral learning works

As students engage repeatedly with familiar items or topics, Bonko notices an escalation in their comfort levels. With each exposure, they demonstrate increased confidence and ease with the subject matter. 

Students are more readily able to tackle advanced concepts and delve deeper into the nuances, which fosters a more robust understanding over time. They’re learning to apply past experiences, which helps students figure out solutions to challenges. 

Here, Bonko shares the top five features of spiral learning:

  • Iterative: Concepts are revisited multiple times
  • Progressive: Topics are revisited with increasing complexity to deepen understanding
  • Application-focused: Learning focuses on experiences, not memorization
  • Scaffolded: Builds upon prior knowledge and skills
  • Flexible: Allows children to learn in different ways based on their learning style

“The spiral nature of the Montessori curriculum nurtures a love of learning and fosters a basis for lifelong curiosity,” Bonko says. “When students revisit the familiar topics with increasing complexity, it’s another way to remind them that everything is interrelated. One topic is going to open their minds to many different topics.”

The educational value of stewardship

Another example of spiral learning takes place through the stewardship program at Council Oak Montessori by fostering an understanding of interconnectedness within the world. 

In the Children’s House, 3- to 6-year-olds help each other put on their coats and take care of plants. 

In the Upper Elementary, students apply the same concept of stewardship to their community. They sell handmade goods and donate the proceeds to local food pantries or others in need in the community. 

“Stewardship promotes a sense of accountability and empowerment and helps students grasp the significance of their actions on the world, says Bonko. “It gives the students an answer when they ask, ‘What can we do to help the world?’”

A universal approach to learning

Part of spiral learning is understanding that each one of us is part of a bigger world. 

Students pair the study of world countries and continents with discussions of world cultures. 

In a progressive way, the study of geography spurs a deeper understanding of a culture than just learning about their clothing and traditional foods.  

Visual and Fun Educational Activities at Council Oak Montessori School
Photo Credit: Council Oak Montessori School

Students examine photos of classrooms just like theirs, but the classrooms they’re seeing are from schools in every corner of the world filled with students like them. 

By understanding the fundamental needs of the people in an area and how they are similar and how different, students gain a stronger understanding of their role in the world. 

“There’s no rote memorization here,” Bonko says. “With the spiral nature of the Montessori curriculum, we are exploring topics over and over again in different ways. Essentially, we are always building upon the idea that we are a whole universe.” 

Learn more about Council Oak Montessori at counciloakmontessori.org.


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