ARdEM supports and promotes scientific research focusing on Maria Montessori pedagogy, with three main objectives :
ARdEM supports and promotes scientific research focusing on Maria Montessori pedagogy, with three main objectives :
In 2020, Solange Denervaud, a Bioengineering graduate from EPFL, has completed her PhD thesis in Neurosciences under the supervision of Prof. Patric Hagmann at CHUV Lausanne and with the collaboration of national and international professors.
During her thesis, Solange Denervaud has completed the first ever study looking into the impact of the Montessori pedagogy on the neural development of the child. She has taken a holistic and interdisciplinary approach, bridging the latest neuro-imaging technology with behavioural approaches. Her thesis sheds light on the neuro-developmental mechanisms promoted by the Montessori pedagogy and brings an understanding into how creative and autonomous thinking develops, in kids aged 5-13.
The American Professor, Angeline Lillard, a worldwide reference in Montessori research, was one of the experts of this thesis, and she highlighted its richness, variety, and excellence. In May 2021, Solange Denervaud’s thesis has been awarded with the annual ‘Biaggi de Blasys award’ for the best doctoral thesis in Neuroscience defended at the Universities of Geneva, Lausanne, or the EPFL.
Here below, you can find a summary of her recent articles (full reference at bottom of this page) :
Support to Research
Scientific researchers are working relentlessly to better understand the development of the child. One aspect is the impact of schooling, with a focus on understanding the means that support better academic results and the development of socio-emotional competencies. However, there is to date little quantitative and peer-reviewed research that has directly investigated the impact of the Montessori pedagogy.
It is of interest to better understand the impact of the specific characteristics of Montessori (e.g., absence of grades, free movement, multi-age classes, etc.). However, most studies look at it indirectly and do not infer direct causality.
Up until recently, “direct” studies had been conducted mostly in the United States, where there are 4’500 Montessori schools, including large public institutions. It is paramount to have large samples of students to be able to validate the measured impact of different pedagogies and to normalize for biases (e.g., socio-economic level, choice of school system by parents, age, etc.). Angeline S. Lillard and Else Quest have performed a study which established the groundwork of scientific research on Montessori (Lillard & Quest, 2006). Their measurements where performed in collaboration with public schools in Milwaukee (Wisconsin, US), where students are split randomly (by lottery) between Montessori and traditional schools. This offers a unique environment for comparative studies by removing most biases. Their work demonstrated characteristic differences among similar age children (6-12 y.o.), where Montessori student showed:
Further studies, while not all benefiting from the lottery design, have confirmed and extended these findings.
For example, Dohrmann et al. (2007) have demonstrated that :
In a follow-up study, Lillard and colleagues have demonstrated that the degree of fidelity in the application of the Montessori pedagogy is critical to its success (Lillard et al., 2012). They compared three systems: (1) traditional, (2) Montessori, (3) “Inspired-by Montessori” (school that include only certain characteristics of the Montessori pedagogy, e.g. the material). It was shown that the “Inspired-by Montessori” school had no significant difference with traditional schools. However, Montessori schools had superior results, in alignment with the initial study from 2006.
Other studies have investigated specific effects. Here is a summary of the most relevant findings :
By systematically comparing students from different school systems, the studies mentioned above have allowed to quantify the effects of the Montessori pedagogy on academic, creative, and socio-emotional competencies. However, there has been little studies aiming at understanding the root causes of these observations: What are the neuro-cognitive mechanisms playing a key role? How do they develop in children under different school environment?
In this context, ARdEM and its school members are collaborating actively with Solange Denervaud and her colleagues to study children development in Montessori subjects. In the continuation of her PhD thesis, more studies are performed at CHUV Lausanne with the latest neuro-imaging techniques to decipher the areas and mechanisms of the brain that contribute to an effective and well-balanced development of learning capabilities.
On this website, we will share regular updates on this research. In the meantime, do not hesitate to subscribe to our Newsletter to stay informed.
ARdEM has the objective to support researchers who work towards a scientific understanding of the Montessori pedagogy. We would like to set up two mechanisms, to facilitate exchanges between the scientific community and Montessori professionals :
Reference book :
For a complete listing of the literature, please visit the following link: www.montessori-scientific-research.org
Children’s automatic evaluation of self-generated actions is different from adultsSolange Denervaud, Adrien Hess, David Sander & Gilles Pourtois
Developmental Science, October 2020, https://doi.org/10.1111/desc.13045
To make a mistake, is it good or bad? In fact, not one or the either. To make a mistake, for the brain, is a simple signal, without value judgement. Or we know that adults do not like to make mistakes or worse, they associate it with fear. This behaviour can be assessed by tasks where we measure the reaction time in sorting positive- or negative-valence words following a mistake. Most adults are quicker at classifying the negative words after their mistakes, highlighting the associative bias taking place, i.e. mistake = negative.
The consequences of this bias are multiple and detrimental. It can take the form of not asking questions publicly, fearing to be ridiculed (favouring a choice of not understanding to avoid saying something inadequate).
Is this bias innate or acquired during our development? In this study, the authors have explored the question by comparing the affective response to errors in students exposed to school environments, where errors are treated differently:
In both groups, we have found that students were aware of their mistakes, similarly to adults. Also, no student was biased towards negativity (inversely to adults), but towards positivity. Students from traditional schools had a strong association between ‘doing right’ and ‘positive words’ (right = good), whereas Montessori student had no bias at all (see figure below). For the latter, given a correct or wrong answer has no affective judgement, it is just a fact.
This study shows that the positive or negative feedbacks given on daily experiences generate association during children development. By binding strongly the right answers with a value judgement (even if positive), there is a risk to generate a strong bias, further reinforced by symmetry: If giving the right answer is good … then doing a mistake is bad. These associations are then made automatic, non-conscious, and hard to deconstruct at adulthood.
Together, these results show how the school experience impacts future mental habits of students. It calls for a reflexion on our traditional educational practices, largely based on value judgement (positive and negative).
Emotion recognition development: Preliminary evidence for an effect of school
Solange Denervaud, Christian Mumenthaler, Edouard Gentaz, David Sander
Journal of Learning & Instruction, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.learninstruc.2020.101353
Imagine you talk to your neighbour, and beyond words, you analyse continuously his facial expression. A small grin appears when you make a suggestion? You will use this information, often unconsciously, to adjust your talk.
As such, the way we perceive and interpret the facial expression of emotions influences our behaviours, the way we learn, or take decisions. A good perception of our surroundings and understanding of emotions is key for positive social and personal interactions. On the contrary, a misinterpretation can have negative consequences (e.g. your neighbour has an allergy, it was not a grin).
The ability to interpret emotions is developed in response to the social interactions experienced from childhood until (at least) pre-adulthood. However, the development of this critical competence has not been considered in the educational system, where kids spent a large proportion of their time and develop their social skills with adults and peers.
In this study, the authors assess the ability to perceive emotions in students aged 8-12 y.o., in Montessori and traditional schools. The study shows that enriched, diversified and less competitive social interactions, such as those favoured in the Montessori pedagogy, contribute to a better ability to perceive emotions. Students following a traditional school system are shown to be more sensitive to the recognition of fear, while Montessori student show a better integration of social signals and prefer positive stimuli.
This study informs us about the importance of the social experience on students, which shapes how a child perceives and interprets his surrounding in the longer term. A perception that is not well calibrated can have negative consequences, such as high anxiety levels, internal conflicts, or conflicts with peers.
Together, these findings suggest that we must also integrate the human and social aspect of the school environment when re-thinking education. It is important that students do not only learn hard skills, but also develop a good sense of social interactions and soft skills. Maria Montessori had integrated these aspects fully into her pedagogy, already a century ago.
An fMRI study of error-monitoring in Montessori and traditionally-schooled children.
Denervaud,S., Knebel, J.-F., Immordino-Yang, M. H., Hagmann, P. (2020). An fMRI study of error-monitoring in Montessori and traditionally-schooled children. Science of Learning. doi.org/10.1038/s41539-020-0069-6
In a dynamic environment, we cannot avoid mistakes. However, we can learn from our mistakes and adjust our behaviours to avoid repeating them. Learning from our mistakes is key for our ability to adapt, meaning learning and innovating. In the current social, professional, and sanitary context, it is a key mechanism that must be promoted during the development of children to ensure their autonomy towards change.
While learning from mistake is an essential (if not lifesaving) competency, there is little studies on the underlying neural mechanisms in children, and none assessing the impact of the school environment. However, it is known that different pedagogies have different means to teach kids how to learn (from their mistakes).
In this study, the authors investigate the impact of traditional and Montessori pedagogies on the neural activity of 32 students, age 8-12 y.o. Answering to a task, students from both systems gave a similar level of correct responses. Montessori students answered more systematically (not missing a trial, but sometimes doing more mistakes), had a quicker response time, and showed higher neural activity in the right parietal and frontal regions involved in mathematical processing.
Interestingly, student from traditional schools showed a higher functional connectivity between the brain area responsible for performance monitoring (Anterior Cingulate Cortex – ACC) and the hippocampus in charge of memorization, following correct trials. In comparison, Montessori students showed a higher functional connectivity between the ACC and the frontal regions (in charge of problem solving), following incorrect trials. In summary, the former focus on memorizing the correct response while the latter try to understand and solve their mistakes.
These results suggest that the school experience influences the development of the brain (connectivity) and its capacity to learn from mistakes. They inform us about the emergence of mental habits in students and their potential long-term consequences. On the one side students fear mistakes and focus their brain power on memorizing correct answer. On the other (as promoted by the Montessori pedagogy), students do not fear mistake and mobilize their brain power to solve the problem at hand.
In a world that evolves so quickly, it is not always possible to know and anticipate the correct answers. Thus, it seems necessary to re-think educational practices to better address the needs of tomorrow’s adults in a fast changing and uncertain world.
Multisensory Gains in Simple Detection Predict Global Cognition in
Solange Denervaud, Edouard Gentaz, Paul Matusz* & Micah M. Murray*
Scientific Report, February 2020, https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-020-58329-4
When learning, why should we isolate our senses, when in fact, we are wired with multiple sensory inputs? We have eyes, ears, fingers, a nose, a mouth, etc…, which like to work in concert to integrate information. This makes our perceptions and our memories more coherent.
This capacity to synchronize information develops since early childhood. Later in life, these multi-sensorial integration and synchronization processes are automated and influence our thinking, our choices, and our social interactions.
Learning mechanisms are closely linked to multi-sensorial processes. Learning with multiple senses simultaneously refines our cognitive development.
In this study, the authors use a task where kids need to react (by pressing a button) to an image (visual stimulus), a sound (auditory stimulus), or both. Reaction time has been measured as a proxy to multi-sensory integration.
The study shows that the level of multi-sensory integration predicts higher order cognitive processes in students aged 4,5 to 15 y.o. (N=68). Children with a higher multi-sensory integration (high capacity to use multiple sensory cues simultaneously) perform better in memorizing tasks (both working memory and fluid intelligence).
The study also demonstrate that Montessori students have a high prevalence to show multi-sensory gain versus their peers from traditional school systems.
This is not a surprise, as a multi-sensory approach is central to the Montessori pedagogy. It also highlights that the quality of the learning material (and its format) are just as important as its content.
Effects of Traditional Versus Montessori Schooling on 4- to 15- Year Old
children’s Performance Monitoring
Solange Denervaud, Jean-François Knebel, Mary Helen Immordino-Yang, Patric Hagmann
Mind, Brain and Education, January 2020, https://doi.org/10.1111/mbe.12233
We live in a dynamic environment, in constant evolution. We are thus equipped with an intrinsic system that continuously detects, integrates, and regulates our response to unexpected events, called “performance monitoring”.
This intrinsic system develops during childhood, when the child can learn how to detect and manage different forms of uncertainty, such as errors. To integrate uncertainty is an inherent part of our daily life and to be able to adjust to it, in a process where we learn how to learn, is critical to fully develop autonomous individuals. Although “performance monitoring” is a key competency, there had been no study measuring the impact of school pedagogy on its acquisition.
In this research, the authors have compared performance monitoring capabilities in 234 students, aged 4-15, from traditional and Montessori schools.
In traditional pedagogy, students typically rely on corrections and feedback from the teachers to learn. The Montessori pedagogy, by comparison, promotes students to work in an autonomous manner with self-correcting materials that help them identify their mistakes and find their own solutions.
The study shows that Montessori student detect their mistakes since a younger age and develop a better ability to self-assess, versus their peers in traditional schools.
The performance monitoring process (and the ability to learn how to learn) evolves over time: young kids need time following a mistake to integrate the information and learn to correct; teenager on the contrary have automated this process, making them less prone to surprise and better at correcting themselves. It is interesting to note that this evolution of the learning process happens earlier in Montessori versus traditional students.
Together, theses results show how pedagogy impacts the way children learn from their mistakes. Giving time to young kids to integrate mistakes and giving the opportunity to self-correct, without applying any negative bias to mistakes, seem to be essential traits for the development of autonomous learning.
LILLARD, A. & ELSE-QUEST, N. (2006). Evaluating Montessori education. Science, 313, p. 1893-1894.
DOHRMANN, K. R., NISHIDA, T. K., GARTNER, A., LIPSKY, D. K. & GRIMM, K. J. (2007). High school outcomes for students in a public Montessori program. Journal of Research in Childhood Education, 22, 205-217
LILLARD, A. S. (2012). Preschool children’s development in classic Montessori, supplemented Montessori, and conventional programs. Journal of School Psychology, 50, 379-401.
BESANCON, M., LUBART, T. (2008). Differences in the development of creative competencies in children schooled in diverse learning environments. Learning and Individual Differences, 18, 391–399.
RATHUNDE, K. & CSIKSZENTMIHALYI, M. (2005). Middle School Students’ Motivation and quality of experience: A comparison of Montessori and traditional school environments. American Journal of Education, 111 (3), 341-371.