AIM and Montessori

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  • AIM and Montessori

    By Wendy Maxwell

    One of my most rewording teaching experiences with the AIM was the three years I spent as a core French teacher at a one-room Montessori school. My 28 students ranged in age from 6 to 12 years. During that time I learned that many aspects of the AIM fit beautifully with Maria Montessori’s philosophy of teaching.

    Montessori schools, like the AIM program, have proven successful all over the world, with students with varied learning styles and abilities (gifted, learning differences etc.) and from many different backgrounds (inner city schools to wealthy independent schools). 

    Montessori’s advice has always been to: “Follow the Child.”

    It is the child’s way of learning. This is the path he follows. He learns everything without knowing he is learning it, and in doing so he passes little by little from the unconscious to the conscious, treading always in the paths of joy and love. —Dr. Maria Montessori, MD

    Like Montessori, my goal is also to help students find joy in learning, to help them acquire a language naturally, as they did their first language. It my hope that by teaching language through story, theatre, drama, dance and music, students lose themselves in the subject matter and unconsciously and naturally internalize language rapidly by focusing on the content and by using the language for a higher purpose, other that the study of the language itself. Even once students begin to gain proficiency, grammar is always taught from an inductive perspective, whereby students come to recognize the language patterns on their own and intuitively generate the rules, rather than being presented with a rule to memorize and practice in a decontextualized manner. Below, I will outline the major components of the Montessori philosophy, as stated by Michael Olaf, author of Child of the World, Montessori 3-12 Overview. Following each aspect of Montessori’s approach, I will discuss the AIM in relation to it.


    The Human Tendencies: The practical application of the Montessori method is based on human tendencies— to explore, move, share with a group, to be independent and make decisions, create order, develop self-control, abstract ideas from experience, use the creative imagination, work hard, repeat, concentrate, and perfect one’s efforts. (Olaf)

    The AIM philosophy aligns beautifully with many of Montessori’s core beliefs. With its innovative Gesture Approach and focus on movement through drama and choreography, the AIM is the first language program to provide at its core, a truly active, participatory, hands-on experience for the learner. Through this multi-modal, supportive approach, students have extensive opportunities for oral and written language production, unlike typical FS classes, where, on average, each student speaks for only one to two minutes per class. Because the teacher gestures everything sh/e communicates to students, shy students and those who need more time and support as well as strong students are all provided with opportunities to learn in the way that is best suited to them. AIM’s pleasant repetition is one of the key reasons for its success. Creativity abounds in the program, where students learn to write stories, dramatize, create stories improvisationally, choreograph dances, write songs and raps and much more. Because students gain the language skills necessary to allow them to be productive, we typically see AIM students working hard and in a focused manner, engaging fully in the creative process with partners and groups, learning from each other and demonstrating independence.

    The Process of Learning: There are three stages of learning: 
(Stage 1) introduction to a concept by means of a lecture, lesson, something read in a book, etc.
(Stage 2) processing the information, developing an understanding of the concept through work, experimentation, creation.
(Stage 3) “knowing”, to possessing an understanding of, demonstrated by the ability to pass a test with confidence, to teach another, or to express with ease. (Olaf)

    The AIM program has a similar, consistent pattern with respect to the teaching/learning process. In the Teacher’s Guides, we provide a template for the introduction of every type of activity. It is repeated and modelled to the degree necessary to ensure that students feel confident and secure in their ability to do the activity. It is then handed off to the students to work in partners or in small groups, to discuss and create together as they further their understanding of the activity. Students develop their oral and written language proficiency as they work through the activities together. With each kit level, activities of the same type are repeated and expectations for understanding and creative work with each activity increase. Eventually, students reach the stage whereby they have internalized so well every aspect of the content, strategies and techniques of the program that they should be able to teach it to others.

    Indirect Preparation: The steps of learning any concept are analyzed by the adult and are systematically offered to the child. A child is always learning something that is indirectly preparing him to learn something else, making education a joyful discovery instead of drudgery. (Olaf)


    The goal of the AIM is to teach language through another subject matter, thus motivating the students and enriching their language learning experience. The AIM program is systematically designed in a holarchical manner to build a foundation that supports the success of students from one level to the next, so that they expand their abilities to be creative with the language in many ways. Within the well-designed structure of the AIM, students are free to be wildly creative and joyfully discover and continuously improve language proficiency.

    The Prepared Environment: …it is the role of the teacher to prepare and continue to adapt the environment, to link the child to it through well-thought-out lessons, and to facilitate the child’s exploration and creativity. The Prepared Environment is essential to the success of Montessori. There must be just the right amount of educational materials to allow for the work of the child. However, one thing that has become very obvious in our materialistic society in the west, is that TOO MUCH is worse than TOO LITTLE. (Olaf)


    In many ways, the design of the AIM program supports the notion that too much is worse than too little. A few, select language activities, one play and a couple of songs and dances form the content of an entire 50 hour unit of instruction upon which numerous scaffolded language manipulation activities and creative work with the language are based. I believe, like David Booth, that the most effective path to literacy development in any language, is found not by racing to teach as many stories as possible, but rather, by ‘going in, out and around a story’ (Booth), exploring it in depth and working with the one story over many hours and months in the program. This pattern remains the same from one AIM kit to the next, allowing students to build such a deep foundation of knowledge and skill that motivation and a sense of security and predictability develop – essential elements in a foreign language learning environment if we want to ensure that we reduce the impact of the affective filter. (Krashen)


    Observation and Assessment: Scientific observations of the child’s development are constantly carried out and recorded by the teacher. These observations are made on the level of concentration of each child, the introduction to and mastery of each piece of material, the social development, physical health, etc. on. Assessment is by portfolio and the teacher’s observation and record keeping. The real test of whether or not the system is working lies in the accomplishment and behavior of the children, their happiness, maturity, kindness, and love of learning, concentration, and work. (Olaf)


    Testing in the AIM program is not recommended. Rather, the teacher is encouraged to document regularly each student’s progress in a formative manner. This is easy to do in an AIM program, as the students produce oral and written language constantly each day, from the moment they step into the room until the class is over, whether in whole-class or in partner/group activities. The teachers are provided with observation sheets for every activity and are encouraged to record the students’ work with respect to every aspect of the program. Portfolio preparation appears as the last activity in every kit and teachers are encouraged to require that students share the full portfolio of work with parents and other family members at that time. Over time, the AIM Student Language Portfolio becomes a wonderful record of student progress and accomplishments.


    Teaching Method: There are no textbooks, and seldom will two or more children be studying the same thing at the same time. Children learn directly from the environment, and from other children—rather than from the teacher. Large groups occur only in the beginning of a new class, or in the beginning of the school year, and are phased out as the children gain independence. (Olaf)


    There are no textbooks in the AIM program. Students work at their own pace, in partners and small groups, through the possible activities in the program. At the very beginning of the AIM program, the lack of student language skill necessitates a focus on whole-class activities as we flood the students learning at the beginning to kick-start their fluency development. The program is designed so that, as soon as possible, students are able to handle, with the support of a partner, the essential partner/group activities. These activities are of primary importance for the success of the AIM as it is here that students apply, in a practical and authentic manner, all the language skills and concepts that they practice in a guided manner with the teacher during whole class activities. As soon as language skills permit, a very small portion of the AIM class (e.g 5-10 minutes at the beginning of a 40-50 minute period) is all that should be allotted for whole-class work. Due to the extensive modeling and repetition through the beginning of the program, students are well equipped with the tools and skills necessary to become leaders and responsible for their own learning as they move forward. The AIM’s heavy emphasis on partner/group activities is essential as students gain fluency in order for them to have sufficient time to practice the language skills in order to develop the highest level of proficiency possible within the limited time frame of a core or basic language course.


    Class Size: The most successful … classes are of 30-35 children to one teacher… This provides the most variety of personalities, learning styles, and work being done at one time. This size help to create much independent work, and peer teaching, and eliminates the possibility of too much teacher-centered, teacher-directed work. (Olaf)

    AIM classes always work best with larger groups, for many of the same reasons that support the Montessori philosophy. The unique power of the Gesture Approach techniques conducted with a large group is significant, as students’ energy and enthusiasm have shown to increase the potential for motivation and language acquisition.


    Learning Styles: All intelligences and styles of learning—musical, bodily-kinesthetic, spatial, interpersonal, intrapersonal, intuitive, natural, and the traditional linguistic and logical-mathematical—are nurtured and respected. (Olaf)


    The AIM program is entirely unique in it’s design – the first truly multi-modal approach that helps students simultaneously visualize, kinesthetically embed and hear language naturally as they acquire and practice words through the Gesture Approach. Not only words, but also syntax and grammar concepts are acquired in an accelerative manner as the brain is stimulated simultaneously in a variety of ways during the process of acquisition. The theatrical and musical components of the AIM support the students who learn in a spatial, kinesthetic and musical manner as well. The focus on partner/group work maximizes the learning potential of students with high interpersonal intelligence. Of course, the linguistic focus of the AIM for learners with high linguistic intelligence makes it highly appropriate for them. Even the needs of students with math-logic intelligence are met as the AIM teaches grammar through an intuitive approach that emphasizes patterns of the language.



    Basic Lessons:. Although the teacher plans lessons for each child for each day, she will bow to the interests of a child following a passion. (Olaf)


    Throughout the AIM books, one finds constant reminders to teachers to ‘seize’ the moment’ – to ensure that they use the technique Teacher-led self expression in an authentic and natural way to support students, even at the very early stages of development of language proficiency, to discuss topics that come up at any time that are of importance to them. These take absolute priority over a lesson that was designed for the day. Authentic communication for a purpose must always take priority in an AIM class – the primary goal of the program is to develop proficiency alongside emotional connection to the language.


    Areas of Study Linked: All subjects are interwoven and are not isolated from each other At any one time in a day all subjects—math, language, science, history, geography, art, music, etc.—are being studied, at all levels. (Olaf)


    The AIM (The Accelerative Integrated Methodology), is a content-based approach that also interconnects a variety of subject areas into one kit. This integrated approach to the teaching of languages through a story, theatre/drama/ literacy-based approach into which the musical and dance components are interwoven throughout, ensures that students experience language learning in a meaningful way. It is very unlike the common thematic approaches, whereby the teaching of vocabulary is isolated and disconnected form one unit to the next. On the contrary, the holarchical approach of the AIM ensures not only an interconnectedness within one kit but also from one kit to the next, affording the possibility for solid foundation-building of language through scaffolding.


    It is evident that the AIM and Montessori teaching methodologies share many common principles, based on good teaching practice in general. A trained AIM teacher naturally shares and supports the ideologies of the Montessori program and would fit beautifully into a Montessori school as a specialist language teacher.



    Barton and Booth, Stories in the Classroom


    Krashen, The Natural Appraoch



    Montessori 3-12 Overview, The Michael Olaf Montessori Company