Montessori for Adults
Evansville Vanderburgh Public Library
In order to address a declining graduation rate and to help the roughly 13,000 functionally illiterate in our county, the Evansville Vanderburgh Public Library created a pilot program of adult education which utilizes the highly-interactive, hands-on method of Montessori instruction.
In 2011, the Evansville Vanderburgh Public Library joined a consortium of organizations that is vested in furthering the economic vitality of Southern Indiana. With a public education graduation rate of only 84%, it was evident that a large amount of young adults were in need of a GED and the skills that would make them employable. Paramount to accomplishing this lofty goal is a seamless system for adults to gain basic skills and education. Although many schools, local colleges and organizations offer GED classes, there is a gap in the remediation of adults who were not successful in the traditional school setting. In addition, our local school system has ceased offering adult education or remedial education. After hosting several GED sessions, it was noted that many individuals were not yet to the level to be successful in studying for the GED. Traditional teaching methods were not effective with this audience. A group of leaders at our library were convinced that a different approach to instruction could help these individuals be successful in an accepting, non-demeaning way. Furthermore, the group felt the class would be appropriate not just for those needing to obtain basic skills, but also those who needed to hone and sharpen the skills they possess. Our goal was to develop their basic skills further to increase confidence and self-esteem, as well as their knowledge.
Key Elements of Innovation
To address the estimated 13,000 who are illiterate in our county, a plan was developed to create a pilot program which would utilize the interactive, hands-on methods of Montessori education. The goal of the program is to improve the literacy skills of the attendees, and for those individuals to be able to ultimately obtain a GED. In the fall of 2011, funding was secured for the pilot program through the EVPL Foundation and six other corporate and family foundations. This enabled the EVPL to purchase a full set of Montessori classroom materials and furniture to house the materials. Nearly two dozen staff members and volunteers were trained in the Montessori method of instruction. The project leader met with school officials, local agencies, the Department of Indiana Workforce Development, Vincennes University and other community outlets to obtain referrals for students. Montessori for Adults is an eight-week program, offered six times annually. The program offers three hours of instruction per week at no charge to attendees. Before the start of the program, the TABE test (Test for Adult Basic Education) is administered to potential participants. This measurement informs the instructor of the participant’s skill level so that instruction can be more personalized. The program utilizes specially designed manipulative materials, interactive instruction, peer support, as well as tablet technology for accessing Montessori learning applications. As students move through the instruction, they must demonstrate mastery of each skill before advancing to the next activity. The goal of the program is for participants to achieve one level gain (one grade level) at the conclusion of one year of instruction. This is measured by administering the TABE test once again to assess progress in skill mastery. Qualitative measurements such as surveys and interviews assess the program’s ability to affect change in the participant’s confidence and self-esteem.
The pilot program was kept small in order to best monitor and evaluate the instruction and results. Thirteen participants completed the six-week session, for a completion rate of 73%; whereas traditional tutoring methods only achieve an average completion rate of 30%. Since completion, three students have secured employment and one student is ready to take the GED test. However, this program seeks not only to increase tangible benefits, but also a change in the intangible – the participant’s confidence, esteem, and future outlook. With the intimacy of this small group, we had the privilege of observing a change in their confidence levels, comfort within the group, and self-esteem. Pete, a 54 year-old African American talked about how the inability to read has affected his life. “If you didn’t read, it was all –dummy, Pete can’t read. So you clam up. You become afraid. You don’t want to let nobody know who you really are because you’re gonna be laughed at. I really do feel that the school system failed me, but I don’t think this class will. I want to learn to read and write, just for me.” Lisa, a high-school graduate who hopes to enter nursing school, said, “This is more hands-on math. You play with blocks and you actually see the fractions and the cubic feet. I call it play, but it is a whole different concept on learning. It gave me more self-confidence and proved to me that I am actually smarter that I gave myself credit for.” The attendees also found a support system within the group - people to whom they could open up and allow themselves to be vulnerable. “It feels like family and friends.” “You can be who you really are.” “I came to say good-bye because this feels like my family.”