The purpose of this study was to investigate young children’s prosocial behaviour development in a Montessori classroom context. A longitudinal, single-case study design was employed, using qualitative methods to provide an in-depth understanding of the context and the participants’ experiences. Using naturalistic observations, a group of children were observed for their two pre-kindergarten and one kindergarten years in a multiage classroom. A traditional Montessori primary classroom was selected for the program criteria of a larger class size and a small teacher-to-student ratio. Results demonstrated that the smaller teacher-to-student ratio contributed to the available opportunities and the perceived need for students to enact prosocial behaviour, particularly in helping each other with curricular materials. The teachers modeling concentration and precision while demonstrating use of the Montessori curricular materials led to students reproducing this activity, establishing a classroom work ethos that grew along with students’ increased mastery of material work. The students also reproduced prosocial actions modeled by the teachers, becoming integral and effective contributors to classroom management. I explain the relationship between the children’s increasing curricular mastery and their prosocial activity using a community of practice model. In this model, the students’ progress is explained by their shifting membership and legitimate teaching experiences within their community of practice. These findings have implications for the social value of a well-planned and precisely delivered curriculum for pre-kindergarten and kindergarten aged students in a Montessori multiage classroom. Previously reported social and academic drawbacks of multiage classrooms were not found in this classroom. Additional practical and theoretical implications are discussed.
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Thesis advisor: MacDonald, Margaret
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