Fostering prosocial behaviors in urban elementary schools: A closer look at the Montessori approach

Caitlin Wood Sklar, University of Pennsylvania


Montessori education emphasizes the development of prosocial skills, which are correlated with positive educational and behavioral outcomes in both middle-class and low-income school environments. Two recent studies document the effectiveness of the Montessori approach in this area. Historically, the Montessori method, developed in Italy in 1906, became widespread in American independent schools in the 1950s. With the advent of charter school legislation, the number of public Montessori schools serving lower income children has been increasing over the last decade. The purpose of this study was: (a) to observe and describe how Montessori teachers foster prosocial skills, and (b) to explore whether and how this differs in public and private Montessori schools serving students of different backgrounds/SES. Five mixed-age (first–third grade) Montessori classrooms (two private, three public) were observed and videotaped on two occasions between December 2006 and February 2007. An observation tool developed for non-Montessori classrooms was used to record teacher behaviors linked to prosocial skills development. Similar teacher strategies to promote prosocial skills were recorded in both the public and private schools. These similarities were apparent despite vastly different student and school characteristics. A number of teacher strategies typically associated with the promotion of prosocial skills which were emphasized in the observation tool were not observed in either school. The findings of this study raise questions about the use of observation tools outside of the context in which they were developed. This finding may also be attributed to the timing of the observations (in winter), as the teacher behaviors are more likely to be exhibited during the first few months of school. Interviews with teachers and principals also revealed different leadership needs of a start-up school as opposed to an established school.

Subject Area

Elementary education|Educational psychology

Recommended Citation

Wood Sklar, Caitlin, "Fostering prosocial behaviors in urban elementary schools: A closer look at the Montessori approach" (2007). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI3270869.