Differences in mathematics scores between students who receive traditional Montessori instruction and students who receive music enriched Montessori instruction

Harris, M. A. (2007). Differences in mathematics scores between students who receive traditional Montessori instruction and students who receive music enriched Montessori instruction. Journal for Learning through the Arts, 3(1).

Abstract:

This experimental study was designed to determine whether mathematics achievement varies between students who receive traditional Montessori instruction and students who receive music-enhanced Montessori instruction. (The Montessori Method is an individually-directed and activity-based learning method developed by Maria Montessori). The study’s sample was comprised of 200 students between three and five years of age who attended a Montessori school in Ontario, Canada. Students were randomly assigned within age groups to either the traditional control group or music-enhanced experimental group. Students in the experimental group received targeted music instruction three times per week for 30 minutes each session while the control group received traditional Montessori instruction. After six months, students’ math ability was assessed using the Test of Early Mathematics Ability – Third Addition (TEMA-3). Results indicated that students in the music-enhanced instruction group performed significantly higher on the test than did students in the traditional instruction group.

Key Findings:

On average, students in the experimental group scored significantly higher on the TEMA-3 than did students in the control group, indicating that enriched music instruction positively affects math ability. Across and within both groups, three year-olds achieved significantly higher scores on the TEMA-3 than did four or five year-olds. Three, four, and five year-olds in the experimental group performed significantly higher than their equivalent age group in the control group.

Significance of the Findings:

These findings suggest that music instruction for young children in a Montessori setting results in increased math achievement.

Methodology:

A two-group experimental post-test design was used in this study. The sample was comprised of 200 students between the ages of three and five from primarily middle to high socio-economic backgrounds who attended a Montessori school located in Ontario, Canada. All students’ families applied for the study and were accepted on a first come basis. Students were randomly assigned by age group to either the traditional (control) or music-enhanced (experimental) Montessori curriculum.

Students in the experimental group underwent six months of music instruction that included three 30 minute sessions each week. The music curriculum was developed at the school and addressed pitch, dynamics, duration, timbre, and form as well as the development of listening, vocal, and motor skills. Students in the control group, meanwhile, received traditional Montessori instruction with no enhanced music curriculum, although some music was experienced as part of Montessori’s standard cultural component.

After six months, students were individually assessed using the Test of Early Mathematics Ability (TEMA-3), a standardized math test with high reliability that covers the topics of relative magnitude, counting, calculation, number conventions, and number facts. Factor analysis was used to compare students’ scores to determine if music instruction and/or age affected math ability.

Limitations of the Research:

Interpretation of these findings is limited by the lack of clear information on group protocol similarities and differences. It is not clear in the write-up of the study if both groups received the same amount of instructional time or if the experimental group received an additional 90 minutes each week in order to receive targeted music instruction. If the latter is the case, it is impossible to know if music instruction or simply the number of instructional minutes affected scores. Also, it is noted that the control group received some exposure to music, as such exposure is part of traditional Montessori instruction; however, the amount, quality, etc. of the exposure are not given. Such a lack of information is problematic as it makes it difficult to know the extent to which students’ scores in the control group were also affected by music instruction.

The generalizations that can be drawn from this study are also limited by the unique Montessori school setting and curriculum used and the high socio-economic status of most participants. It is possible that different results would be seen if a larger variety of school types, instructional methods, and/or student populations were considered.

Questions to Guide New Research:

New research might seek to replicate the findings from this study with a variety of schools, curricula, and student populations in order to determine whether the effects found herein hold for a more representative sample of students. Also, future research might consider the effect that different amounts of music instruction have on math outcomes and the length of time after the exposure to music instruction that positive outcomes for math continue to be seen in order to determine how much and for how long music instruction is needed to see a boost in math achievement.