LAWRENCE — The University of Kansas Achievement & Assessment Institute (AAI) Center for Montessori for Research (CMR) will become the Center for Learner Agency Research and Action (CLARA). The name change highlights the center’s embrace of learner agency in diverse educational environments.
Over the years, CMR recognized the vast potential of Montessori principles and their application in various educational contexts beyond traditional Montessori classrooms. With the name Center for Montessori Research, it wasn’t always clear to outside organizations that the center had a broader scope, said Angela Murray, the center's director.
“We've always had an interest in Montessori as it applies more broadly to education, not exclusively Montessori as it applies within Montessori schools," Murray said. "Montessori education has so many connections to so many different aspects of education.”
The center's work has always exhibited a broad curiosity in this space, said Neal Kingston, AAI director and University Distinguished Professor.
"This name change should open up new opportunities for the center to continue its valuable work,” he said.
Since the center's formation in spring 2018, the center has contributed to Montessori scholarship and study. Notable contributions include editing a first-of-its-kind anthology, a large domain-specific bibliographic database and several journal articles.
A recently published journal article co-authored by Murray provides an example of the expanded scope the name change is intended to convey. In “Implementing the Montessori approach in an undergraduate marketing course,” published by the journal Frontiers In Education, Murray and her co-authors examined how Montessori pedagogy can be drawn upon in higher education scenarios.
Murray and her team are working on a journal article that examines how Montessori has been adopted and adapted in places outside of traditional Montessori classrooms. She also cites the Montessori on Wheels program, which involves a mobile unit outfitted with Montessori materials visiting broader communities. This example connects with an important part of Murray and her center’s research efforts — equity within alternative pedagogies like Montessori.
“We've got issues of equity, of access, of racial justice, of socioeconomic justice. In lower resourced districts or schools in rural communities, they don't often have access to some of these alternative pedagogies, which are really designed to empower learners to take control of their learning and benefit from having that sense of their own power to craft their own futures.”
Montessori will remain a focus of the newly-named center, but it will be situated among other approaches and contexts. CLARA will also examine principles and elements of Waldorf and Reggio Emilia in its work, among others — approaches that are, as Murray said, not just learner-centered but also focused on learner agency.
“Similar to Angela, I believe that alternative pedagogies (like Montessori) have much to offer the broader educational landscape,” said Jade Caines Lee, assistant research professor with CLARA and AAI. “Our work has always been about centering students in order for them to be active decision-makers in all aspects of their educational journeys. CLARA provides a vehicle for us to continue doing this work in a broader, more inclusive way.”
Lee led the Strengthening Opportunities for underrepresented students in Assessment & Research (SOAR) Program, which successfully served two cohorts of Black, Latinx and Indigenous undergraduate students by providing assessment-related summer internships and professional development training. Under CLARA, this work will continue with the center team pursuing additional initiatives of a similar spirit.
“I am excited to explore the ways in which equity, learner agency and assessment intersect from both a researcher and practitioner-oriented lens," Lee said. "More specifically, I am looking forward to developing, implementing, researching and evaluating programs that empower students of diverse backgrounds to be agents of change within the assessment community."
The CLARA research team, Murray said, has explored a number of different applications of alternative pedagogies, including out-of-school programs, rural access, professional development and more.
“Everything comes from an evidence-based orientation, a researcher’s eye," she said. "In terms of any pilots we develop, it will be important to gather data and assess so that we can see if they are effective in terms of outcomes, because that’s what matters. We want not just academic outcomes, we want enthusiastic learners, we want confident learners, we want curious learners.”
About Achievement & Assessment Institute at KU: The Achievement & Assessment Institute (AAI) is one of 12 designated research institutes at the University of Kansas. AAI and its centers partner with numerous agencies to improve the lives of children and adults through academics, employment, career advancement and building healthy environments, as well as to enhance the capacity of organizations that help children, adults and communities succeed.