Research studies have shown that high skill, high challenge, motivation, and intrinsic motivation (all qualities found to be highest in Montessori students) predict superior talent development in adolescent students.

Montessori practitioners and parents have long recognized the important but intangible benefits of a child's Montessori experience. Researcher Kevin Rathunde published groundbreaking research results that for the first time verify these benefits through scientific and statistical research. 

Background and Study Design

Dr. Rathunde is an Associate Professor at the University of Utah. His research focuses on adolescent development in the family and the role of interest in education and lifelong learning. He is not a member of the Montessori community. 

Dr. Rathunde studied five Montessori schools that included 150 students in the 6th and 8th grades. He compared 150 6th and 8th grade Montessori students to 160 6th and 8th grade students from traditional middle schools. Both groups were “matched” in terms of parent education, ethnicity, parental employment, socioeconomic family resources, parental involvement, number of siblings, intact homes, and similar grades. 

The data collection included a method called the Experience Sampling Method. The students were given programmed watches that signaled them approximately 8 times a day between the hours of 7:30 am and 10:30 pm for 7 consecutive days. When the watches beeped, the students took out response forms and answered questions that measured the following variables: 

  • affect (general mood or happiness); 
  • potency (energy level or excitement); 
  • salience (feelings of importance); 
  • intrinsic motivation (sense of enjoyment and interest); 
  • flow (optimal level of challenge and skill); and 
  • undivided interest (enjoyment and importance come together). 


The statistical analysis revealed that there were strong differences between the Montessori and traditional students. The differences included: 

  1. Montessori students reported a significantly better quality of experience in academic work than the traditional students, 
  2. Montessori students appeared to feel more active, strong, excited, happy, relaxed, sociable, and proud while engaged in academic work, 
  3. Montessori students enjoyed themselves more, they were more interested in what they were doing, and they wanted to be doing academic work more than the traditional students, 
  4. Montessori students reported significantly higher percentages of undivided interest, higher motivation and higher levels of importance with regard to school work, 
  5. Montessori students reported more conditions where the challenges and skills used while doing academic work were above average. 

Why are these results important?

  • First, the results address a problem of traditional middle school where a strong focus on performance goals undermines importance of intrinsic motivation; whereas in Montessori education, the developmental and psychological needs of the adolescent are emphasized and valued. Thus, Montessori middle school students are more engaged in the educational process, which results in higher levels of achievement. 
  • Other research studies have shown that high skill, high challenge, motivation, and intrinsic motivation (all qualities found to be highest in the Montessori students) predict superior talent development in adolescent students. 
  • Educational research confirms that the high levels of interest and intrinsic motivation – evident in the Montessori students of this study – result in superior student achievement. 

Source: Rathunde, Kevin (2003): A Comparison of Montessori and Traditional Middle Schools: Motivation, Quality of Experience, and Social Context; NAMTA Journal, volume 28, number 3.