The primary difference between the Montessori and traditional classroom is that the Montessori classroom is organized according to a totally different methodology of education.
In traditional classrooms, students are seated in rows of chairs facing a blackboard. This organization is based on the assumption that the teacher is the ultimate source of knowledge that must me transmitted to the student.
In the Montessori classroom, the teacher is viewed as a guide to discovery of knowledge. The Montessori teacher provides materials and activities to the student in order to guide or direct them to discover knowledge. Therefore, at any given time, a visitor to a Montessori classroom will typically see students engaged in multiple tasks with minimal teacher direction. Teacher presentations are limited in number and time.
Since the role of the teacher in the classroom is different, the classroom functions differently. In the Montessori classroom, the teachers serve as guides who assist students who come to them for help. However, also unlike traditional classrooms, peer tutoring is an essential part of classroom life. This becomes equally important in the multi-age Montessori classroom.
In the multi-age classroom where students of different abilities are working at their own pace, the act of peer-tutoring becomes an essential part of the environment. Through peer-tutoring, the student reinforces concepts that they have learned. In addition, they learn social responsibility. Two of the most important aspects of Montessori education are individual and social responsibility.
Maria Montessori knew that individual and social responsibility cannot be taught. They must be developed through experience. Therefore, the Montessori classroom environment requires that these important aspects of the child's character be developed, always under the guidance and direction of the teacher. When a visitor to a Montessori classroom sees children moving about freely, they are in fact learning responsibility through "movement with purpose".