Sunday, April 15, 2007

How Not to Teach

This is a delightfully wry quote from Maria Montessori herself in her book The Montessori Method.

"Let us suppose, for example, that the teacher wishes to teach to a child the two colours, red and blue. She desires to attract the attention of the child to the object. She says, therefore, "Look at this." Then, in order to teach the colours, she says, showing him the red, "This is red," raising her voice a little and pronouncing the word "red" slowly and clearly; then showing him the other colour, "This is blue." In order to make sure that the child has understood, she says to him, "Give me the red,"–"Give me the blue." Let us suppose that the child in following this last direction makes a mistake. The teacher does not repeat and does not insist; she smiles, gives the child a friendly caress and takes away the colours.”

“... the truth is that not everyone knows how to do this simple thing (to give a lesson with such simplicity). To measure one's own activity, to make it conform to these standards of clearness, brevity and truth, is practically a very difficult matter. Especially is this true of teachers prepared by the old-time methods, who have learned to labour to deluge the child with useless, and often, false words. For example, a teacher who had taught in the public schools often reverted to collectivity. Now in giving a collective lesson much importance is necessarily given to the simple thing which is to be taught, and it is necessary to oblige all the children to follow the teacher's explanation, when perhaps not all of them are disposed to give their attention to the particular lesson in hand. The teacher has perhaps commenced her lesson in this way: "Children, see if you can guess what I have in my hand!" She knows that the children cannot guess, and she therefore attracts their attention by means of a falsehood. Then she probably says, "Children, look out at the sky. Have you ever looked at it before? Have you never noticed it at night when it is all shining with stars? No! Look at my apron. Do you know what colour it is? Doesn't it seem to you the same colour as the sky? Very well then, look at this colour I have in my hand. It is the same colour as the sky and my apron. It is blue. Now look around you a little and see if you can find some thing in the room which is blue. And do you know what colour cherries are, and the colour of the burning coals in the fireplace, etc., etc."

Now in the mind of the child after he has made the useless effort of trying to guess there revolves a confused mass of ideas,–the sky, the apron, the cherries, etc. It will be difficult for him to extract from all this confusion the [Page 111] idea which it was the scope of the lesson to make clear to him; namely, the recognition of the two colours, blue and red. Such a work of selection is almost impossible for the mind of a child who is not yet able to follow a long discourse."

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