But with young children the question becomes more difficult. What work do we wish to make sure that each child does? If our schools can keep but half a day, is there time enough for every child to cover this work without group teaching at stated times? Is the prescription and restraint involved in such group teaching really enough to do the children any harm or to make our teaching less effective?
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Can we not give up prescription altogether for parts of the work and minimise it for others? The general question of individual liberty is thus reduced to a series of practical problems of adjustment. It is no longer a question of total liberty or no liberty at all, but a question of the practical mediation of these extremes.
When we consider, furthermore, that the teacher's skill and the attractiveness of her personality, the alluring power of the didactic apparatus and the ease with which it enables children to learn, to say nothing of a cheerful and pleasant room and the absence of set desks and seat, may all work together to prevent scheduled teaching in groups from becoming in the least an occasion for restraint, it is plain that in any given school there may be ample justification for abating the rigour of Dr. Montessori's principle of freedom. Every school must work out its own solution of the problem in the face of its particular conditions.
The adoption of sense-training would seem to be much less a matter for variable decision. A good deal of modern educational theory has been based on the belief that children are interested only in what has social value, social content, or "real use"; yet a day with any normal child will give ample evidence of the delight that children take in purely formal exercises. The sheer fascination of tucking cards under the edge of a rug will keep a baby happy until any ordinary supply of cards is exhausted; and the wholly sensory appeal of throwing stones into the water gives satisfaction enough to absorb for a long time the attention of older children—to say nothing of grown-ups.
The Montessori apparatus satisfies sense hunger when it is keen for new material, and it has besides a puzzle-interest which children eagerly respond to. Montessori subordinates the value of the concrete mental content her material supplies to its value in rendering the senses more acute; yet it is by no means certain that this content—purely formal as it is—does not also give the material much of its importance.
Indeed, the refinement of sensory discrimination may not in itself be particularly valuable. What Professor G. Whipple says on this point in his Manual of Mental and Physical Tests p. In general, some writers are convinced that keen discrimination is a prerequisite to keen intelligence, while others are equally convinced that intelligence is essentially conditioned by "higher" processes, and only remotely by sensory capacity—barring, of course, such diminution of capacity as to interfere seriously with the experiencing of sensations, as in partial deafness or partial loss of vision. The usual "theological explanations" of our sensory life fail to account for this discrepancy.
Again, the very fact of the existence of this surplus capacity seems to negative at the outset the notion that sensory capacity can be a conditioning factor in intelligence—with the qualification already noted. It is quite possible that the real pedagogical value of the Montessori apparatus is due to the fact that it keeps children happily engaged in the exercise of their senses and their fingers when they crave such exercise most and to the further fact that it teaches them without the least strain a good deal about forms and materials.
These values are not likely to be much affected by differing school conditions. In the use of the material for sense-training, English and American teachers may find profit in two general warnings. First, it should not be supposed that sense training alone will accomplish all that Dr. Montessori accomplishes through the whole range of her school activities.
To fill up most of a morning with sense-training is to give it except perhaps in the case of the youngest pupils undue importance. It is not even certain that the general use of the senses will be much affected by it, to say nothing of the loss of opportunity for larger physical and social activity.
Second, the isolation of the senses should be used with some care. To shut off sight is to take one step toward sleep, and the requirement that a child concentrate his attention, in this situation, on the sense perceptions he gets by other means than vision must not be maintained too long. No small strain is involved in mental action without the usual means of information and control. If it is put very briefly and without defense or prophecy, it is because it is made without dogmatism, simply in the hope that it will prove suggestive to some open-minded teacher who is willing to try out any scheme that promises well for her pupils.
The conditions supposed are those of the ordinary American public-school kindergarten, with a two-year programme beginning with children three and a half or four years old, a kindergarten with not too many pupils, with a competent kindergartner and assistant kindergartner, and with some help from training-school students. The first proposal is for the use of the Montessori material during the better part of the first year instead of the regular Froebelian material.
To the use of the Montessori devices—including the gymnastic apparatus—some of the time now devoted to pictures and stories should also be applied. It is not suggested that no Froebelian material should be used, but that the two systems be woven into each other, with a gradual transition from the free, individual use of the Montessori objects to the same sort of use of the large sizes of the Froebelian gifts, especially the second, third and fourth.
When the children seem to be ready for it, a certain amount of the more formal work with the gifts should be begun. In the second year the Froebelian gift work should predominate, without absolute exclusion of the Montessori exercises. In the latter part of the second year the Montessori exercises preparatory to writing should be introduced. Throughout the second year the full time for stories and picture work should be given to them, and in both years the morning circle and the games should be carried on as usual.
The luncheon period should of course remain the same. One part of Dr. This need not be confined to the Montessori apparatus. Children who have been trained to take out, use, and put away the Montessori objects until they are ready for the far richer variety of material in the Froebelian system, should be able to care for it also. Of course if there are children who can return in the afternoon, it would be very interesting to attempt the gardening, which both Froebel and Montessori recommend, and the Montessori vase-work.
For the possible scorn of those to whom all compromise is distasteful, the author of this Introduction seeks but one compensation—that any kindergartner who may happen to adopt this suggestion will let him study the results. As to the use of the Montessori system in the home, one or two remarks must suffice. In the first place, parents should not expect that the mere presence of the material in the nursery will be enough to work an educational miracle.
A Montessori directress does no common "teaching", but she is called upon for very skillful and very tiring effort. She must watch, assist, inspire, suggest, guide, explain, correct, inhibit. She is supposed, in addition, to contribute by her work to the upbuilding of a new science of pedagogy; but her educational efforts—and education is not an investigative and experimental effort, but a practical and constructive one—are enough to exhaust all her time, strength and ingenuity.
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And besides, it must not be forgotten that the material is by no means the most important feature of the Montessori programme. The best use of the Montessori system in the home will come through the reading of this book. If parents shall learn from Dr. Montessori something of the value of child life, of its need for activity, of its characteristic modes of expression, and of its possibilities, and shall apply this knowledge wisely, the work of the great Italian educator will be successful enough.
This Introduction cannot close without some discussion, however limited, of the important problems suggested by the Montessori method of teaching children to write and to read. We have in American schools admirable methods for the teaching of reading; by the Aldine method, for instance, children of fair ability read without difficulty ten or more readers in the first school year, and advance rapidly toward independent power.
Our instruction in writing, however, has never been particularly noteworthy. We have been trying recently to teach children to write a flowing hand by the "arm movement", without much formation of separate letters by the fingers, and our results seem to prove that the effort with children before the age of ten is not worth while. Sensible school officers are content to let children in the first four grades write largely by drawing the letters, and there has been a fairly general conviction that writing is not in any case especially important before the age of eight or nine.
In view of Dr.
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Montessori's success in teaching children of four and five to write with ease and skill, must we not revise our estimate of the value of writing and our procedure in teaching it? What changes may we profitably introduce in our teaching of reading? Because by clumsy methods children used to be kept at the task of learning the school arts to the undoubted detriment of their minds and bodies, certain writers have advocated the total exclusion of reading and writing from the early grades. Many parents refuse to send their children to school until they are eight, preferring to let them "run wild".
This attitude is well justified by school conditions in some places; but where the schools are good, it ignores not only the obvious advantages of school life quite aside from instruction in written language, but also the almost complete absence from strain afforded by modern methods. Now that the Montessori system adds a new and promising method to our resources, it is the more unreasonable: for as a fact normal children are eager to read and write at six, and have plenty of use for these accomplishments.
This does not mean, however, that reading and writing are so important for young children that they should be unduly emphasised. If we can teach them without strain, let us do so, and the more effectively the better; but let us remember, as Dr. Montessori does, that reading and writing should form but a subordinate part of the experience of a child and should minister in general to his other needs.
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With the best of methods the value of reading and writing before six is questionable. Our conscious life is bookish enough as it is, and it would seem on general grounds a safer policy to defer written language until the age of normal interest in it, and even then not to devote to it more time than an easy and gradual mastery demands. The child gains ready control over his pencil through exercises which have their own simple but absorbing interest; and if he does not learn to write with an "arm movement", we may be quite content with his ability to draw a legible and handsome script.
Then he learns the letters—their forms, their names, and how to make them—through exercises which have the very important technical characteristic of involving a thorough sensory analysis of the material to be mastered. Meumann has taught us of late the great value in all memory work of complete impression through prolonged and intensive analytical study. In the teaching of spelling, for instance, it is comparatively useless to devise schemes for remembering unless the original impressions are made strong and elaborate; and it is only by careful, varied, and detailed sense impression that such material as the alphabet can be thus impressed.
So effective is the Montessori scheme for impressing the letters—especially because of its novel use of the sense of touch—that the children learn how to make the whole alphabet before the abstract and formal character of the material leads to any diminution of interest or enthusiasm. Their initial curiosity over the characters they see their elders use is enough to carry them through. In Italian the next step is easy. The letters once learned, it is a simple matter to combine them into words, for Italian spelling is so nearly phonetic that it presents very little difficulty to any one who knows how to pronounce.
It is at just this point that the teaching of English reading by the Montessori method will find its greatest obstacle. Indeed, it is the unphonetic character of English spelling that has largely influenced us to give up the alphabet method of teaching children to read. We have found it more effective to teach children whole words, sentences, or rhymes by sight, adding to sense impressions the interest aroused by a wide range of associations, and then analysing the words thus acquired into their phonetic elements to give the children independent power in the acquisition of new words.
Our marked success with this method makes it by no means certain that it is "in the characteristic process of natural development" for children to build up written words from their elements—sounds and syllables. It would seem, on the contrary, as James concluded, that the mind works quite as naturally in the opposite direction—grasping wholes first, especially such as have a practical interest, and then working down to their formal elements.
In the teaching of spelling, of course, the wholes words are already known at sight—that is, the pupil recognises them easily in reading—and the process aims at impressing upon the child's mind the exact order of their constituent elements.
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