Philosophy Part 2

Chapter 2 The Impact of Movement on Learning and Cognition (summary from Montessori: The Science Behind the Genius by Angeline Lillard)

One of the greatest mistakes of our day is to think of movement by itself, as something apart from the higher functions…Mental development must be connected with movement and be dependent on it.  It is vital that educational theory and practice should become informed by this idea  – Maria Montessori

Movement and learning are perpetually entwined in Montessori education.  In traditional schooling, bodily movement is limited and consists largely of reading and writing numbers and letters that abstractly represent the concepts being learned.  This lack of movement fits the model of the child being a vessel, to take in new information and commit it to memory.  Montessori saw the stationary child as problematic, because she believed that movement and thought are closely tied.  Movement is therefore integral to the educational program she developed.  Recent psychological research and theorizing support Dr. Montessori`s idea.

Movement is deeply implicated in Montessori education.  For instance, in learning to write, a child starts with manipulating knobbed cylinders, then traces shapes with his fingers, moving on to trace leaf shapes with a wooden stick.  He traces sandpaper letters, feeling the shapes of the letters themselves, he then learns to use the metal insets and trace them with a pencil and arranges wooden alphabet letters.  “In order to develop his mind a child must have objects in his environment which he can hear and see.  Since he must develop himself through his movements, through the work of his hands, he has need of objects with which he can work that provide motivation for his activity“ Maria Montessori

There is abundant research showing that movement and cognition are closely intertwined (many of these studies are discussed in the book).  People represent spaces and objects more accurately, make judgements faster and more accurately, remember information better, and show superior social cognition when their movements are aligned with what they are thinking about or learning.


A little bit of Philosophy

I`ve been reading a great book.  Montessori: The Science Behind the Genius by Angeline Stoll Lillard.  I`m going to do a series of posts on the chapters of this book as I finish them.

Chapter 1: An Answer to the Crisis in Education.

In this chapter she discusses the two fundamental cornerstone of American schooling today which were placed at the turn of the 20th century.  The school as a factory and the child as a blank slate.  Today we know that these ideas are incorrect but they continue to have a profound impact on how we run schools.  Due to this flawed foundation, traditinal schools have not fared well.  The solutions Americans have devised to fix the problems in our schools repeatedly fail because they do not change these fundamental models.  The educational system should instead draw on scientific study of how children learn.  Early in the 20th century, Dr. Maria Montessori envisioned a radically different approach to education, grounded in close and insightful observations of children.  Modern research suggests that the Montessori system is much more suited to how children learn and develop.

Motessori, who held a degree in both engineering and medicine, was interested in helping mentally retarded children.  She was given a group of children to work with and she developed her Sensorial Materials.  The world marveled when a number of these children passed state educational exams designed for normal children.  However, Dr Montessori marveled at the fact that normal children were not doing better on such tests, given their obvious advantages.  This led her to turn her attention to studying how normal children develop in order to discover how humans could reach their potential more fully than they did in traditional schools. Montessori was given the charge of 50-60 children aged 3-6, a room and a teacher and she set about to begin her experiment.  By testing new approaches and materials and noting children`s reactions, over the next 50 years she developed a radically different system of education.  She left a legacy of a broad, field-tested curriculum covering all the major subject areas for children ages 3-12.  This system was developed by trial and error over her lifetime, with children from all around the world.

A Portrait of a Montessori Classroom

A Montessori classroom is usually a large, open space with low shelves and child sized furniture.  The classroom is arranged into areas with materials for working on a particular subject area.  The classroom is kept neat and orderly, with every material having it`s place on a shelf.  Respect for the needs of others is highly valued.  Children are free to work  where ever they choose, at a table, on a mat, in groups or alone.  Lessons are usually given to individual children as they are ready for them.  The materials are designed to attract the children`s interest and has a primary purpose and often a secondary.  Children must use the materials correctly in order to learn the lesson it is designed to impart therefore children are expect to use the material how they were shown to.  There are no tests, the teachers observe the children at work and repeat lessons if a child is not using a material correctly.  New lessons are given when a child appears to have mastered a material and is ready for the next material in the sequence.

Eight Principles of Montessori Education

1) Movement and cognition are closely entwined, and movement can enhance thinking and learning.

2) Learning and well-being are improved when people have a sense of control over their lives.

3) People learn better when they are interested in what they are learning.

4) Tying extrinsic rewards to an activity negatively impacts motivation to engage in that activity when the reward is withdrawn.

5) Collaborative arrangements can be very conducive to learning.

6) Learning situated in meaningful contexts is often deeper and richer than learning in abstract contexts.

7) Particular forms of adult interaction are associated with more optimal child outcomes.

8) Order in the environment is beneficial to children.