So much of modern debate about education focuses on WHAT? Policy-makers are fixated on prescribing curriculum content. Subject matter is key, and refining ways of measuring how much of it has been learnt seem to over-ride everything else. But it is actually HOW? that needs to be the driving force behind education. If true account was taken of all the different ways individuals learn, and if the main focus of education became to support everyone in learning how to learn, our education system would be hugely more effective. All educational activity should be geared to enabling each individual learner to develop successive levels of learning skill and ability so as to realise their fullest learning potential. Very small children are unconsciously driven to learn, and mostly do so in spite of the benign but ineffective involvement of adults. As Montessori observed almost a century ago, ‘[The child] has the power to teach himself.’1 And we now know, thanks to recent advances in understanding the workings of the brain, that her insistence on movement as the driver of learning was spot on.
As far as adult learners are concerned, though, many remain stuck in their learning at the point where their education failed to move them on, even though they are well able to progress. If, for example, the education system in which you were raised was focused always on getting the right answer, and in reproducing the right answer in an exam, your curiosity was probably discouraged, your enthusiasm for learning would have been diminished, and as a learner you may now be stuck, always worried that you won’t remember the facts, and intimidated by the notion that any ideas you might have yourself can never be as insightful or as relevant as those of other people.
Montessori’s comment that we should ‘cultivate a friendly feeling towards error’2 is truly perceptive. She understood that when we make a mistake, and recognise it as such ourselves, if we are motivated and supported to sort out what went wrong, we move on in our learning. Fired by this notion she went on to develop her didactic or ‘teaching’ materials. These are not materials intended to be used by teachers to teach, but rather to be presented in the right way to children so that the children can learn from them by themselves. Being self-empowered, and engaged in a process of self-directed learning is essential if they are to develop top level learning skills. Resources which point out where the challenge they present has not yet been met, and which invite the learner to repeat until they’ve mastered it, are a very important element for someone engaging in the life-long process of learning how to learn. And if you are one of our students, we hope you’re aware that the Montessori Partnership is committed to supporting you on your personal learning journey by working with you to enhance your learning skills. We’re now turning our attention towards ensuring that all our students know how to make the best use of the feedback their tutors are giving them. Look out for new study skills support materials in your membership area!
1 Maria Montessori, The Absorbent Mind, Montessori Pierson Publishing, Amsterdam 2007, p. 223.
2. Ibid, p. 3.