Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Chapter 24: Mistakes and Their Correction

I am taking a risk here and posting about a chapter completely out of order. I hope no one is upset by this, our reading group seems to have stalled. I thought perhaps if I posted about a chapter that most of us might be really interested in and relates specifically to problems in our classrooms that we might have some discussion. It's a little easier to write about how the book affected something you do than to just start talking about the book in general.

This weekend I blogged at What DID We Do All Day about the things I don't know and my search for the answers. One of the important aspects of teaching using the Montessori method that I really need a lot of help with is correcting mistakes. I am really looking for someone to tell me what it is I need to read or study. Montessori teachers have to be learning this somewhere, right? Anyone know where? I posted the other day looking for some recommendations but suggestions for actual reading material didn't materialize. I did get some friendly advice which was great. Thank you. I'm really hoping that this isn't a word-of-mouth only topic. If it is, I really hope that some of the wonderful trained Montessorians that I read and correspond with on line will accept the challenge to write a landmark piece on it.

All of this rooting around in my Montessori library did unearth chapter 24, "Mistakes and Their Correction," in The Absorbent Mind. Promising title, right? Unfortunately it didn't really address what I was looking for. There was a lot about how the materials are self-correcting and why. There was a lot about the teacher not calling the students names or fastening "asses' ears" to stupid children. There wasn't much about specifically what the teacher might do or say when when the child makes an error and does not correct themselves (such as using the wrong stroke directions in the sand tray). I think I need a source with more "modelling."

However, there were some words that seemed to get to the crux of my problem that I will share.

...there is one thing she [the teacher] must never do and that is, to interfere by praising a child's work, or punishing him if it is wrong, or even by correcting his mistakes [my emphasis]. [244]

This is reinforced by her statement later:

As soon as concentration has begun, act as if the child does not exist. [280]

Of course I've read this about Montessori before, in many places in many words. It is good to see it again baldly stated to act as if they do not exist, even while they are making mistakes. This is easy for me to do most of the time. For example, when Me Too is working with the cylinder blocks and has a cylinder in the wrong hole I know that he will get to the end and work out the problem. It is a little harder when when Me Too is working on pouring beans and keeps pouring them all over because he is forgetting to aim the spout over the center of the container. After a few times I step in and say something like "if you aim the spout in the middle it won't spill." I am definitely not "acting as if the child doesn't exist" in that situation. It is even more unclear what to do when the mistakes are happening during an activity that you are doing together, such as learning to trace sandpaper letters in the right direction and then replicate those steps in the salt tray. I struggle with knowing how much to say. After three attempts silent demonstrations in which I am sure he is engaged, paying attention, and wants to do it correctly and is still unsuccessful the only thing I know to do is to "tell" him what he can do to make it right.

However, I also found the following words in chapter 24:

So, what science and practical life both need must surely be accepted from the start as necessary in education. This is the possibility of "recognizing one's own mistakes." We must provide this as well as instruction and materials on which to work. the power to make progress comes in large measure from having freedom and an assured path along which to go; but to this must also be added some way of knowing if, and when, we have left the path. [248]

The chapter goes on, again, to discuss how the apparatus is always designed to have control of error. In fact, the first few times I read this chapter the above sentences were completely drowned out by the material that came after it. However, at some point my eyes landed on that section alone, and I found them to be thought provoking. The sources I have always used to model my presentations of materials on have been concentrating on three things: analyzing movements, perfection in presentation, and minimal words. Using the "control of error" part always has seemed like an afterthought. For example, in the building of the brown stair using the smallest prism to check the work has seemed like an "extension" of the activity you may do later. There is also, I think, a natural hesitance in pointing out the control of error in some activities (such as the colored dots underneath smelling bottles) in fear that you might encourage them to "cheat" (use the dots to match the bottles instead of the scent).

For the past week I have been thinking "what would happen if I treat the control of error as equal in importance to the rest of my presentation?" If my boys have truly been shown how to check their work and I am therefore confident that they know how to check it can I combine that with taking a step further back and be steadfast in acting as if the child does not exist? I was reminded of a moment about two weeks ago when Kal-El returned the brown stair to the shelf and the prisms were out of order. I stepped in, pointed to one of the out-of-place prisms and asked "is that where that goes?" He shook his head and fixed it. I repeated my question for the next one, and the next one. When he was done Kal-El took the smallest prism and used it to check that the size difference from prism to prism was the same size as that smallest prism. If I had not stepped in, would he have corrected his errors on his own?

So, I tried it this week. We've done most of our work outside the classroom due to some weatherizing and minor construction going on in the school room. Yesterday, Me Too was working with his stacking/nesting cups. He has had them out for a year and has never nested them correctly. My husband and I were talking in the kitchen and Me Too brought them in and was working with them on the kitchen floor. I watched him (out of the corner of my eye) immediately make three mistakes in a row in nesting the cups. Usually he asks for help right away or I step in and do a mini-presentation. But this time I was talking to my husband and decided not to step in. We've been working with the boys on not interrupting and it must be working because Me Too didn't ask for help. I forgot all about him in the course of our concentration and when we were done talking and I was doing dishes I saw Me Too pick up a set of perfectly nested cups to return them to the shelf in his room. I asked my husband, "did you help him with that?" He hadn't. We left him alone and the control of error did take care of it.

I left Kal-El alone when he was having trouble zipping his jeans. I usually step in and straighten things out (narrating as I do) when they are all tangled. This time I heard him mumble the steps to fixing the potential problems to himself and he did it. Every activity that had a clear control of error took care of itself probably 75% of the time.

This still leaves me with burning questions. What do I do the 25% of the time when the boys are being lazy and intentionally do not check their work? Do I ignore it? What about the works that do not have a control of error or the control of error does not work? For example, theMontessori AMI Primary Guide states that the control of error in sandpaper letters is the "In the sandpaper. If the child's fingers slip away from the sandpaper he notices the different feeling by the surface." This control of error does not correct strokes done in the wrong order or wrong direction.

Can anyone else find anything useful in this chapter? Any thoughts on mistakes and their correction? Have you tried any of this at home? Other ideas?

Monday, June 15, 2009


Hi all

I get the feeling that everyone is having the same kind of trouble that I am getting through this book with thoughts written down...
Please forgive my tardiness - I am about to start a new job and we are moving house. I'll read and post where I can - but I probably will need lots of extra time...

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Education for Life

It was difficult for me to get through this terribly short chapter. Montessori emphasizes the importance of all of society in embracing her definition of education as the creation of man, and, as such, being integral to life, rather than what is found in "academia."

In defining education as the building up of the whole person in this way, she encompasses traditional education along with quite a bit of idealism. To me, it sounds wonderful, but I can hardly see how it can be implemented. Montessori personifies "civilization" and "education" and describes them in active terms: "civilization must ..." and "education should ..." When she writes, "Fathers and mothers must shoulder their responsibilities" I am on board: this is difficult, but within my mental grasp, but as she continues with "and if the home fails for lack of means, then it is required of society not only to give the needed instruction but also the support necessary for bringing up the children," I am flummoxed. I cannot even imagine how this would happen, since I am reading "society" as "government." I would not be ready and willing to allow "people who know better" to necessarily govern my family's home life. So this is one problem I do not know how to mentally digest.

Another problem I have is the description of the child at birth: "he is nothing—psychologically speaking. ... he is incapable of coordinated movement." What I have learned from my midwife in the past year is that babies are astonishingly coordinated, and can crawl up the mother's stomach and latch onto her breast without assistance (assuming a healthy, natural birth). This is a minor problem, and I can't help but think how fascinated Montessori herself would be to find out what modern science has discovered about children in the past century.

The main thing which I noticed which was not mentioned in this chapter is the idea that we already know what man should be, and the only question is how to best support the child, in our role as collaborators, to reach the "end" of the journey, which she describes as "a single center."

This is difficult for me: combining the ideal and the practical. I understand the ideal (or pretend I do), but I don't know how to make it even touch the practical, even occasionally. I am feeling more Erma Bombeck than Maria Montessori in my "prepared environment."

What are your thoughts?

Wednesday, May 13, 2009


Oh, and I should probably mention I'm Jess from Australia. I have a 21mth old daughter through whom I have discovered the joys of Montessori. We attend a Montessori playgroup and implement Montessori type things as best we can at home. Ive become addicted and have just taken up a one year Montessori online course (non accredited) with the view to go back to uni next year and study teaching. Looking forward to lots of juicy discussions. Cheers.



Chaper 1 - post 2

Sorry to have to do this folks, but after spending large amounts of time playing around to try and post a comment on this site and losing a long post (I'm sure it was highly intelligent, witty and insightful....well, maybe it was just long!) I'm going to have to do a new post. I cant leave comments on this format, despite being logged in. I have this problem with other blogs using similar format, and I know I'm not alone. so frustrating, but don't know how to change it.

Anyway, not wanting to be left out, and having finally got the book from the Directress at our Playgroup, I thought Id do a new post. Hope I dont disrupt the flow too much.

My reflections:
I love how MM uses the term "Children's House". It puts children at the centre of learning and suggests that they are the directors of this learning, rather than it being imposed upon them.

I really enjoyed reading about the context in which MM did her thinking and work. I had heard it was based in peace education, but was not sure now. I'm starting to get a better understanding of this, and think it will expand as I read.

I too loved the quote that magda pointed out. I also resonated with the one before that stated education is not attained from 'listening to words, but virtue of experience in which the child acts on his environment'. And I will be taking this to heart as I do demonstrations with her this week.

I had more to say, but one always falls flat with a repeat post....and its time for bed.

Looking forward to the next chapter.


Thursday, May 7, 2009

The Child's Part in World Reconstruction

"If education were to be conceived along the lines of transmitting knowledge, the problem would remain without solution for ever."

Maria Montessori (MM) is trying to draw a point of difference here. Her method is not about "what" children learn, but focuses on the "how", "why", and "where".

"Education must take a different path..."

This path is set out for us:

We must have "consideration of personality" - Does this mean acknowledging that children have an inherent personality that they are born with? And that every child has their own unique temperament?

We must intent to "help the development of the psychic powers inherent in the individual" - I think this means that we have to consciously believe that each of our children is in possession of their own unique set of "powers" that they will use to construct their "psychic" or inner self.

"This cannot be attained by teaching" - We need to rethink the role we play as adults in the development of the children around us. Our self-importance as our children's teachers, sometimes clouds their ability to hear their inner guide. We need to find an alternative role - as the child's protector, leaving them free to grow themselves within a safe, secure and supportive environment.

We need to provide "an environment specially prepared for the children"

We need to prepare this environment in such a way that the children can "absorb whatever culture is spread in the environment without any one teaching them"

"All children have this power of absorbing culture" - this means ALL children - sometimes I lose faith that my child has this power. I interfere in the process and try to direct his interests towards what I choose for him, or I get bored when he stays with something for a long period to the exclusion of everything else. I forget that he has this amazing power, and I believe that I know better. Then I wonder why he avoids this work - I have clouded his guide.

MM gives a clear definition of "education":
It is a "natural process"
It is "spontaneously carried out"
It can only be acquired "by experiences upon the environment"

I question myself now - is this the definition of education for me? Yes, I believe it is.
And then I ask - how can I help the other adults in my child's life to believe this too?

Mmmm, only chapter one and already plenty of food for thought!

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Reading Schedule for The Absorbent Mind

I have completed the reading schedule for The Absorbent Mind. Finally, it is time to get started!

Every Monday and Thursday from now until June 29th we will (hopefully) have completed a reading and can post on it over the next few days. I have tried to keep the number of pages per reading to under twenty, though I stretched it occasionally to include chapters of similar topic, and at other times the readings are very short when I thought the chapter was particularly dense. You'll find that we start out fairly slowly and then pick up the pace a bit as we go along.

If, at any time, you feel that we are going too fast, please e-mail me and we can edit this schedule. Should you happen to finish a chapter/reading earlier than the planned date, don't feel that you need to wait to post. Write while the thoughts are still in your head. On the other hand, when you've fallen a bit behind, don't think that anyone will be bothered if you begin to re-visit earlier chapters with new comments.

Please note that the last two readings are not on the regularly scheduled format. I've skipped July 2nd and July 6th due to significant holidays (Canada Day on July 1st, my birthday on July 2nd, and the Fourth of July on July 4th... of course). Therefore we resume on July 9th (for which we have a longer reading, just to give you the heads up) and finish on July 13th.

If you have any confusion or questions, just let me know! Happy Reading!







The Child's part in World Reconstruction



Education for Life



The Periods of Growth




The New Path

The Miracle of Creation



Embryology and Behaviour



The Spiritual Embryo



The Child's Conquest of Independence




The First Days of Life




Some Thoughts on Language

How Language Calls to the Child




The Effect of Obstacles on Development

The Importance of Movement in General Development




Intelligence and the Hand

Development and Imitation



From Unconscious Creator to Conscious Worker



Further Elaboration Through Culture and Imagination





Character and Its Defects in Childhood

The Child's Contribution to Society – Normalization

Character Building is the Child's Own Achievement



Children's Possessiveness and its Transformations




Social Development

Cohesion in the Social Unit






Mistakes and Their Correction

The Three Levels of Obedience

Discipline and the Teacher




The Teacher's Preparation

Love and Its Source – the Child

Monday, May 4, 2009

Comments - Open or Closed???

A question has come up - should we or shouldn't we allow comments by people who are not authors/members of this blog? By not allowing them, we keep the discussion to ourselves, i.e. those who are currently reading the book. And we won't have some yahoo coming along and making inappropriate comments.

On the other hand, by allowing comments from others, we may find more people who would be interested in joining. We may find that others who have studied educational philosophy and/or Montessori happen to "stumble" upon this blog and have valuable information/opinions to add.

There is the in-between option of me having to approve of each individual comment (as I do on my other blog), but that would mean that your comments wouldn't appear instantly, and if I'm away from the computer for a few days, stuff could slow down significantly. This is the option I prefer the least, but we could go that way if you want.

Let me know what you think!