Last night, I attended a brilliant talk given by Dr. Steven J Hughes last night at the Maria Montessori Institute AMI
where he argued that the most up-to-date science is showing that "child-centred learning" is much more effective than more "instructive" teaching. Hughes is an is assistant Professor of Pediatrics and Neurology at the University of Minnesota Medical School and an extreme articulate, persuasive advocate for the Montessori method, backing up its pedagogy with hard scientific evidence. He gave a long, inspirational talk which amounted to one of the most powerful arguments for child-centred education I've encountered.
His most striking point was his evidence was that so much brain-capacity is aimed at developing "hand skills". His picture below shows how that if the human body's limbs were proportionally the same size as the space in the brain devoted to them, then we would all look a bit like the rather grotesque figure next to the brain images here:
This, of course, has huge implications for teaching because it shows that so much learning occurs when children touch, manipulate and engage “sensually” with the world. Hughes powerfully argued that the Montessori classroom enables children to learn through “doing” things; by feeling counters to learn maths, by manipulating jigsaw maps to learn geography, to touch and manipulate letter sounds before learning to read. The abstract becomes tangible, and thus thoroughly comprehensible. This is how our brains are set up to learn; this is how we've evolved as a species. We learn by movement, by doing things.
He claimed that most Western education systems are far too "abstract" in their approach, being curriculum-centred and based around the concept of: teacher, student, test. The “transference” of knowledge model of education, rather than “active learning”. He called this model “School 1.0”, arguing that we need classrooms that are modelled on “School 2.0”, which is basically the Montessori model. Classrooms should be “learning environments” which encourage independent exploration and analysis, and foster things like initiative, imagination, patience and deferred gratification. It’s all stuff that chimes a bell with many experienced teachers: we need a system which is much less exam driven, and much more focused upon encouraging problem-solving and imagination.
Dr Hughes' website is here
if you're interested in finding out more.