The Great Connections Seminar

The Great Connections Seminar
Discussing ethics

Friday, November 21, 2008

Paying attention

Maria Montessori

In my first post, November 3rd, I asked why young elementary children lose their earlier fire to learn and is there a way to get it back. Maria Montessori provides us with the answer to both questions:

"When you have solved the problem of controlling the attention of the child, you have solved the entire problem of education."

When it comes to attention and learning, Montessori could have been talking about anyone. Without attention to the material that needs to be learned, there is no learning. Attentional resources (focus) are limited. They must be used well to efficiently learn the most possible.

Further, the developed ability to concentrate on work and goals and to self-maintain interest and focus allow a person to succeed in long-term projects and purposes. In Montessori, Dewey, and Capitalism, Jerry Kirkpatrick calls this “Concentrated Attention.”

Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi

In his studies on intensely productive and creative people, University of Chicago and now Claremont Graduate School research psychologist Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi (found that certain conditions elevate the ability to pay attention, and pay attention deeply for long periods of time. He also recognized that specially designed practices in Montessori classrooms provide these conditions throughout the school day. His research group, including the work of Kevin Rathunde, has found many exceptional outcomes from these Montessori practices.

Here’s a picture of a work on geology which demonstrates the layers of the earth. What better way to interest children and cement the learning in their minds than through eating? Patti O’Donoghue, a teacher at my Council Oak Montessori School, invented this lesson.

At our school, we frequently get notes from parents, telling us that their children enjoy school so much that they pretend to be well when they are sick, so they won't miss school!

So, why can't traditional schools hold the attention of many students, from grade school through college?

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