A throwaway Montessori mention today: Montessori Had it Right: We Learn by Doing, by Dr. Sian Beilock, a professor at the University of Chicago, in Pscyhology Today. (She has a new book out: Choke: What the Secrets of the Brain Reveal About Getting It Right When You Have To.)
The article describes new research that shows that, in fact, writing development precedes and improves reading development in the brain. Toddlers who practiced letter shapes had better letter recognition than those who practiced naming words, and brain imaging showed faster development of the fusiform gyrus, which is involved in letter recognition.
Who knew? Beilock casually mentions Montessori in the headline, but it’s not just “learning by doing.” As many Montessorians know, writing comes before reading in the Children’s House classroom because that’s what Dr. Montessori observed working with children. Nice to see the brain research catching up.
Interestingly, Beilock and Montessori turned up together in a 2008 piece on Boston.com, Don’t Just Stand There, Think, talking about “embodied cognition.” This is the idea that “we think not just with our brains, but with our bodies.” At the time, this was a “young field” in the world of psychology, although:
Some educators see in it a new paradigm for teaching children, one that privileges movement and simulation over reading, writing, and reciting.
The article cites a study by Beilock, and at the end he brings in who else but Dr. Angeline Lillard!
While embodied cognition remains a young field, some specialists believe that it suggests a rethinking of how we approach education.
Angeline Lillard, a psychology professor at the University of Virginia, says that one possibility is to take another look at the educational approach that Italian educator Maria Montessori laid out nearly 100 years ago, theories that for decades were ignored by mainstream educators.
A key to the Montessori method is the idea that children learn best in a dynamic environment full of motion and the manipulation of physical objects. In Montessori schools, children learn the alphabet by tracing sandpaper letters, they learn math using blocks and cubes, they learn grammar by acting out sentences read to them.
As it turns out, Lillard cites Beilock in the American Journal of Play article I featured on this site last week, and they’re all over together in psychological bibliographies.
So this is what it looks like to be in the conversation. More and more brain-based stuff for us to point to.
Hat tip: Montessori Madman Daniel Petter-Lippstein.