The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 79
Abolition of Class Work and Substitution of Individual Teaching
Abolition of Class Work and Substitution of Individual Teaching.
What is: In schools at present children are taught in mass and in large classes, and, though the teacher may be quite unconscious of the fact, the clever child is held back while the dull child is whipped up (metaphorically, I hope), so that all may take the educational fence between class and class together. Occasionally children are promoted without waiting for the rest of the class, but such promotions are few. The ideal aimed at seems to be an impossible class average of intelligence. The teacher is worried to death trying to reach this false and impossible ideal, and the children, both clever and dull, suffer. Much time and effort are wasted in most schools in teaching children what they already know. For example, the teacher sets out to teach a new thing—a new rule in arithmetic perhaps. In a few minutes several children will have grasped it, and could, if permitted, immediately apply it to the solution of problems. Yet these children must wait and be taught over and over again the thing they already know, until the class, as a whole, has grasped the principle. Or take a reading lesson. How often have we seen the children who can read the lesson quite fluently held back, and required to look at the page, and follow the sentences, while the dull children stumble through them? In the Montessori schools there is no such waste as this. No child is held back or made to regulate his educational pace to that of another; hence in these schools we see children at all stages of development, and each one progressing at his own rate. Children are scattered about the room each intent on his own work, without any outside pressure from the teacher.page 28
The Montessori teacher does no unnecessary talking. In almost all modern schools and Kindergartens the teacher talks too much and the child not enough. In nearly every lesson I have seen given in other than Montessori schools the teacher did most of the talking and the children merely sat still and listened.
What might be: Each classroom might be a small school in itself, with children at different stages of development. The small school teacher manages a number of children, not only at different stages of development, but of different ages and sizes. Surely it would be possible for the class teacher to do work with her class on similar lines. Much time and energy are wasted now on teaching children what they already know, as in the example quoted above. A more reasonable and saner method in all subjects would be to show the child what to do and leave him alone to do it. But the practical teacher will probably say it is not possible—not workable—that you may do it with ten or twelve children, but not with a large class. We have taken it for granted that in large classes certain things are not possible, not because we have proved them impossible, but because we have certain fixed images in our minds about class work—traditions that have heen handed down to us from generation to generation—and we think children must be handled in the mass just because they have been so handled for generations. We imagine children cannot be trusted to do things for themselves, not because we have trusted them and found this so, but because the idea has been handed down to us that children are naturally idle and bad and that we must keep our eye on every member of the class at all times. If reform is to come we must get rid of that falsest of false notions, that the child is naturally idle.
In the classrooms of the future we may see children of the same age, but at different stages of development, working away busily and happily, not cramped up in desks but moving naturally and quietly about the rooms, page 29 interested and joyous over their work. The teacher, instead of straining her voice and wasting her energy in vain words, will be moving quietly about the room giving help where help is needed. Lessons will be simple and direct instead of being overloaded with device and deluged with verbiage, and the whole atmosphere of the room will be that of the home rather than the school. The emphasis will not be as now on the fact that the teacher is teaching, but upon the much more important and valuable fact that the child is learning.
The idea of a class of thirty or forty children, all at different stages of development, and each one educating himself with only occasional help from the teacher when help is actually needed, seems the dream of a visionary. Yet this is what one sees in Rome and in other places where the Montessori system has had a fair trial. Class teaching must go and individual teaching be substituted if we are to progress with the times.
Here, of course, will come in all sorts of questions of organisation. How are you going to make promotions from class to class? What is to become of the standard if you have children at different stages? How is one teacher going to pick up and carry on the work of the teacher preceding her? All these questions answer themselves once the principle of the Montessori system is thoroughly grasped
For some years past the plan adopted in the Infants' Department of the Blackfriars Practice School has been to promote the teacher with the class. That is to say, the teacher who takes the first class—the children out of the kindergarten room—remains the teacher of those children for a period of two years until they leave the Infants' School. The children progress from class to class, but they are not handed from teacher to teacher. This plan has been found to work excellently. No time is lost by any teacher in getting to know her class. In two years the teacher gets to know each member of her class intimately, and her influence on the class as a whole is deeper and more lasting. It may be said that under this system a class might be too long under a weak teacher. I am optimistic enough to believe that weak teachers in the Infants' Schools of New South Wales are very much in the minority. Even a weak teacher will have more chance of becoming strong under this system than under the one which requires her to face a class of fresh children every six months. She will also have a wider experience and a broader outlook; and provided she has the support and guidance of the mistress, who should be free from, a class, will not injure the children under her care, and will, for ever after, be a stronger teacher.
This method of sending the teacher up with the class answers the question as to standard, promotions, &c., and makes the Montessori system easy of introduction and smooth in its working. It is true that the children will probably have far outstripped the Infant School standard by the time they leave the Infants' Department, but I do not think that there will be any grumbling from the Primary Departments if this be so.page break