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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 79

Retardation and its Remedy

page 31

Retardation and its Remedy.

Teachers everywhere are worried and harassed by the presence of retarded children in their classes—late enrolments, derelicts who drift from one school to another, retardation from ill-health, &c., &c. The curious thing about the education of these unfortunate children at present is that the teacher is expected by means of some magical pedagogic feat to get them through her class in about half the time that a normal child takes to get through it. Needless to say the expectation is rarely realised, and notwithstanding the departmental regulation and the efforts of teachers to obey it, we still find children in Infant Schools who are beyond Infant School age.

We have had a good deal of experience with retarded children at Blackfriars, and the results since the introduction of the Montessori system have been agreeably surprising. One child of 9 years, who knew nothing when she entered the school, and who was a typical derelict, reached the highest class in the Infant School in sixty days. Another similar child got through to the highest class in seventy days. These children were not smart or bright in any way; they were just the usual type of retarded child. But the point I want to emphasise about their progress is this—that they did not receive any extra attention from the teacher beyond their just share as members of the class. They were not "drilled' in any way or detained after hours.

The following particulars of retarded children under the Montessori method may be of interest:—

Mary, aged 9: knew names of five or six letters of the alphabet but nothing else. Average normal child, showing no exceptional smartness or ability. Reached highest class in the Infant School in sixty days.

Annie, aged 7½: knew the names of some of the letters on entering the school. Could count a little; appeared to be just average type of retarded child. Kept from school through carelessness and neglect of parents. Beached highest infant class in seventy days.

Thomas. 7 years, enrolled January this year: had been to school before but had made no progress. Knew some of the symbols, but could not read at all. Evidently a typical dull child, with mental development below normal. Can now read well at sight, spells well in composition and dictation, and is good at numbers.

Janet, 7 when entering school: retarded through illness and conseqent absence from school; of average intelligence, could make no attempt at reading or writing. After three months is able to read and write fairly well and is making equally good progress in other

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Florrie, 8 years and 3 months on entering: not extra high intelligence, typical derelict; knew names of a few letters, but could not read and had very little idea of number. Can now read fluently at sight, spell creditably, and shows a very good grasp of numbers.

John, aged 7 on entering: did not know any letters or sounds. Since enrolment has been away, long periods through illness; attendance very irregular because of delicate health. Has attended school seventy-nine days in all. Not a bright child by any means. But notwithstanding irregularity of attendance he now makes a very good attempt at sight-reading.

Samuel, 7 on entering in February last: did not know anything. Had been paralysed down one side. Can now read, write, and spell, and is quite up to Third Infants' School Standard.

Fred, aged 7, enrolled in July of this year: impediment in speech, used to run wild and neglected in the street; knew a few letters but could not read at all. Now attends school regularly, works incessantly, and is making very rapid progress in all subjects.

Harry, malformation of head, which, according to medical opinion, borne out by actual experience, interferes with some of his powers. Appeared to have special difficulty with writing. Feeling of sand paper letters has helped him wonderfully. He can now write fairly legibly, and reads and spells very well indeed.

May, aged 7 on entering. The youngest child of a family of seven teen. Considered mentally deficient by doctor. Ninety days in class; showed very little progress for a considerable time, but is now interested in several subjects, particularly in reading. She has mastered some of the phonic elements, and is able to build and read words. She is also able to make some attempt at writing, and has some ideas of number.

I should like to repeat that these children have not been "drilled" or kept in, or asked to come before hours, or in any way treated as other than ordinary members of the class. That they have received more of the teacher's attention is perhaps true, since the Montessori method makes it possible for the teacher to give most of her time to those who need it most, but none of the ordinary means for advancing retarded children have been used. Miss Stevens, who has had charge of the Montessori class for a year, and from whose children these examples are taken, is emphatic in declaring that the results obtained are entirely due to the Montessori method and the freedom it gives to the children, and not to any special effort or attention on her part.

From my own experience in our own schools in Italy, and other countries of Europe, and in Great Britain, I am of opinion that the introduction of the Montessori method would largely minimise, if it would not altogether wipe out, this troublesome problem of retardation from any cause except that of absolute page 33 mental defect verging on idiocy. Even in the case of mental defect verging on idiocy, better results appear to be obtained by the Montessori system than by any other. .

Here I would add a word of warning. The introduction of Montessori material without the proper understanding of the Montessori principle by the teacher who is to handle it, will not bring about Montessori results. But given the material, and the right understanding and use of it, and the problem of the retarded and backward child will very largely disappear.