Teach Sequentially

Knowledge For Life Means Learning About the World – Not Repeating a Teacher’s or Textbook’s Mere Assertions

At LePort, our goal is to teach knowledge, not hearsay. In order for your child’s mental content to truly be knowledge, he must be able to do more than repeat a claim—he must know why the claim is true. “Why”, in this context, means that the child can trace the chain of knowledge all the way back from an abstract concept or idea (such as “plants release oxygen during the process of photosynthesis”) to the observational evidence needed to arrive at that conclusion (which often comes in multiple steps, such as “there are different types of materials in the world, such as rock and wood and water”, “some materials are solids, some are gases”, “plants don’t need foods the way animals do”, and “a candle burns longer when it is in a container with a green plant.”) When the child really understands, he knows the sequence of facts that demonstrate the truth of a given idea – as against just citing a book or a teacher’s authority.

montessori preschoolAt LePort, we want children to understand the world so they can act in it; memorized chains of words or symbols are not knowledge, and undercut motivation. We offer our students systematic, sequential instruction – so they can build knowledge upon knowledge, and always know why they are learning something, and how it ties to the world. This is what makes learning motivating: being able to understand the world! Floating constructs – such as having to memorize the process of photosynthesis, without understanding what it really is and why it matters – is what turns eager learners into reluctant students. What could be more boring than being asked to memorize “2n CO2 + 2n H2O + photons → 2(CH2O)n + n O2 + 2n A” – without understanding why the process described by this equation even matters?!

Dr. Montessori once described the difference between someone who learns through a systematic process as against someone who amasses disconnected information as the difference between a cabinet with file folders and a grab bag full of stuff. Our role as educators is not just to ensure that children acquire lots of information – but also to provide them with the proper hierarchy for that information, so that our students can call upon that knowledge, retrieve it easily, and apply it in practice. And that, after all, is our overall goal: Knowledge for Life – knowledge to enable mind-guided action.

We respect the proper cognitive sequence in each subject. For example:

  • Language Arts: We explicitly teach writing skills, step-by-step – before we expect students to do complex writing that requires the application of those skills.
  • Mathematics: In Montessori, children learn concrete, simple operations, such as 4×7, first with concrete manipulatives (the Bead Materials), then abstractly (pencil & paper), then progress to more complex operations (such as 1,276 x 42, first with manipulatives such as the Checkerboard, then abstractly.)
  • Science: Our program progresses from observation to classification to theory development. (The latter re-traces, where appropriate, the discovery process of the great scientists, who had to learn the knowledge through observation and inference, and not from authority.)
  • History: We teach history chronologically (as against the typical California approach of starting mid-stream, without context, with California History in Grade 4.)
  • Literature – we always offer great works of art, and sequence them in line with the child’s growing mental powers: from the best children’s novels (e.g., The Indian in the Cupboard by Lynne Reid Banks in 4th grade), to accessible plays (e.g., The Miracle Worker by William Gibson), to literature with increasingly broad themes and advanced language (e.g., starting with Macbeth by William Shakespeare in 6th grade, and moving to The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas by the end of 8th grade.) Throughout, we also integrate literature with history, paralleling in our choices the child’s progression from ancient to modern history.

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