All learning occurs from a foundation of previous lessons and skill acquisition. As babies develop, they build muscles and learn from prior experiences. Children learn what they can and can’t do based on the feedback they receive from a particular action or activity. Smiles and affirmation reinforce behavior, and scolding or stern looks provide negative reinforcement. Businesses learn from their customers’ behavior. Over time, they provide more of what customers buy and less of the items that remain on the shelves. This works for just about everything if we are paying attention.
Maria Montessori did a great deal of research as she built her educational model. She observed what children were doing, created a lesson or material, and then observed how the materials were used to make sure they served the intended purpose. She learned from the children in her midst, and adapted lessons and materials accordingly.
Each and every moment we spend with children, our obligation is to observe them, note what may need to be adapted, reinforced or eliminated, and repeat that cycle. True education will never occur if we simply tell children to learn what we say they should learn. It is neither effective nor responsible. As educators our first priority is learning about each child we teach – what works best for one may not be the best lesson for others. And, as Dr. Montessori pointed out so well, we learn this through observation, basing future instruction on the successes and failures of current lessons.