Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Mistakes and Their Correction

I posted today about Chapter 24 of The Absorbent Mind over at The Montessori Book Club. I thought it was more appropriate to post it over there, although I went out of order with the chapters and hope I'm not in trouble!


  1. I wasn't sure whether to reply here or there since I haven't read the book. One thing I did not really understand until I watched the Humphray videos is that you're not supposed to expect them to get things right everytime. If they do, it means the material is too easy for them anyway and there's point. Part of the learning process is that they will learn to see their mistakes over time. For example, with color box 3, she says that if they can't see that there is something out of place in their gradation, there is nothing you can say or do that will change how well they see. However, the more they use the material, the more they are sensitized to see the subtle differences in the color, and over time they will figure out for themselves how to do it correctly. That's the whole point of the sensorial materials and that's why as long as they understand the point of the excersize, you leave them be.

    I'm not sure how this applies to tracing the sandpaper letters in the wrong direction, though. I think that is a case of demonstrating again later. (And again, and again until he finally gets it. I know. Then the problem becomes coming up with ways to make him think you are showing him something new rather than something he did wrong.)

  2. MBT - you do what most of us do :) In training, I was shown that if a child repeatedly makes a mistake (for example, incorrectly stroking the sandpaper letters) while you are giving a lesson, you may step in by saying "excuse me, may I take another turn?" At this point, re-present the lesson making an emphasis on correcting where the child was making a mistake without using words. A good example is with the solid cylinders. I have a lot of children who grab the knobs, rather than using their pincer grip. When I re-present this, I exaggerate the pincer grip so that I literally look like a crazy crab lady. 95% of the time, the child then picks the knobs up correctly. Now, if you presented the lesson this way to begin with, most children would do the lesson incorrectly. However, with specific re-presentations, each child gets what s/he needs. Sometimes the child doesn't get it, and so you continue on and re-present another day.

    Also, with the sandpaper letters, I sometimes invite the child to place their hand on mine while I trace. I usually do this if the child is pretty close to accurate tracing, but is getting lost in loops (think of cursive p, f or q). If a child is just going off the wall with tracing, I continue the sound presentation and come re-visit tracing another day.

    I think it's best to try and understand where the child is coming from. If the child appears to be making mistakes because s/he is not paying attention or uninterested, leave it be. Come back to that lesson another day. If the child isn't recognizing his/her mistake, then there is room to guide the child towards the correction without wholly pointing it out. Just push the child in the direction of discovery.

  3. Thank you both!

    There was quite a bit in that chapter, and in another book I read this week (couldn't say which at this point) about mistakes being part of the learning process. That thread showed up on The Wonder Years blog today as well. At any rate, I like the "learn to see their mistakes over time" bit. Now I just have to solve the mystery of "learning to ignore their mistakes over time." Grrr.

    You also hit the nail on the head with "coming up with ways to make him think you are showing him something new rather than something he did wrong."

    I knew to re-present, emphasizing the part where the error was made...but after three, four re-presentations I was at a loss. I didn't have the patience to think I might have to do that for several days. I also wondered how to get him to choose the sandpaper letters every day at all, especially after figuratively fastening an 'asses ear" to him by doing a re-presentation six, seven eight times.

    I have totally done that crazy crab lady thing with my fingers...through two children now!

    Thank you, the "there is room to guide the child toward correction without wholly pointing it out. Just push the child in the direction of discovery" is inspiring. I think I'm not being patient enough. I'm kind of like "I just showed you again, fix it already!"

    Maybe I need a glass of wine before school each day to relax. Like you said, "Sometimes the child doesn't get it, so you continue on and re-present another day."

  4. This is why I'm thinking of waiting for a while on our sandpaper letters. He either won't trace them or doesn't do it right. I don't think his motor skills are ready yet (his fine motor skills have always been quite a bit behind the rest of him developmentally). The thing is, he already pretty much knows his sounds. He learned the capitals from Leapfrog and has picked up on most of the lowercase letters on his own. I'm wondering at this point whether there would be any harm in a non-linear progression where we continued working on phonics but saved writing for later. Am I following the child or just being impatient?

  5. I'm not sure if this will help, but at least with the Practical Life activities in my album all presentations have the same primary goals. Each activity is designed to develop a sense or order, concentration, coordination & independence. Pouring from one container to another is a secondary outcome. I guess what I'm really saying is that the process is more important than the product!