The Godfather of the Essay

Frenchman Michel de Montaigne invented every teacher’s favourite homework genre, the humble essay. The philosopher would’ve thrived under today’s living conditions (I am writing this during lockdown), as he adhered to self-imposed isolation in order to explore his own character, writing his findings in a series of essays. He was an early proponent of reflective learning.

I finished reading “On the education of children” yesterday, and its sentiment applies to what we champion at Kloodle.

Montaigne’s essay is a letter to a member of the French nobility. From what I can gather, the recipient has solicited Montaigne’s advice on how best to educate their newborn when the need arises. Unwittingly, Montaigne prescribes many techniques considered the hallmark of outstanding teachers in this day and age.

Formative Assessment

It is good that he should have his pupil trot before him, to judge the child’s pace

Modern teachers know the importance of gauging a true picture of their pupils’ current knowledge, using this information as their pacing “north star”. How quickly you can cover material is determined by the learner’s current foundations. A great teacher discovers the firmness of ground before constructing more walls. This is an early example of formative assessment.

Empathy

It is the achievement of a lofty and very strong soul to know how to come down to a childish gait and guide it

The best teachers are also empathetic. They understand how to see the world with a child’s eyes and tailor the lessons for this understanding. It is easy to fall into the trap of teaching a topic a thousand times and trivialising its difficulty. Each child learns the topics you teach for the first time. Having the ability to maintain this understanding creates better learning environments.

Differentiation

If, as is our custom, the teachers undertake to regulate many minds of such different capacities with the same lesson, no wonder if in a whole race of children they find barely 2 or 3 who reap proper fruit for their teaching.

Montaigne was clearly an early proponent of differentiation, changing the message of a lesson depending on its recipient.

Reflective Learning

The aspect of his essay that resonates the most with me is introduced by the following quote:

“Let him (the child) judge the profit of his lesson, not on his memory, but on his life”

The essay spends a lot of time discussing the merits of creating learners who are able to apply their knowledge and skills, as well as critiquing the knowledge they receive, becoming curators of their own curriculum instead of blindly accepting what is being thrown at them.

Learning can only truly take place through reflection. How can you use the knowledge you have gained “in a hundred aspects”? (Montaigne). Understanding the crux of what you have learnt and recognising how this can be applied to numerous contexts can only be done through reflective learning. What skills is this topic developing? How can these skills be used elsewhere? What can I do next to enhance these skills? How can I use these skills for the benefit of others? How can I apply these skills and knowledge to my career?

Reflecting upon your learning helps to provide the answers to these questions.

This is the reason we founded Kloodle. We want to help young people to understand that they are continually learning, building skills and character they can use as they move forward through life. You can only derive maximum profit from the skills and knowledge you are building through stopping to think. Kloodle is a fantastic tool to encourage this behaviour, enabling learners to understand how their skills will benefit them in the future.

Phill

About Phill

Phillip is co-founder of Kloodle.

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