Tip #723: The Great Didactic

“I continue to be interested in new things that seem old and old things that seem new.” Jacquelin T. Robertson

We have all probably noticed that, if one waits long enough, what was considered old becomes the shiny new thing. It is certainly true in fashion. It is also apparently true in teaching.

John Amos Comenius published his book, The Great Didactic, in Czech in 1648. According to Wikipedia, he is considered the “father of modern education.” Yet, I for one have never heard of him.

According to  Hannah S. Bowers, John Comenius was a Moravian teacher, educator, bishop, and writer in the seventeenth century.  He is considered the father of modern education because he advocated universal education in his book The Great Didactic. Comenius authored over forty works, and he introduced pictorial textbooks, gradual learning of comprehensive concepts, equal opportunities for poor children and women, and practical, universal education.

See if his general principles for teaching sound familiar:

  • Teaching must be in accordance with the student’s stage of development.
    • Evidence-based brain research on how people learn stresses the need to teach novices and experienced learners differently.
  • All learning happens through the senses.
    • Accelerated learning, or whole body learning, stresses the importance of engaging as many senses as possible to increase the probability of retention.
  • One should proceed from the specific to the general, from what is easy to the more difficult, from what is known to the unknown.
    • Brain research recognizes that specific information received by the working memory needs time to be converted into mental models in long term memory.
    • Beginning with what is easy helps to build learners’ confidence in their ability to master more difficult content.
    • The UCLA Mastery Teaching Model of Dr. Madeline Hunter stresses the fact that building on positive transfer (what people already know) provides a firm basis for new learning.
  • Teaching should not cover too many subjects or themes at the same time.
    • Brain research stresses the importance of avoiding overloading working memory, which has a limited capacity for the amount of information it can hold or process at one time.
  • Teaching should proceed slowly and systematically. Nature makes no jumps.
    • Brain research recommends using directed learning (particularly with novice learners), in which content is explicitly presented to learners in short lessons that typically include rules, examples to build them build mental models, and practice with feedback.

 I don’t entirely agree with Ecclesiastes that “what has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.” Brain research is recent and, although it has confirmed and validated prior thinking on the subject (per Comenius, for example), it has also provided new and unexpected information about how learning occurs.

However, I’m glad to learn about John Amos Comenius. His ideas have certainly withstood the test of time.

May your learning be sweet.


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