Have you ever noticed that when you’re quizzed by someone, formally or even within a conversation, that when you’re asked to recall something specific, it’s far easier if you’re prompted with options to choose from? It may be easier because of the phenomenon of contrasting cases.
“Contrasting cases” is a term that defines a collection of problems or an example that assists students in understanding similarities and differences. Findings from research into the use of contrasting cases show it serves as a focusing function for the learner. Sounds Montessori to me!
Contrasts Are Already Embedded in Montessori
Let’s utilize the Montessori Three Period Lesson introduced first in the early childhood, the 3-6 age group to illustrate how contrasts are already embedded in the Montessori methodology. The first part of the lesson is for the guide to name it, then the child to choose it from others, then for the child to name it. Yes, that’s simplified, yet it reveals this concept beautifully because what you don’t see is how the guide previews the lesson and chooses materials that are different enough to be distinguishable for the young child.
For example, the cube and the sphere are often the first two geometric solids introduced to the child. They couldn’t be more different and the experience of noticing their similarities and differences makes a huge and lasting impression on the child.
When analyzing contrasting items, new research illustrates that guided comparisons, called “prepared intervention”, are more effective than a student’s independent exploration. Going back to the example of geometric solids, I can see how my intentional and dramatic rolling of the sphere in the basket, then taking the cube and trying to make it roll gives my student that prepared intervention for comparing the objects optimally. When they go back and compare how “rolly” each solid is after the lesson creates even stronger connections and understanding.
Part of my work with nine to twelve year olds in Montessori was to periodically pose “ethical dilemmas” for students to discuss, critically think about, and even debate. When these scenarios, or cases, were presented as contrasting, and the students were given tools such as guiding questions to compare the cases, their findings were far richer than when one case was presented alone.
Free Quick Tip #4 for Emphasizing Contrasts in the Classroom
When I think of how many ways contrasting cases is applied in the Montessori classroom, I’m flabbergasted! My primary tip for you is to emphasize this concept in your lesson. Remember to introduce the shortest rod first and the longest one next. Remember to compare the lightest with the darkest tablet in Color Box 3. Remember to demonstrate both “how to” and “how not to” when role playing classroom functions. Remember to scaffold your student’s experience with just enough prepared interventions to equip them to compare contrasting cases.
Learning environments that employ contrasting cases with prepared intervention increase the potentiality of critical thinking skills of the students.
In what ways are you emphasizing contrasting cases and subsequent scaffolded comparisons in your learning environment? We’re creating a collection of contrasting cases and would love to hear!