Isolation of Difficulty (Montessori)

From Montepedia

In Montessori education, the Isolation of Difficulty refers to a pedagogical approach where a teacher analyses an activity prior to presenting it to a child. Procedures or movements that might be challenging are isolated and taught separately to the child.[1] For instance, holding and snipping with scissors, a basic movement, is demonstrated before teaching how to cut curved or zigzag lines. This method ensures that a task is neither overwhelming nor too easy, but provides an appropriate level of challenge to engage and stimulate the child's learning.

Montessori Quotes

  • "Our teaching must only answer the mental needs of the child, never dictate them."[2]
  • "The essence of independence is to be able to do something for one’s self."[3]

Research and Critiques

  • Pros: The isolation of difficulty approach aligns with educational research suggesting that breaking down tasks into manageable parts can improve skill acquisition and understanding. It is particularly beneficial for complex tasks that require the coordination of multiple skills.[4]
  • Cons: Critics argue that this approach may oversimplify certain tasks or concepts and may not adequately prepare students for situations where they need to manage multiple difficulties at once.[5]

Comparisons to Other Methods

While traditional education methods might teach a skill in its entirety, Montessori education focuses on isolating and mastering individual components before combining them. This approach reflects a commitment to incremental learning and mastery.[6]

See Also


  1. Montessori, M. (1912). The Montessori Method. Frederick A. Stokes Company.
  2. Montessori, M. (1912). The Montessori Method. Frederick A. Stokes Company.
  3. Montessori, M. (1949). The Absorbent Mind. Clio Press.
  4. Lillard, A. (2017). Montessori: The Science Behind the Genius. Oxford University Press.
  5. Egan, K. (2002). Getting it wrong from the beginning: Our progressivist inheritance from Herbert Spencer, John Dewey, and Jean Piaget. Yale University Press.
  6. Mooney, C. (2013). Theories of Childhood, Second Edition: An Introduction to Dewey, Montessori, Erikson, Piaget & Vygotsky. Redleaf Press.