Who is Caleb Gattegno?

Like Montessori, he is a scientist but also and above all a mathematician. Of Anglo-Spanish origin, Gattegno (1911-1988) is best known for his innovative approach to teaching and learning mathematics, foreign languages (the Silent Way) and reading (Lecture in colors). He has also invented teaching materials for each of these approaches. He works with Piaget, of which he translates several works and contributes to the “democratization” of Cuisenaire © rulers. Unlike Montessori, Gattegno has not been able to “democratize” and extend its pedagogy. However, it deserves our attention.

The subordination of teaching to learning

Gattegno maintains that, for educational actions to be effective, teaching must be subordinated to learning, which implies an absolute prerequisite: teachers must understand how human beings learn. news that put the learner at the center of the system and that make the teacher a mediator, an “awakener” (Freinet).

Only consciousness is educable

According to Gattegno, in human beings only consciousness is educable. Any learning path always implies that several realizations take place: “the insight”. Indeed, each awareness is the sign of a neural networking of information and therefore of an integration of this “awareness” within a field of knowledge.

Prepare vs post-parer

When he is not with his learners, a teacher has to do three kinds of preparation: prepare his lesson, prepare to teach and post-prepare the lesson that has just taken place.


Develop curiosity and the joy of learning by inviting exploration, experimentation ...


Feedback is a time when everyone examines their own learning processes.There are two types of feedback: the one that is used at all times during the course and which corresponds to the interactive assessment, and the feedback. Feedback done at the end of a period of work - a day or a few days, for example. Feedback helps pupils to become aware of the work done and to assess its quality. It allows them to know if their learning could be more effective. This importance of feedback is now validated in particular by neurosciences.

Paths of knowledge

For several centuries, analysis and a sense of detail have formed the basis of science, to the detriment of synthesis. Gattegno calls “intuition” the union of analysis and synthesis. For Gattegno, intuition is the way to know the future. It is the most fruitful because it is it that allows us to study the complex questions for which we cannot hope to find simple answers such as the analysis would provide us. This is the “adaptive mode” of the neuro-cognitivist approach or the creative mode or even system 2 (neurosciences).

Memory and retention: energy

Gattegno observed that there is an “energy budget” for learning. Human beings have a very strong sense of saving their own energy and are very sensitive to the costs involved in its use. It is therefore essential to teach in methods that are efficient in terms of the amount of energy expended by the learners.

Reading in color

It is an approach by sounds which makes it possible to work: - the pronunciation without being spelled (which avoids the double task in pedagogy: asking the learner to do 2 operations at the same time is very difficult - we joined here with Montessori pedagogy, the self-correcting material of which is designed to offer only one concept at a time), - mental flexibility (association, inversion, substitution, insertion, iteration operations , etc. - we join the development of cognitive functions dear to Feuerstein) by associating a color with a sound and a physical space (the multichannel to maximize learning).

The tools
  • reading in color,
  • the Silent Way for foreign languages,
  • and Cuisenaire rulers (named after its inventor, then developed and popularized by Caleb Gattegno) for mathematics. They are used in the Singapore method but the philosophy behind their use has been misguided.

The Gattegno approach is used in various contexts: children who learn to read, foreigners who learn French or in remediation. This approach will be associated with Montessori pedagogy in cycle 1 within the school.