Thursday, August 24, 2017

Reflection on Managing Information in the Public Montessori Classroom

The following is my reflection on my new learning, following a talk given by Dr. Jan Mallett, Ph.D., Research Assistant of Montessori and Early Childhood Education at Southern Methodist University, at the Dallas Conference of Public Montessori Teachers given at the Meadows Conference Center. 

How Public Montessori and Classical Montessori Interact

A Commitment to Follow the Child
As Montessorians, we share a commitment to respect the work of the individual child--we share a commitment to the work of Dr. Maria Montessori. Three key principles of Montessori philosophy stand out as different from traditional education, as major elements of the Montessori pedagogy:

  • We are committed to whole child education;
  • We are committed to the Montessori prepared environment; and,
  • We bring the child the specially prepared adult. 
In a Montessori setting, adults are trained in the ways we perceive and interact with children and also how we speak about children to other adults in the educational arena. Each of these three elements is going to have its own design for paperwork in data management. We can do all of these while giving honor to the philosophy of following the child.

In following the child, one of our special charges is knowing the child well—proverbially, "all the way down to the child’s grandmother’s shoe size". We laugh, but the more we can know about the child, the better we can serve her. When we prepare for the child, we should consider not only what presentation each child needs next, but we are also considering what the child needs or wants next.

Following the Child in Daily Lesson Preparation

Reflectively, each day, we consider which lessons would progress most organically and individually into the next day, the list of lessons we would mentally and physically prepare for the next day. It would be a different plan from that we are required to submit, but we also have to accept that the Guide knows the children to that degree, that it rests on the adult to give the children exactly the presentation they need that day.

Render Unto Caesar: Following the state curriculum standards

We know, too, as public school teachers, that we are accountable for presenting the TEKS (or whatever local curriculum standard) and all of the campus, district, and state requirements. How can we reconcile having two masters? We have to be able to simplify all of the requirements from outside organizations and create concordances of how we are satisfying outside requirements. We are on the right path with Montessori pedagogy, but we have to be able to justify how we are in good faith are moving through outside requirements while maintaining our primary focus on the philosophy of following the child.
  •   Figure out exactly what the principal wants
  •   Negotiate for simplicity in providing for outside requirements
  •   Routinize providing that satisfaction of requirements
  •   Spend the lion share of the time focusing on the child and what she needs, as an individual

The Prepared Environment

The Class and Casa de Bambini Space

The clutter-free, organized, sequenced environment does make the space easier for the adult to navigate, and it is more inviting for outside visitors. However, the environment is for the child. We do not apply state standards literally to the shelf. The walls should not display the lesson requirements and objectives, as the child needs resting space for the eye. The posting of the lesson objectives and demonstrations of learning does not serve the child; it is for the upper administration. When we must display standards, we display it quietly, small, and at the adult height to minimize and satisfy what may be required to be rendered—but we give this in the simplest, smallest way, only for the adult.

The Requirement of Grading Software

As public school teachers, we are required to give grades, although that is opposed in many ways to our pedagogy. We are a mastery-based pedagogy, not a percentage of mastery and reporting style of learning. However, as a non-negotiable, there is a window of opportunity to make grades scaled in rubrics of mastery by a deadline. We recommend that the teacher records grades daily as a routine, along with measuring routine work monitored perhaps even covertly, on occasion.

The Structure of Personalizing Grades

We liberate ourselves from a static idea of “work” as a single unit of a grade. There will be students who struggle more with committing work to paper, but learning continues. Therefore, the grade measurement might be different for each child. Perhaps, for example, it is a five question oral test for one child quietly at a table. Sometimes it is being able to bring an assembly of objects to the Guide or to another child or to her own map. We do not advocate each potential assignment as a possible grade in the gradebook. As we follow the child, grades must follow a child. In grading, to leave things more open ended for each child, we might say, Botany 1, Botany 2, Botany 3, those are expectations that the child learn three key elements about plants—but those particular lessons might be different for each child. We still may assign a grade for work we expect every child to have finished by a certain time, but there will also be other works with broader categories where the work will vary widely by individual.

The Whole Child

Knowing the child

When meeting with parents about academic progress, take care to record some behavioral and personal anecdotes to share with the parent. When parents are overly focused on grades, we make sure to bring qualitative information about the content of the child’s work. As a recommendation, bring two or three stories of work they do with furthered independence and total development.

The Planner of the Older Child

The child learns how to mention their own time with the support of a planner. Many children coming into the room do not realize that each of the squares in the planner represents a space of time where the child will work on a task. Very soon, the children will be able to write for themselves what they have already done. The most basic way a child would use a planner is in the regular recording of their own tasks. Then, over time, they begin to anticipate what they want to do today, tomorrow, and next week. When the light bulb turns on and they begin to understand that this helps them manage their time, that is when we invite them to the table to begin discussing the idea of a deadline, so that they may grow toward emerging self-mastery. It is a tool for the child. The planner does not belong to the parent, so we do not advocate sending home the planner for the parent to sign.

We speak to children as if they are
the wisest, kindest, most beautiful and magical
humans on earth, for what they believe
is what they will become. 

We respect the child in allowing them to develop their own internal recordkeeping system. It is appropriate to open it at conference time to show how the child is beginning to anticipate their own goals and show the child’s emergent self-monitoring, but we must take care never to weaponize the tool as a rigid, prescriptive task. Occasionally, there are individual children who require more structure and guidance and support in assigning tasks to times, but we are empowering the child to become masters of their own time—we do all we can to enable them to take the power of their own work and visions for learning.

Special thanks to Dr. Mallett for inspiring my thoughts and reflections on this subject;
a teacher of teachers. 


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