Educating the whole child and honoring the diversity of each individual from
Pre-elementary (age 3) through Grade 8.

Montessori in a Data Driven World

Montessori in a Data Driven World
by Lower Elementary Teachers: Lindsey Farmer, Angela Kim, Ashley Tajeda, and Julie Sauvage

“Our care of the child should be governed, not by the desire to make him learn things, but by the endeavor always to keep burning within him that light which is called intelligence.” 

     ~Maria Montessori, Spontaneous Activity in Education (p. 240)

 

Every parent is familiar with standards, norms, and data. Moments after a child is born, they receive an Apgar Score that rates their health on a standardized scale.  As the child grows, they visit a health care provider where they are weighed and measured for both length and head circumference. The results are then compared to a norm established using data from a peer group. Each new set of data is compared to the previous ones to note the child's health and physical growth. Also, parents watch for milestones—when they sit, talk, and walk. Although an age‑range is provided for these important moments, they are not set in stone. Some children reach them early and others later because each child is unique and reaches it when they are ready. Parents understand and become comfortable with this process.

As the child grows older and enters school, standards and norms continue to be applied. In most traditional schools, the standards and norms are grades and test scores. Like the height and weight measurements they received from their health care provider, these grades and scores compare one student to peers in the same grade in the classroom, state, or at the national level. What is missing in these standards is the understanding of the child as an individual learner. A Montessori education excels at providing a complete picture of each child’s educational journey.

Montessori is a child‑centered and process‑oriented model of education. Rather than working toward a grade report or a standard indicative of mastery-based on peer data, the emphasis is on the process of learning. Research shows that optimum learning happens when the brain is challenged, so errors and mastery are equally embraced as part of the process. Students do not need to fear a challenge because errors are not equated with failure. When errors happen, they serve as a way to create deeper learning by figuring out how to fix them, which leads the student on a journey towards mastery. In a Montessori classroom, adaptability is built into the program to allow for, embrace, and enhance the students’ interests to inspire learning and sow the seeds of knowledge that lead to greater inquiry and exploration.

In a Montessori classroom, the teacher is a prepared and trained observer who continuously observes and assesses a student’s growth, knowledge, and engagement. Maria Montessori, in speaking during a training course, noted the importance of being a prepared observer:

Any methodical observation which one wishes to make requires preparation. Observation is one of those many things of which we frequently speak, and of which we form an inexact or false idea. It should be sufficient to consider what occurs in all the sciences that depend upon observation. The observers in the various sciences must have a special preparation. For instance, one who looks through a microscope does not see what exists there unless his eye is prepared. It is not sufficient to have the instrument and to know how to focus it. It is also necessary to have the eye prepared to recognize the objects.1

She went even further in equating the role of observation to that of a scientist when she wrote:

The vision of the teacher should be precise like that of the scientist…she has an exact task to perform, and it is necessary that she should put herself into immediate relation with the truth by means of rigorous observation….2

As a prepared, trained observer, the Montessori teacher guides each student in constructing their knowledge over three years through the material‑rich, engaging environment, which is structured to help foster positive work habits such as independence, focus, organization, and initiation. The teacher measures student progress by observing and analyzing work while interacting with the student as a person and learner.

Through observing, the teacher collects “data,” and is prepared to meet students as individuals and unique learners, and provides the scaffolding to help them reach new heights of academic and personal growth. The teacher continually assesses a student’s growth, knowledge, and engagement and presents lessons as the student is ready, rather than in a predetermined order and timing that suits a state standard. Individual student work is evaluated for accuracy, material use and support, readiness for abstraction, peer interaction when learning, and a watchful eye for any avoidance of specific activities, materials, and lessons. When avoidance is observed, the teacher evaluates why it is happening and how to guide the student with the work. When a specific interest is sparked, the teacher guides the student to pursue that interest at a more in‑depth and broader level.

Classroom materials also play an essential role in helping the teacher to observe and understand how and what a student is learning. Some materials have a built‑in control of error, so it directs and guides a student’s learning as well as comprehension. All materials move from concrete to abstract in their presentation. When a student successfully translates the information to abstraction, the teacher knows that the student thoroughly understands the concept and is ready for the next level of difficulty or a lesson on a new concept.

In a Montessori classroom, value is also placed on “soft skills,” such as attention, engagement, independence, communication, flexibility, teamwork, accountability, and time management. These skills are intertwined into the day‑to‑day of a student and work in tandem with academic skills. “Soft skills” create a student’s school experience that contributes to the development of character traits, such as internal drive, curiosity, leadership, empowerment, and a feeling of individual value as a human. Trust develops organically between the student and the teacher with the development of these skills resulting in the feeling of belonging and acceptance in the classroom and school community. Students who are self‑confident and feel valued by their school community will find meaning in learning and develop into lifelong learners.

With all this observation, assessment, and scaffolding “data,” the teacher is prepared for more than assigning grades or comparing the student to a standardized chart. Scholar and author Alfie Kohn writes:

The most impressive classrooms and curricula are designed to help the teacher know as much as possible about how students are making sense of things. When kids are engaged in meaningful, active learning—for example, designing extended, interdisciplinary projects—teachers who watch and listen as those projects are being planned and carried out have access to, and actively interpret, a continuous stream of information about what each student is able to do and where he or she requires help.3

So how does all this observation, assessment, and “data” transfer to a grade report? As mentioned earlier, traditional schools and teachers determine grades based on product‑driven work, test scores, and standardized norms for peers at the same grade level. For parents who went to traditional schools, there is comfort in the ease and clarity of this method. However, neither a letter grade or data point on a standardized chart fully represent the complexity of a student’s learning, effort, progress, strengths, or challenges.

The goal of Eton School’s Parent Conferences and Grade Reports is to communicate growth beyond a status check based on a standardized norm. The tools are meant to provide for a better understanding of the journey a student is making. Goal setting and discussions take place during Parent Conferences. Follow‑up conversations and emails continue the communication. Grade reports serve as a check‑in point and distillation of observations and conversations of a semester of learning. This twice‑a‑year assessment communicates each learner's overall growth, including work skills and habits as well as academic, social, emotional, and physical development.

As noted in the opening, shortly after being born, a child receives a score. It is the first of many data points in life. A Montessori education, however, has more to offer than data points of grades and standardized norms. In a Montessori classroom, each child follows a path of learning and growing. Teachers and parents partner in conversation to paint a picture of the whole child. Through this collaboration and partnership, parents gain confidence in their child’s learning progress and understand their child as a learner more thoroughly than a letter grade or standardized norm would ever provide.

________________

1.  Maria Montessori, “Suggestion and Remarks on Observing Children” From London Training Course 1921, Lecture.

2. Maria Montessori, Advanced Montessori Method Vol. 1

3. Alfie Kohn, “Why the Best Teachers Don’t Give Tests” Alfie Kohn Blog, October 30, 2014, https://www.alfiekohn.org/blogs/no‑tests/

 

  • Montessori