Commonly Asked Questions
Q & A:
How do you keep track of the children's progress?
Each child in an elementary class carries a record book throughout his or her day in the classroom. When lessons are attended or work is chosen, it is recorded in this book so that by the end of the day the record book displays a list of all of the activities that the child has pursued. The teacher reviews record books with the children every day to help the children in the process of learning to plan their time wisely. Thus, if a teacher sees that one child has chosen to work on the large bead frame for multiplication all morning, she might suggest that the child choose work from one of the other lessons that he has recently had so that he can be sure to visit work in many areas during the week.
The teacher also conducts weekly meetings with each child to review the record books and the work completed (or not) during that week. During these meetings the teacher checks to make sure that the children are following up on lessons as needed. She also checks how well the children are remembering or understanding new information so that she can adjust her lessons to accommodate differences in learning times and methods.
Because grades and scores are not assigned, the children's progress is shared with the parents during conferences which are scheduled twice during the school year. During these conferences, parents will hear about what subject matter the children are working with. They will also hear about any strengths or challenges that the teacher observes, along with strengths and challenges that each child perceives. This allows children, teacher, and parents together to find strategies that will offer the opportunity for the greatest success to each individual child. Additional meetings between teacher and parents (and sometimes child) may be scheduled as needed.
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How do you encourage responsibility in the children?
Responsibility is one of the greatest gifts that Montessori environments offer to children and parents alike. The children first develop the skills necessary to be responsible for them selves. The materials are designed to encourage careful manipulation. Many materials contain numerous small pieces which, if dropped, are quite tedious to pick up. In the Geography curriculum, many activities purposely utilize materials that have inherent risks, requiring care when using them. We perform science experiments with real chemicals. We also use fire to show the affect of heat on the three states of matter. Of course these are very interesting and popular activities with very real consequences for misuse. So we let the children know that as soon as they have demonstrated their readiness (or responsibility), these experiments will be made available to them (with adult supervision).
Through the use of materials and the always present dialogue about making responsible choices, the children come to realize that if independence is the goal, responsibility is the means for achievement. Every choice that a child makes at school comes with the offer of greater freedom. If a child consistently chooses challenging work, he shows that he is ready to choose work freely. If a child consistently chooses to avoid distractions, he shows that he is ready to move about the environment freely. However, if a child frequently chooses to succumb to distractions, leaving his work unattended, he shows that he is not ready for the freedom to leave his work.
Caring for the plants and animals that are an integral part of an elementary environment is another way that children at this age develop a sense of responsibility. When working with the materials, the children are learning to become responsible for them selves. The presence of plants and animals gives them the opportunity to then take on responsibility for other living things.
The ultimate goal of a Montessori school, however, is to encourage the development of individuals who will contribute not only to their immediate surroundings, but to the world community. In our classrooms, there is no separation between academic and social development. Throughout the day children engage in academic lessons and social lessons, academic work and social work continuously. In the primary classes, these social lessons are called "Grace and Courtesy" lessons. In the elementary classes, the social work of the classroom expands to include experiences set up by the children in order to have practice in solving social problems. Sometimes the teacher plays a part, giving ideas about how to discuss problems with kindness and empathy, how to achieve healthy compromise. Sometimes, the children themselves fulfill this role. This social work encourages the development of individuals who are motivated to achieve success for themselves while also contributing to a classroom community based on the principles of helpfulness, kindness, and responsibility.
"The Great Work of our time is not only to be happy and whole as individuals, doing personal work that is of service to others; it is also to help build communities that involve mutually enhancing relations between human beings and the rest of the Earth community." - Thomas Berry
Making choices that contribute to the harmonious workings of the classroom is the rehearsal for making the choices that we hope our children will make as adults those that contribute to the healthy functioning of the world community.
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What is the Montessori perspective on competition?
In Montessori schools the success of each child is measured in terms of progress toward abstraction and responsibility. In other words, success is gauged by working hard to achieve the goal of understanding something better or creating something new. The introduction of a ranking system (grades) would take away the child's inherent motivation to learn, replacing it with an artificial motivation to 'get good grades'. When testing and grades are the primary means for gauging progress success becomes the result of good scores and, in some cases, being better than others. Rather than striving to learn, children would strive to perform better than their peers. By removing this kind of competition from the classroom environment, we offer to each child the opportunity to continue along their natural path, pursuing their interests and working for the sake of learning.
Competition, however, is not entirely absent from the Montessori elementary class. Positive competition presents itself in the form of peer pressure to write a longer research paper, figure out a more complicated math problem, or better assist friends who are working through a conflict. Competition becomes a positive force when it is not used to assign 'winner' and 'loser' titles but to encourage greater effort from each member of the classroom community.
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Do Montessori children get homework?
Homework is used in many schools as a tool for making sure that each child has the opportunity to get repetitive practice that will help them to assimilate new information. In Montessori classrooms, however, this repetition takes place during the course of the school day as the children spend their time repeating procedures with or without materials. Thus, homework in the traditional sense is not necessary for Montessori students. Rather, we encourage our students to continue to pursue their interests at home by going to the library, by observing their natural surroundings, or by sharing a project with their loved ones.
We do recognize that certain skills require extra time on the part of the children.
Reading and the memorization of math facts are skills that, once mastered, open the world for new and more interesting explorations. For this reason, it is essential for children to practice these skills at home. In addition, there are times when children need to bring work home if they have not used their time wisely in the classroom or if they need remediation with certain subject matter.
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What is the Montessori perspective on tests?
Testing is conducted at the end of each academic year. Children participate in testing in their final year of the lower elementary class and every year thereafter. Tests are offered to give children experience with taking tests. They are also used as evaluation criteria that help teachers to identify test-taking and other academic difficulties. Tests are not, however, the primary evaluation tool used by teachers in the elementary classes.
Children in elementary environments demonstrate their own successes each day as they choose and perform work in the classroom. The teachers in these classes are trained to recognize the point at which the child has successfully completed work with a particular activity, and is ready to be introduced to the next. Thus, it is the process as well as the product put forth each day by each child that is the continuing evaluation constructed by the child, and interpreted by the teacher.
The goal of an elementary class is to prepare children to pursue their passions in life. Elementary teachers recognize that testing is a skill that is necessary for the pursuit of certain interests. For this reason they start preparing students for test taking as soon as they enter the elementary program. First and second year students receive lessons about how to prepare themselves for testing as well as lessons about taking the tests. Strategies are offered for calming the nerves and planning for success with each section of the test. Each child is given a number of practice sessions with testing materials. The children are introduced to the different formats in which questions can be presented. Because the Montessori philosophy allows for children to develop skills at their own pace, moving away from the materials only when they have achieved a true understanding of the subject matter, offering an abstract test to children before the end of their stay in the lower elementary class does not display adequately their achievement. For this reason, we offer test practice to first and second year students, then the full test to those who have reached the end of the third year.
The tests are hand-scored in order to asses a particular child's individual strengths and weaknesses, and then to consciously address them. Once the results of the standardized tests are compiled, parents are at liberty to contact the teacher for an explanation of how the test works and their child's results. If a child scores low in a particular facet of the test, the teacher will contact the parents to discuss these results.
The most important step that parents can take to ensure the success of their children in Montessori elementary programs is to maintain healthy communication with the teachers. When adults work together in the interest of each child, a community is built that lifts each child to the heights of his potential.
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How are computers used in Montessori elementary classes?
Initially, elementary children in Montessori classes use computers only to learn the skills necessary for word processing - typing, maneuvering through screens to find the programs that they need, and maintaining an organized desktop. Computers are not used for research until the children have had the opportunity to master the skills required for research using libraries and books. The ability to find and use appropriate books for research projects requires much greater skill than does 'keyword' research of the kind generally done via computer. Once children have become adept with book research, however, the internet is available as a tool for further study.
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How do Montessori elementary classrooms serve children with special needs?
Montessori classrooms have some inherent characteristics that make them wonderful educational environments for children with special needs. Because children are given the opportunity to learn at their own pace, children who have difficulty with certain areas are able to have as much repetition as they need. Likewise, children who excel in certain areas are able to progress at the pace that their ability dictates. One of the most common misperceptions regarding Montessori classrooms is that they offer children unlimited freedoms, which could be very difficult for a child with special needs. It is true that Montessori classrooms offer certain freedoms to the children. However, those freedoms are closely paired with responsibility. This means that children are offered only those freedoms that they are ready for. When a child shows that he has developed adequate skill with choosing challenging work, the child is offered the freedom to choose their work. When a child shows that he can maintain responsibility when working with friends, the child is offered the freedom to choose where and with whom to work. In this way, children with special needs are supported with the structure that they need in order to be successful in the classroom, and with the motivation to progress to the point of achieving more freedoms.
All children benefit from the development of strong parent-teacher partnerships.
This is all the more true for children with special needs. It is important for both parents and teachers to maintain open communications regarding the observations that they make. Montessori teachers are experienced observers. When observations are made about difficulties that the children are experiencing in the classroom, those observations are shared promptly with parents.
Children are offered support in a number of ways in the classroom, and when appropriate, recommendations are made for outside help. When difficulties are observed, children are offered more one on one help. We have specific materials for help with remedial reading for accuracy, reading for comprehension, and remedial mathematics to help develop understanding about the decimal system, and the processes involved with each of the four operations. Many modes for communicating new information are utilized with every lesson presented. Thus, children who are visual learners are offered visual cues. Children who are auditory learners are offered auditory cues. And children who are visceral learners are offered hands-on activities to support their learning process.
When the teachers recognize the need for additional support, specialists are recommended. Once specialists are involved, teachers maintain close communication with them in order to facilitate the support that they recommend in the classroom. Teachers also inform the specialists about strategies that have achieved success in the classroom environment. .
The goal for Montessori teachers is to encourage the development of independent and responsible human beings who will be successful in their chosen pursuits and who will make wonderful choices for the future of their communities. For this reason, we recognize the importance of involving the children in the process of discovering and working with difficulties in the classroom. Children are encouraged to recognize their own strengths and weaknesses, and to work toward their own progress. With freedom and responsibility as motivation, the children learn the tools that they need to work with their challenges. Children who have difficulty concentrating learn to choose work spaces that will best support their focus. And children who have difficulty with specific subject matter learn to choose this work frequently so that they will get the practice that they need to facilitate their developing understanding. Montessori classrooms offer to the children models of the environments that they will live in as adults. Montessori teachers offer to the children the support that they need in order to learn how to be successful in these environments. For children with special needs, this opportunity to learn the skills to support their own success at this young age is an invaluable gift.
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Do you offer any extracurricular classes?
Art and music are subjects in the Montessori curriculum equal to mathematics, language, and biology. The elementary training for Montessori teachers includes extensive lessons in art and music, which are shared with the children on a regular basis. In addition to these formal lessons, art in particular is often used to supplement lessons in other subject areas by suggesting different ways to follow up on lessons. For instance, a child working on the variety of aerial root systems in plants might follow up this lesson by making clay models of roots or by painting roots with watercolors. By including art and music in the classroom, children recognize that they share the same importance as do other academic pursuits. In addition, this allows the class to maintain three hour work periods which are essential to the integrity of a Montessori class.
Physical Education lessons are also offered during the school day. However, organized games take place during the 'lunch and playtime' part of the day. It is during this time, then, that lessons on games such as baseball, soccer, or capture the flag take place whereas during class time, the teacher might give smaller group lessons on how to catch and throw a ball or how to balance while walking or running among obstacles. Again, we want the children to recognize that physical development is as important as academic progress. So we include it in the classroom.
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