Accountability and Outcomes
“Wait, so the children can just do whatever they want?”
This is a common question directed at Montessori teachers and administrators from people who are just beginning to learn about the Montessori method. Newcomers are often shocked to hear about the freedoms that Montessori children are allowed. They imagine that the Montessori classroom must be chaotic. Yet when they come to visit a Montessori Elementary classroom for the first time they are shocked once again. They see children engaged in a buzzing hive of productive work, showing each other care and courtesy as they collaborate on ambitious projects.
Why is this? The first reason is that children have a natural tendency toward productive and meaningful work, a tendency which is drawn out by the Montessori teacher and the environment. The second reason is that, given the right support from the teacher, the children are quite capable of holding themselves accountable to the goals that they set for themselves as well as the goals that are set for them by society.
The Montessori student and teacher have three tools at their disposal to track progress and allow the child to hold himself accountable for his own learning: the work journal, the student/teacher conference, and external benchmark assessment.
It helps children take responsibility for their own choices and guide their own learning. Parents may review journals with children from time to time but should appreciate the journal as a work in progress. It ebbs and flows with children’s natural development.
Children plan in their journal upon morning arrival. Some children take "quick notes" during the day on how well they are working. All children "reflect" in their journal at the end of the work time.
A first-year’s work plan is simple but establishes a habit of planning for the day.
As children grow their work plan expands.
The Montessori teacher guides each student’s learning process, both in a group context and also through the weekly one-on-one Student-Teacher Conference, where each child meets individually with the teacher.
This conference gives individual time to the child. The teacher is able to work with the child to establish learning goals for the week in all areas, review the records and reflections of the previous week in the child’s work diary. Most importantly, this individual time helps the teacher understand what social challenges the child might be facing which haven’t yet been discussed, so that the child have learn to navigate the new social environment.
Teachers conference with the children regularly. At conferences we remind children of lessons they can practice and checks that children are staying on track. If children have been successful the teacher plans harder lessons. If children are not getting work done teacher and student identify the roadblock then develop a plan together to work towards future success.
What if a child avoids work?
This is less common in Montessori than one might think, because of the social component of the class. The children want to be successful in areas their friends are successful in. However, if a child does avoid one type of work choice, it will be noted by the teacher while reviewing the work journal. The teacher and child can then make a plan together for how to practice that work.
In extreme cases, children may have to agree to do that work first before moving on to their chosen activities. Children at IMS are expected to reach a minimum level of achievement in all subjects which exceeds International School Standards. We use informal assessments and a minimal number of standardized tests to ensure children meet minimum standards. Children who go beyond the minimum may end up going deeper in one area then another: this is how they specialize and learn to follow their passions We have children who access content normally reserved for secondary schools because they are so motivated to succeed in certain areas.
Students in a Montessori class understand that they are members of a wider society. As such, they understand that they must not only meet their own personal goals but also those goals that are set for them by that society. This means achieving mastery in specific topics at specific points in their development. IMS uses several types of standardised test to help the children assess their progress toward those goals.
The use of external benchmarks, predominantly within the Elementary School, is designed to provide the School with information that can guide future teaching and learning at an individual, group, class, grade or school-wide level. Currently, IMS uses the following external standards:
Common Core: International standard against which the Montessori curriculum in Language and Mathematics is evaluated. Provides guidelines for expectations for all Elementary grade levels.
ACER ISA tests: International standardised test performed annually.
MAP® and MPG® online “answer responsive” tests done at students own pace.
IMS Principles of Assessment
Montessori education is specifically non-competitive. The Montessori approach encourages the development of intrinsic motivation for learning within the child, rather than being driven by external rewards and punishment. Activities are open-ended, encouraging exploration and creative thinking and, as such, do not lend themselves to grading, but rather to evaluation of mastery and typical developmental expectations. However, all Montessori curriculum requires a teacher to understand the child’s position within the societal context, and external metrics for learning are expected to be met, generally from age 7 or 8 onwards. A Montessori teacher is expected to know the expectations of the school district, which, for IMS has been defined by the Common Core, and understand whether an individual child is meeting developmental norms and expected learning outcomes for a particular age group.
At IMS, effective assessments:
- Provide information on the child’s progress
- Enable appropriate planning for each child’s needs
- Improve and encourage student learning and development of the whole self by providing effective feedback on the learning process and outcomes
- Inform planning and teaching, e.g. which materials to present and when and how to present them, and how to modify the learning environment
- Assess student understanding, knowledge and skills
- Are a continuous, ongoing process
- Use a wide range of multiple strategies / tools
- Have a clear criteria that are known and understood in advance
- Involve frequent opportunities for students to be assessed in authentic contexts
- Engage the learner in the reflection of their learning
We also believe that assessment should be:
- Honest, accurate, fair and reliable
- Modified to suit different learning needs and styles
- User-friendly for both teachers and students
- Cumulative, consistent and valid
- Clear, concise and as culturally neutral as possible
- Significant, engaging, relevant and challenging
- Positive and encourage growth
- Able to cover a broad spectrum of understanding, knowledge and skills
- Linked to / suited to the task undertaken
- Regularly and accurately reported to students and parents
Assessment that results in ranking a student’s achievement against the performance of other members of the class is not compatible with Montessori philosophy and practice.
In Montessori multi-aged classrooms, all students are aware of each other’s abilities and are comfortable with working at their own pace. The achievements of others are not seen as threatening, but rather as something to which to aspire. Children are able to see that it is normal for individuals to achieve mastery in certain areas at different times and in different ways. As a result, they are encouraged rather than discouraged and ready to continue to tackle, rather than to avoid, learning challenges.