In many ways, the work done in a Montessori classroom is ephemeral. A child takes out the red rods, puts them back, and there is nothing tangible left. Putting aside the intangibles gained from the Montessori materials (which are numerous and have been outlined pretty clearly here), is there a way to record Montessori activities, or should we even try?
There’s definitely a difference between the work done in preschool (3-6) and elementary (6-12). Elementary work is much more likely to have a written component, although not always. What might be the motivation for recording work in 3-6? One reason, obviously, is to show the parents what the child is doing in school. Other reasons would include tracking the progress of a child, and knowing what work to show them next.
So, I’ll cover some ideas for recording work in both preschool and elementary, and then talk about assembling a portfolio for a student.
Recording Work, Preschool-Style
One of my favorite ways to record the “ephemeral” work of Montessori is by taking a picture. I have taken pictures of knobless cylinder towers, red rods and pink towers, shapes from the Geometry cabinet carefully matched to cards, and long stories spelled out lovingly on rugs with the movable alphabet. Keep a camera on hand to document rug work – especially when the child has put a lot of effort into doing it. (Picture: my son’s triumphant completion of the Africa map – pictures work for elementary too!)
Another method of recordkeeping is to have a checklist or chart for each child, and check off work when it’s been presented or completed. This is especially handy when it’s time for parent/teacher conferences. Homeschoolers might need to have a record for their state or country of the work their child(ren) have done. This checklist is an indispensible guide when it comes to knowing “what to do next”, since Montessori teachers need to always be ready with a presentation based on the child’s needs.
Drawing pictures and making booklets is a fun way for kids to record their own work. Simple worksheets in 3-6 include bead stair worksheets, pages with circles to color that match the cards and counters, and blackline masters of the plant and animal nomenclature cards. In elementary, children may want to trace a picture or draw one freehand rather than use a blackline master.
Most preschool classrooms that I’ve observed or worked in use hanging file folders in the classroom, one for each child, where kids can put artwork, pictures, booklets, and worksheets after completion. The work they do can be sent home on a weekly or monthly basis, but it is important that the teacher keep some of it to create a portfolio of the child’s work.
Recording Work, Elementary-Style
Sister Mary taught us that in elementary, something can always be written down for each work that’s done. Her special phrase was “from hand to brain”. When you do something with your hands, it is reinforced in the brain. Writing down work in elementary is more than just making a record of the work the child has done, it’s strengthening the connections that have already been made by doing the work in the first place. If the students don’t do this extra step, it’s much less likely that they’ll remember the information later.
How can the children accomplish this? Sometimes it’s enough to write the title of the work. Other times, for younger children, a definition card can be copied down word for word (or lightly rephrased). Older kids can write their own “fact” about the work. It might be something about a country on a map, or about the animal or plant being studied.
Recording math and language work is important too. For language, the child can be instructed to write any words or pairs that they miss. If they do the work correctly from the start, they can choose their favorite word or word pair to write. It’s very important that their work be checked before they write. Because of the “hand to brain” phenomenon, anything they write incorrectly will be reinforced. We don’t want that!
Here’s an example: the child has done Synonyms Set 1. After the teacher checks their work (or an older student, or they use a control chart), they would write any synonyms, correctly, that they had matched incorrectly. Another example would be a story written on a rug with a movable alphabet. The story should be corrected for spelling and grammar (usually by the teacher), who shows the child where to change or add letters. Then the story should be written down.
For math work, the child can be shown how to write down equations either in the midst of doing the work (in which case the answer can be written down right away), or after they’ve completed the work. Colored pencils can be used to show place value, and graph paper can be helpful for keeping columns straight.
Workplans & Weekly Assessments
Many Montessori elementary classrooms use monthly or weekly workplans to track work. These are a great way to help children know what work still needs to be done, especially when they find themselves at loose ends. Weekly assessments can include the teacher’s summation of that week’s work, as well as children completing a self-assessment where they take an honest look at themselves. This weekly assessment can include goal-setting as well; children like choosing one or two traits or behaviors to work on during the next week.
Assembling a Portfolio
At the end of the school year, each child can put together a portfolio. It’s fun to include them in this process. They really, really enjoy looking through all the things they’ve done during the year. It can include stories, pictures, worksheets, art projects, and a copy of the list or chart that’s been used to track their progress all year long. Whatever is included, it should be a well-rounded overview of the child’s work throughout the year.
In my elementary classrooms, the portfolio also included completed workplans. I found that 3-ring binders worked really well for this: I punched holes in the workplans, and the kids used loose-leaf notebook paper (usually on a clipboard) for recording their work so it was easy to put everything in a binder. The pockets at the front and back of the binder can be used for artwork, spelling tests, and booklets.
Many Montessori students report that later in life, they really enjoy looking through the work that they did when they were young. Looking at work from year to year is a great way to celebrate a child’s progress. With a little bit of effort, a portfolio of a child’s Montessori work becomes a time capsule they can treasure forever.
Teacher Tools – Comprehensive Lists of Materials and Concepts for Tracking & Recording Work
Elementary Workplans and Teacher Tools – workplans for 6-9, a student self-assessment, and sample conference form (all free!)