American Montessori Society Senior Researcher and Coordinator Angela Murray, University of New Hampshire Assistant Professor of Education Jade Lee, and six teachers from Raintree Montessori School in Lawrence, Kansas presented on The Montessori Approach to Classroom Assessment at the National Council on Measurement in Education special conference at Kansas University in September.
The focus of this session was to demonstrate how Montessori teachers incorporate instructionally embedded assessment in their day-to-day work with children.
From the talk description:
Montessori teachers guide and monitor students’ progress through a graduated curriculum on an individualized basis where “…the Montessori teacher constantly observes the children in order to know where they are in their development at any given moment”. Montessori education builds on the premise that competence begets confidence based on a philosophy that “…the secret to maintaining [student] interest is to keep them challenged”. Each individual child’s progress is tracked by teachers who follow the student for three years in a multi-age classroom. Teachers gauge understanding by the way materials are handled, accuracy of written work, ability to transfer concepts to new situations, and demonstrating mastery through one child teaching a concept to another.
The session began with a brief overview of Montessori philosophy related to classroom assessment followed by small break-out groups of participants interacting with multiple Montessori teachers (at both the early childhood and elementary levels) who demonstrated how they use materials to embed assessment in their ongoing interactions with students.
The presentation framed assessment with a definition from formative assessment guru (and one-time senior research director for the Educational Testing Service, the standardized test giant) Dylan William: “Classroom activities that provide info to be used as feedback to modify teaching and learning activities”. William identifies five key strategies:
S1: Clarifying, sharing, and understanding learning intentions and criteria for success
S2: Engineering classroom activities that elicit evidence of learning
S3:Providing feedback that moves learning forward
S3: Activating learners as instructional resources for one another
S5: Activating learners as the owners of their own learning
The presentation then connected these strategies to elements of Montessori practice:
- Teachers are guides with specialized training who design a prepared environment (S1, S2)
- Curriculum involves specially designed, hands-on materials (S2)
- Three year age groupings (S4) and extended uninterrupted work time (S5)
- Emphasis on independent knowledge-building through internal development rather than extrinsic rewards (S5)
- Children learn at their own pace following individual interests (S5)
- Freedom to choose what to work on, where to work, for how long (S5)
Participants broke out into small groups led by Montessori teachers from Raintree for demonstrations and discussions of the materials and how they embed assessment in their ongoing interactions with students. The presentation was a great opportunity for the Montessori community to engage in dialogue with the broader field of education to shed light on how our practices reflect many of the current important areas of focus.