Teacher Talk: Preparing for the Parent-Teacher Conference
As Montessorians, we believe that children are intrinsically good. We believe that the natural state of children is positive, that children will do the right thing if given the opportunity, and that when children’s behavior is less positive, it reflects some obstacle to the child’s natural state. We believe children are intrinsically peaceful, and that peace is the natural condition of childhood. When conflicts do occur, we look to the physical design of the classroom, the developmental differences between children, or the choices of the teacher to resolve. Finally, we believe children are intrinsically motivated to learn. We believe that children’s motivation to learn is natural to them and continues to blossom in environments that allow authentic learning.
Based on these keys beliefs about children and learning, we assess children individually along a developmental trajectory that includes observation for social, emotional, intellectual, physical and academic growth. We expect this development to be nonsequential and nonlinear, following each child’s own progression, child-driven and adult-facilitated.
Assessing child development relies on careful observation, verbal interaction and monitoring of specific lessons attempted and mastered. Typical assessment includes: formal and informal observation by faculty, documented three-period lessons,and observed mastery and transference of concepts.
Montessori teaching demands trained observers who take seriously their role as teacher-scientists. As you're thinking about what to observe, consider:
Children’s use and ease with materials
Children’s attentiveness to the self-correcting qualities of the materials
Children’s creative use of materials and exploration of “hidden” features
Children’s readiness for more challenging materials, as often indicated by “step-skipping” in earlier lessons
Children’s joyfulness and calm
Children’s repetition of work, within and across days
Children’s mastery of knowledge as indicated by a rapid verification in the Third Period of the Three-Period Lesson
Children’s transference of learned concepts to new settings
Preparing for Parent-Teacher conferences: How do I know what to tell?
I recommend formal narratives over checklists or other forms. Formal narratives of children’s development should be carefully prepared, evidence-based rich descriptions of child growth and progress. Because narratives are often sent home to parents to be read independently, choosing language carefully is key to offering a description which authentically describes the current development of the child with sensitivity to parents’ unique relationships with their children.
Narratives should be prepared as objectively as possible, using positive language that describes accurately the development of the child. Narratives should be reviewed by other faculty members to assure that they reflect your school's core beliefs about the nature of children, including that children are intrinsically good, intrinsically peaceful and intrinsically motivated to learn
Narratives might be organized into a few key areas:
Practical Life: The Practical Life materials offer children an opportunity to learn to care for themselves independently, to develop concentration, physical coordination and a sense of order. Children’s development in Practical Life should describe their awareness of their environment and their demonstrated concern its stewardship and the people around them, their ability to exercise grace and courtesy, their ability to interact with the daily tasks of the environment independently.
Sensorial: The Sensorial materials support the development of the children’s senses as a means to understand the concrete and abstract experiences of their world. Children’s development in Sensorial should describe their ability to distinguish between auditory, tactile, olfactory, gustatory, and visual stimulation, their ability sort, categorize and generalize, and their beginning generalization of these ideas in other areas.
Language: The Language materials support children’s developing skills in written and spoken language and in their ability to understand others’ language. Children’s development in Language should describe their ability to express themselves in speech and writing, their ability to incorporate new vocabulary, their skills in decoding, reading and comprehension, their understanding of grammar in writing and speech, their ability to use language to solve problems and their skill in nonverbal communication.
Mathematics: The Math materials propel children from concrete understanding of numbers and quantities to abstraction and reasoning. Children’s development in Math should describe their mastery of numeracy materials, their ability to perform math operations, and their ability to apply math skills in other settings.
Cultural Materials: The Cultural materials support the children’s understanding of their role in a global community, including an understanding of history, humanities and the arts. The Cultural Materials should describe the children’s awareness of their own cultures and cultures different from their own, their awareness and appreciation of the arts, their awareness and appreciation of diversity, and their understanding of community and cultural norms.
Details about children’s social, emotional and physical development can be observed in each of the academic areas of the classroom can be included in the narratives for children’s growth in these domains or held out as separate areas for specific observation.
Descriptions of children’s social development should focus on their interactions with others, their comfort in multiple group settings, their preferences for independent, parallel or collaborative play, and their ability to solve problems with peers. Descriptions of children’s emotional development should focus on children’s self-regulation, their ability to manage impulses, their emotional resilience and their persistence through challenging tasks. Descriptions of children’s physical development should present children’s progress against age-appropriate developmental milestones.
Preparing a formal narrative for each child is time-consuming, although it's far easier when you've been observing regularly and, ultimately, a richer model for communicating with parents the nuanced development of individual children, emphasizing the whole-child approach we hold so dear as Montessori teachers.
What other models have worked for you? Email me some ideas and let's discuss them further.