By Jason Phillips
DVMS’s Lower Elementary guide Rob Baker attended the CCMA‘s Annual Conference and Retreat day with Molly O’Shaugnessy on October 19. Molly is an Association Montessori Internationale (AMI) teacher trainer, international lecturer, Montessori consultant, and, since 1996, she has served as the Director of Training at the Montessori Center of Minnesota. Molly discussed the latest ways to, as a Montessori guide, track, plot, and interpret observations of students. Reminding us that “observation is the cornerstone of the Montessori method,” Molly points out that “Dr. Montessori’s most profound discoveries were based on her scientific observations of children as they freely interacted with their environment in a meaningful way.”
Let’s see how it all went down from Rob’s perspective:
What were your overall impressions of Molly’s presentations?
Rob: Molly was very engaging, although as an elementary guide I found the presentation very Casa-focused. Overall, though, she was fantastic. I’m still thinking about how what she showed us can be applied to the elementary level. From what I understand Molly is working on applying her ideas to the elementary and toddler levels.
Molly presented on observing and tracking methods, what’s the word on the latest and greatest?
Rob: What she presented pertains to what I would say most people would understand as the classroom report card, but it is more a record of student engagement and focus versus their periods of distraction.
From my perspective, one of the biggest issues with observation is time. Finding time and making time are always a challenge. Molly gave us a plan for a week-long observation schedule that included tracking and recording, as well as the completion of summary notes after the week of observation. One of my concerns or difficulties is how to observe successfully on such a schedule while still focusing on engaging with the students and giving lessons and keeping up with their interests and projects.
It is so important though. Observing helps us figure out what students’ interests are so we know how to best engage them. For example, if during your observations you see that a child is constantly touching things, seeing how things feel, then you know to present more tactile materials, such as the sensorial materials at the Casa level or the more hands-on materials and activities at the elementary level.
As a long-time Montessori guide, what are your thoughts on observing students in a Montessori environment? Any tips and tricks of the trade you can offer?
Rob: Elementary is hard to observe; there’s more action. You’re dealing with more, not just academics. Elementary is the age of socialization and I’ve also heard it called the age of rudeness. You have to work to understand the kids’ virtues and observe their interactions with others and have discussions about that.
Tips and tricks? Remember to observe. You can get wrapped up in lessons and things that need to get done, so you need to learn and remember to make time to observe and pay attention to how they interact with each other. Applying theory to practice is a big step; you’re always worried about doing it properly.
I often think of Chris when he was in Casa [Chris is a colleague at DVMS who started as a Casa assistant and is now an adolescent guide] and how he turned every situation into a positive. For example, one day I observed two elementary boys playing in the sandbox in the rain, getting wet and muddy. I felt myself starting to get frustrated with them, but Chris just smiled and took a picture of them. I thought about how calm his demeanour was and how I could turn this into a positive experience, so I brought the kids inside and we did a laundry lesson. Chris taught me to just slow down and make everything a moment. I’m still working on this.
What really stood out for you? Anything you were excited to bring back and share or put into place in your own practice?
Rob: The biggest thing was thinking about how to discuss what I learned with my colleagues, how to put in place what I learned and create consistency amongst us all. Some people like the paper to have nice right angles and others like it a bit more curved.
Besides the presentations and speakers, I often hear colleagues talking about the other benefits of these types of big professional development events. What do you find beneficial about attending events with 100s of other Montessori professionals?
Rob: Once you’ve been teaching for a while theory is theory, but at these events the more experienced guides have the chance to discuss specific situations and share and receive advice from each other. Also, new guides can teach us old dogs some new tricks, and we all have the chance to form new bonds. That’s invaluable and benefits everyone.
Did you see Molly’s presentation? Got your own ideas or tips for observing? Please share in the comment section.