I have a confession to make. When I first became a Montessori teacher, I didn’t know the first thing about observing children. I thought observations were only about marking down on record-keeping sheets which presentations were given, when the child had practiced the activity, and when they mastered it... and then I read a quote from Dr. Montessori that started me questioning my observational practices.
The Child in the Family, p. 139.
Well, if our observations are not only about the activities or what materials the children are working with, then what are they about? Dr. Paul Epstein tells us that observation is our primary role in the classroom. “Observation is much more than sitting, watching, and hoping to see something.” (Epstein, 2012) The observer must ask what she really wants to know about the child she is observing. Dr. Montessori tells us that in order to become fully engaged Montessori teachers, the first step is “to shed omnipotence and to become a joyous observer.” (Montessori, To Educate the Human Potential, p. 83.)
Epstein uses the acronym C.O.R.E. to explain the purpose of observations:
ConnectWe need to have a goal in mind when we sit down to observe. What do we want to learn? Are we looking at the interests, habits, or preferences of a particular child? Or are we interested in the patterns and routines of the environment itself? Are we making connections on the personal, emotional, spiritual, or philosophical level?
Obtain InformationThere are a myriad of ways to gather information. In addition to checklists, consider a running record, a behavior rubric, or a time scale. If you are not getting the type of information you are looking for, change your method for obtaining that information.
Reflect on Your PracticeNow that you have obtained your information, what do you do with it? Just as a scientist analyzes data, you have to reflect and make meaning from your observations. Can you identify patterns? Are you taking into consideration the child’s background, personality, socio-economic culture, and family transitions? What about your own biases, perceptions, and values?
Engage ActivelyFinally, you get to act on your observations. Maybe the result will be that you need to conduct more observations! Maybe you will need to change the environment or implement new methods or practices.
Observations, says Epstein, are dynamic, not passive. We are not just watching children, we are learning from them, too.
Let’s become active participants and set a goal to become purposeful observers together while strengthening our Montessori practices.
© North American Montessori Center - originally posted in its entirety at Montessori Teacher Training on Thursday, June 30, 2016.