What I've learned about following the child...There were three upper elementary classrooms in my first Montessori school. In order to make sure the entire curriculum was being covered, we held weekly team meetings to plan our lessons and create student work plans. In reality, it was six teachers making daily work plans for all three levels of students. The goal: to make sure all students were doing the same work at the same time so no one got behind. For example, it was expected that all 4th year math students would be doing the same lessons every week and by the sixth grade they all would be in the exact same place and ready to begin middle school, all at the same level.
Sadly, while we were using the Montessori materials and presenting lessons using the Montessori method, we were forgetting the most crucial element: we were not following the child. There was no freedom of choice and no respect of the individual. I felt trapped and conflicted because what I had learned and what I was experiencing were so different.
In my next Montessori school, I had the freedom to follow the children. I will admit that at first it was pretty scary. I had gone from complete control of lessons and activities to complete freedom of choice. Pre-planned work plans were gone, giving way to blank journals where students wrote down their own choices. Fridays were no longer make-up work days, but days to conference with each student about their weekly progress and goals. The children handled it beautifully and showed me how to trust them to learn what they needed.
When I began teaching in a lower elementary Montessori environment, I had an assistant who was adamant that the children needed pre-planned work plans. Despite all her protests, I had gained the self-confidence to allow even my first graders to make their own choices and make their own plans. Some needed a bit more help, but each and every child was soon capable of choosing and monitoring their own work, knowing when to ask for lessons and when they needed more practice.
Over the years, I have learned to be a guide and to let my students lead. I have given up (most) of the control and let the classroom belong to the students. When I gave up control, the students were happier, more productive, and enjoyed learning.
© North American Montessori Center - originally posted in its entirety at Montessori Teacher Training on Wednesday, July 4, 2012.