Friday, June 02, 2017

Montessori Today, Chapter 7: Freedom and Responsibility — Student Work Journals

NAMC montessori today chapter 7 freedom responsibility. Girl writes in her student work journal

The Montessori teacher’s specific responsibility is to aid human development through awareness of the children’s needs at each stage of self-formation. Through this approach to their education, the children can pass onto each successive plane of development well prepared for the challenges ahead.

—Lillard, p. 114

Work journals in the Montessori elementary classroom can be a hotly debated topic. What do they look like? Who is responsible for them? Who decides what work is included? Somewhere along the way, we have lost the meaning of the work journal and turned it into a work plan.

Keeping a journal involves more than a student making a list of what he has accomplished during the day. It provides him with an opportunity to reflect on what he has learned. Written after the fact, a journal shows the reader where the student has been instead of dwelling on where he must go. As such, the work journal is an assessment tool rather than a planning tool.

Studying Montessori Today, Chapter 7: Freedom and Responsibility — Student Work Journals

NAMC montessori today chapter 7 freedom responsibility. Boy writes in his student work journal

A work plan is different than a journal. Written before the work occurs, a work plan places limits on the student’s learning. The teacher may ask, “What are you going to work on today?” and think that she is helping the student plan his day by writing a list of work. Often, when work is written down, it becomes finite. Children rush to “finish” and then do nothing more. They see that everything for the day has been checked off and feel that they are “done.”

I experienced this firsthand when teaching in a lower elementary Montessori public school environment. The children would race to finish their work first and refused to find work once their plan for the day was checked off. They told me they were done and that they didn’t have to do anymore work. I had previously been teaching in an upper elementary environment, and I reflected on the difference between the two environments. Besides age, the only difference I found was the use of work plans instead of journals.

Once we removed the work plans, the focus shifted to open-ended exploration and students felt free to choose their work. They spent more time in deep concentration and their learning was more than rushing through surface-level understanding.

We would often find that students expressed surprise when we signaled it was time for lunch; they wanted to keep working!

Whether a bound book or covered notebook is used, it is essential that the journal be regarded as a special tool in the child’s development. It must be attractive, carefully kept, and valued.

—Lillard, p. 99

Learning to keep a work journal is something that is developed over time. The Montessori teacher begins by providing a beautiful journal for each student. As with all Montessori materials, when there is beauty, there is respect. Each day begins on a new page, and each entry is dated chronologically. In the beginning, it may be necessary to show students how to use the next successive page and not skip around. Show them how a book moves progressively, and encourage them to do the same in their journals. Younger students and those new to Montessori may begin by simply making a list of what they worked on and what presentations they attended during the day. Older students will use their journals for reflecting upon their learning, commenting on their discoveries, and making plans for further study.

NAMC montessori today chapter 7 freedom responsibility. An example of a student work journal

The Montessori teacher uses the students’ work journals to review the students’ progress at individual student meetings. At the beginning of the year, these meetings may occur daily, but soon enough, most students move on to weekly meetings with only a few requiring daily check-ins. Younger students only need a few minutes for meetings, while older students usually require a bit more time due to the nature and complexity of their work. Regular meetings provide students with the opportunity to demonstrate both their completed work and their work in progress. The Montessori teacher compares her observations with those of the student, making note of presentations and helping fill in any gaps. She also shares words of encouragement and maintains an ongoing dialogue regarding the student’s future works.

In order to follow the child, we must allow them to lead the way. Using a work journal rather than a work plan provides students with the freedom and responsibility to become independent, self-sufficient learners.

Works Cited
Lillard, Paula Polk. Montessori Today: A Comprehensive Approach to Education from Birth to Childhood. New York, NY: Schocken Books, 1996.

Michelle Irinyi — NAMC Tutor & Graduate

As much as possible, NAMC’s web blog reflects the Montessori curriculum as provided in its teacher training programs. We realize and respect that Montessori schools are unique and may vary their schedules and offerings in accordance with the needs of their individual communities. We hope that our readers will find our articles useful and inspiring as a contribution to the global Montessori community.
© North American Montessori Center - originally posted in its entirety at Montessori Teacher Training on Friday, June 2, 2017.


  1. This is a interesting idea. How do you assure students are not avoiding particular work outside of their individual meetings? I would love to hear more on this as I agree on your assessment of work plans.


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