Source: The information contained in this article was adapted from Primary Observation Guidelines – One World Montessori
How to Observe in a Montessori Environment
- Please turn all smartphones or watches to “do not disturb” and safely tuck them away for the duration of the observation.
- When you enter the classroom, please be seated. Children may come up to you. Please try not to engage them in conversation. A polite “hello” or a direct response as to who you are is fine; then quietly ask the child to return to work. The children understand that observers come to watch them working and they will understand your response in that context. Likewise, please try not to engage with fellow observers as this can be a distraction.
- The teacher will not be able to take time from her classroom duties to converse with you during your observation. If questions occur to you while you are watching, please write them down. The teacher or administrator will be glad to answer these questions after your observation is over.
What to look for in the Montessori Environment
We have found it helpful to offer a guide to observing and interpreting the dynamics of the Montessori classroom. Many, upon first entering the environment when it is abuzz with children, feel overwhelmed by the diverse activities that are going on. The suggestions below are intended to be a focal point for your attention.
- Visual Perspective: There is more to the Montessori classroom than the activities of one particular child. Try to alternate between a wide-angled view of the entire classroom and a focus on a particular child.
- Auditory Perspective: Listen to the noise level as it rises and falls. Try to see which groups or individual children are generating the sound. You will hear the normal hubbub of children being together and the special pitch of the children being excited about learning. At times there will be a special peak of excitement of discovery. See if you can differentiate.
- Learning: Notice that children learn in different ways. With some types of materials, you will see groups of children working cooperatively, and with others, you will find an individual child working alone intensely. Still, other children are walking through the classroom seemingly not engaged in any direct activity. Very often, this last type of child is engaged in actively absorbing information through observation of the children and the materials in the classroom. It will help if you alternate your focus on these three learning patterns.
- Child-child Interaction: Listen to the way – the child and the context – in which children talk to each other. Listen for the level of respect as well as for the normal pushes and pulls of childhood. Very often observers new to Montessori are surprised that a child will zealously guard his/her work and tell another classmate that s/he is disturbing this work, and that, as a result of this verbal communication, the other child will leave.
- Teacher-child interaction: Watch the way teachers interact with children. Notice how a teacher corrects a child, and look at the instances in which she does not. Listen to the teacher’s tone of voice with the child. Many have asked how one teacher can “handle” a group of 20 mixed-aged children. The answer lies within this interaction process. The teacher is a facilitator of the child’s autonomous learning process. She guides rather than insists. She prepares the environment, gives the child the tools to utilize the materials and then does whatever else is necessary to help the child interact with the environment without assistance. Sometimes this involves direct encouragement, at other times indirect appreciation, and even judicious absence. There is a basic respect for each child’s particular style of learning in the Montessori classroom. See if you can pick this up.
- Sociability: Watch how the children offer assistance to one another – with the materials and with everyday tasks – and the ways that they are directly sociable with one another. The snack table is a good area to keep an eye on to see this dynamic.
- The Montessori classroom contains a wide range of both ages of children and of materials that are appropriate to the different developmental levels. Note how the children go to the materials that are appropriate to their developmental level. Note also how the younger children absorb the older children’s work simply by being near them, and how, conversely, the older children will assist the younger ones with work that they have already mastered. These seeming academic activities have a strong social component to them – one that inculcates a sense of responsibility for and community with all those in the class. There are always pockets of purely social activity present in any Montessori classroom as the child’s natural desire to form friendships and be part of an ongoing community is ever-present.
- Autonomy: Absorb the independence of the children as they do for themselves in the classroom environment. Watch how even the youngest child takes responsibility for his/her personal environment. Watch how, however precariously, a glass pitcher of water or a tray with fragile materials on it is carried. Watch as a child chooses a piece of work, takes it from the shelf, completes the work, and returns it to its place so that the next child can use it.
The generation of autonomy is a function of the prepared environment of the Montessori classroom. What this means is that the child will have available all needed materials, in good working order, to complete a task that has usually been self-chosen. The structure of Montessori provides the child with as much time as s/he needs to complete the task to his/her satisfaction, and success is the primary reward. As you look around the classroom, notice the materials, and how attractive they are in placement, color, cleanliness, quality, etc. The child is attracted to learning in this environment.