Testing is a hot-button topic for many families.  It’s important to know a school’s stance on assessments.  Read on to get an idea of where Montessori schools stand.

Let’s Define Assessment…

Merriam-Webster defines assessment as:

the action or an instance of making a judgment about something : the act of assessing something”.

If we take a look at the evolution of the word itself, we find that assess comes from the Latin word assidere, which means ‘to sit beside’.

While any type of assessment is a judging progress, Montessori teachers take the Latin root to heart.  We literally sit beside the child, observing and assessing as we go.

While there are many different forms assessment can take, most of them can fit into two main categories: formative and summative assessment.  Formative assessment happens while the teaching and learning is taking place.  This is the type that Montessori teachers rely heavily on.  It allows teachers to shift gears mid-lesson and to get an instant record of how a child is doing with a particular skill at any given moment.  Summative assessment is more like your traditional test at the end of a unit, or a major standardised test.  Here in Australia that would take the form of  NAPLAN or the HSC examinations, all based on ‘end point’ knowledge.  These tests are typically data collection points and are often used mostly by the adults and not to give feedback to the student.  As we know, these tests do not determine the likelihood of success for success in later life.

How Do Montessori Teachers Track Progress?

Notes.  Notebooks full of thoughtful and detailed handwritten notes.  At least that’s the traditional way of recording progress.  Here at Forestville Montessori School, we’ve shifted over to a digital platform called Transparent Classroom.  Transparent Classroom was  designed by a Montessorian and created to cater specifically to Montessori schools and their goals and values.  The educators at FMS love Transparent Classroom as it combines the ability to plan and track presentations and individual student progress with a scope and sequence across the whole school. Our parents love it too as it provides them with an ever growing window into their child’s environment.  At any given time, parents can see exactly what their children are working on and how they are progressing.  Transparent Classroom is real time assessment and reporting in a meaningful and purposeful way.

Montessori teachers are masters of assessment.  They think like scientists and spend lots of time sitting back and quietly watching the children at work.  When they’re not giving lessons, they’re observing.  They write all these observations down and then review them later to help decide what lessons to revisit, what new materials to present, or even what parts of the classroom environment need attention or change.

How is Mastery Evaluated?

Often, mastery is evaluated while the teacher is giving a lesson.  Montessori developed a fascinating tool called the ‘three-period lesson’.  When a teacher is presenting new material to a child, they may only present the first period, or the first two, depending upon how the child reacts to the work during the lesson.  When the teacher suspects mastery, the third period portion will be given.  There is a certain amount of variation depending on the subject matter, but the general pattern is as follows:

  • First Period: “This is ____.” The teacher introduces the skill. If the child is to learn the parts of a mountain, the teacher may say, “This is the summit.  The summit is the highest point of a mountain.”  A visual will be presented along with any other supporting materials.
  • Second Period: “Where is ____?” The teacher provides part of the information and asks the child to identify the rest. For example the cards highlighting the various parts of the mountain may be laid out and the teacher asks the child to point to each defined part in turn.  “Where is the summit?”
  • Third Period: “What is ____?” The teacher is determining whether the child can independently recall the information. The mountain cards are now laid out without any labels, and the child must identify the parts without any cues.  “What is this part?”

The best part?  Because of the beauty of the materials and the tone of the classroom, the child perceives this as a sort of game rather than a test to be dreaded.

What About When Children Get Older?

Parents often wonder how their children will make the transition into their secondary schools or other more traditional private schools once they age out of their Montessori school.  This is where there’s a little more variability.  Different schools take different approaches, but some give the option of offering some form of standardised testing for their oldest students.  This could be in the form of state testing, or something similar.  This testing is typically not a requirement, but is sometimes an option for students or families who are interested.  Contact us to learn more about how our school handles this transition.

A Note About Self-Assessment:

Montessori classrooms are not just designed for teachers to assess the students, but also for the students to assess themselves.  This is done in two main ways.

Most Montessori materials are autodidactic, that is they are self-teaching.  They have been intentionally developed in such a way that the child can not complete the work incorrectly, or there is a built-in means for them to check their own work.  This looks different at the different levels and is best understood by visiting a classroom to observe, which we always encourage parents and prospective parents to do when they are curious.  When given a lesson on how to use a material correctly, the children learn about these built-in tools and how they can use them to guide their work.

Secondly, Montessori students are taught to be reflective.  As they get older (typically lower primary and above), individual meetings with their teacher give them the opportunity to be an active participant in planning their own education. One on one conferences between a child and their teacher will happen regularly.  They are not told what they must do, but they are asked how they plan to accomplish specific goals.  Some of these goals are set by the teacher but others are set by the child.  When needed, teachers will give strategies and suggestions, but the hope is that eventually the child will develop more of these on their own.  What is one of the most effective ways to learn?  Feedback, feedback, feedback.  Feedback in a Montessori classroom is built into to every day learning.

We want our children to be able to take a look at their work and evaluate it with a critical eye, while still basking in the joy of accomplishment and learning.  By not passing obvious judgement in the form of grades or other traditional feedback methods, Montessori children come to see their learning as a constantly fluctuating process that they are empowered by.  If we can instill those values in them as children just imagine what they will be capable of as adults.

At Forestville Montessori School we celebrate joyful scholars who embrace independence, responsibility, initiative and self-discipline.  A judicious approach to assessment is just one more way a Montessori education can guide every child to learn.

Want to learn more about the benefits of the Montessori philosophy? Book a virtual tour and have a chat with me today!

Denice Scala

Author Denice Scala

B.A, M.Ed, Dip ED, Dip RSA, Cert. Neuroscience. Principal, Forestville Montessori School. Denice Scala is an executive leader with extensive experience in key strategic roles requiring business transformation and innovation. As a passionate advocate for the power of education to enrich lives, Denice moved from classroom teaching to leadership positions in 1992 and since then has held international in roles in Scotland and Australia as Principal, Head of Junior School, and Head of Learning Support. She has an impressive working knowledge of early learning, primary, middle, and secondary schooling including gifted education and special needs. Her Masters in Gifted Education led her to work extensively to find ways to cater for gifted students. This led to providing professional development opportunities for educators to assist in their understanding of the characteristics of gifted children and the complexities of growing up gifted. Denice’s unparalleled grasp of current educational realities is equally matched by her big picture thinking combined with practical solutions to navigate change.

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