The Role of Observation in Montessori Classrooms by Jan Gaffney

One of the key principals Montessori teachers often talk about is observation

and the importance of it, so I thought it timely to explain what we mean by that.

There are many different kinds of observation.

One is on the fly.  As we move around the classroom in between giving lessons, we make a note of what children are doing (often in written form so we don’t forget what we have seen). We look at what choices children have made – have they taken up lessons presented, or have we not yet captured their interest?

Another kind of observation is in dedicated sessions, where we sit with our notebook, writing down what we see. We are not available to answer questions or respond to the children for that moment, but instead we are looking for trends across the whole class, while also looking at what individuals and small groups are doing. We look at the work level happening – is there a quiet hum or is the volume at a level that tells us work has fallen off and ākonga are off task?

Another is the observation we do when giving lessons and watching ākonga practice lessons they have received. From watching them work we can tell if they understand a concept enough to keep going unassisted, or if they need our help a while longer.

The length of an observation can range from certain times during the day to across a whole week or longer, depending on the need of the child. In those longer observations we look not just at what they do, but other variables such as:

–          Are they choosing it themselves?

–          How long do they stick at it?

–          Is it a challenge or is it quite easy?

–          Are they doing it with deep concentration or are they a bit distracted?

–          Have they chosen the same thing over a few days or weeks?

–          Are they doing things in the same order, or do they like to mix things up?

–          Do they like to work with something new until they have mastered it before moving to something else, or do they like to space their work choices out?

All of these things give us clues to the student’s individual needs, interests, abilities, learning styles, and more. It is through observation that we are able to make individual plans to cater for the needs and interests of each ākonga.

Observation also lets us see what is happening in the class as a whole.

–          Do we need to be giving grace and courtesy lessons?

–          Are children treating each other well?

–          Are they handling the equipment responsibly?

–          Are there some children who need to broaden their choice of people to work with, or others who need to narrow theirs down?

If we didn’t spend this time observing, we would end up looking to see what the next lesson on the list was and deliver it, regardless of any interest or ability, and regardless of whether the planned lesson was going to meet the child’s developmental needs. We would also make assumptions about what we need to do instead of looking to really see what was needed.

Instead, teachers are striving to offer the child or children( in primary and above, where they are more group oriented) the lesson they need in order to develop to the best of their abilities.