One of the tasks we have set for ourselves as a staff and within the Accountability Committee of the LMS Board is to examine how we measure each child’s development in all areas. The area that is often highlighted is intellectual, especially through state standardized testing. We are required to take the MAP testing fall and spring for all grades and the PAWS (Wyoming’s state proficiency test) each spring for grades 3 – 8.
As we have accumulated data from these test scores, we are looking for trends and feedback regarding our instruction. We are focused on providing a Montessori education with awareness that we need to incorporate strategies for answering test-like questions and to prompt students to think abstractly in certain areas. Much of the math curriculum in a Montessori classroom revolves around the concrete materials and a sequence through those materials. Often students are mastering a higher level of understanding of these mathematical concepts through the hands-on work, but the abstract ability evolves differently than in accordance with these standardized tests.
One simple example of how we work to blend Montessori education within the confines of test performance is the sequence in math of the four operations: addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. In Montessori multiplication is usually taught after addition because of the commonalities between the operations. In tradition schools, subtraction is taught after addition. Due to the need to be aware of the progression of these operations on the standardized tests, many Montessori schools, including LMS, will teach subtraction after addition.
Currently Wyoming is in a state of flux with the adoption of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) for Math and Language with pending adoption of the Social Studies and Science CCSS while looking at other standardized tests that are aligned with CCSS. Our focus within this shifting arena is to provide students with a high quality content curriculum along with strategies and skills for doing well on these tests.
As we continue to discuss, strategize and implement these modifications and/or additions to our Montessori curriculum we continue to focus on maintaining an authentic Montessori school – one in which Gary, Charles or Kathy from our training program will observe as a true Montessori school. So far we are moving in the right direction and able to use their guidance to balance any overuse of worksheets, drill activities or teacher-centered activities.
However, we must also focus on the emotional, social and physical needs of our students as well. We are looking at methods to obtain data / information to reveal the levels of social awareness and emotional intelligence that our students exhibit. We hear from parents and observers about the high level of questions or observations that students make here at school and at home. How can we capture that information in the way that we capture academic progress?
Maria Montessori established four goals of learning related to a student’s success:
· The ability to concentrate
· Need for and Enjoyment of Work
· Ability for Self-Discipline and Self-Regulation
Betsy Coe, principal of a Montessori junior and high school, School of the Woods, director of the Houston Montessori Training Center and an AMS Board member for 20 years focused on the Habits of Mind (Art Kosta’s work) to reveal the social/emotional attributes and skills that Montessori students develop:
· Managing Impulsivity
· Listening with Understanding and Empathy
· Thinking about Thinking (reflection/metacognition)
· Striving for Accuracy
· Questioning and Posing Problems
· Applying Past Knowledge to New Situations
· Thinking and Communicating with Clarity and Precision
· Gathering Data through all Senses
· Creating, Imaging, Innovating
· Responding with Wonderment and Awe
· Taking Responsible Risks
· Finding Humor
· Thinking Interdependently
· Remaining Open to Continuous Learning
These Habits of Mind were used with all students aged 2 ½ through age 18, stressing the process of learning rather than just the content. As students got older they were able to identify these traits within themselves and provide evidence of such or realize that they were not exhibiting a trait and as seek ways to incorporate the trait.
As we work with the Common Core State Standards, one of the main components is to establish successful models of thinking for students rather than a heavy emphasis on what content must be taught. Both Habits of Mind and CCSS are focused on how students thinks rather than what subject is being taught.
At LMS we use a curriculum with a sequence that develops a scaffold for student learning throughout the different subjects (Math, reading, writing, biology, zoology, botany, geography, science). In addition the method fosters the Habits of Mind and four goals established by Maria Montessori.
As we continue to develop as a school and a staff, we are excited to be working with these concepts toward a way to document each child’s progress within the areas of intellectual, emotional, social and physical development. We are asking the questions: What does “proficient” look like? How do we assess a student’s progress in writing or scientific understanding? How can we improve? While Montessori includes methods of assessment, we are re-tooling those ideas to improve consistency between classes and to provide better ways to communicate that to parents.
In the past I have worked with Pam Dunbar, Head of School at the Montessori Academy in Arlington, TX. She and her staff have developed the Portrait of a Graduate. This served as a way to communicate the development of the whole child and highlights the outcomes important to their school and community. Some of these are:
· A confident, competent learner
· Academically prepared
· Critical and creative thinker and problem solver
· Socially responsible
· Able to handle external authority
Yesterday she sent us their rubric for “A Peacemaker” using four levels of development: Dependent, Independent, Interdependent and Leadership. We hope to collaborate with Pam and her staff in the development of our Portrait of a LMS Graduate and to focus on student outcomes that transcend test scores.