Unlike usual classroom teachers, the Montessori adult has a dual role of observer and teacher. To offer Assistantial Assistance and be Child Centred the Directress must take her cues from the child and for this she needs to observe the infant in her most natural state. From these observations the adult can form judgements about when she should act and when to withdraw, when to intervene and put the disordered child on the path to normalisation and when a child is concentrating and perfecting himself so that she does not interrupt, recognizing that the child is capable of a ‘Polarization of Attention’ from the outside world and towards his inner needs and activities is a skill unique to the Montessori directress.
In her role as a teacher, the Director is said to teach one and thirty children simultaneously, while working with one child she continues to aware of the community of children and ready to respond to each. The teacher must understand the child as an individual and social being fully (his rhythms, pace, to see and pre-empt needs, the strength and predominance of his tendencies, sensitive periods and absorbent mind). The teacher who links the child to the environment must also have the theoretical knowledge and creative experiences to be able to respond to the needs arising, to assist the right person at the right time in the right manner to know what is necessary and what is sufficient, the aim is to, ‘help him help himself’. Unlike teacher’s of traditional school’s, she does not aim to fix the child’s every problem but leaves him to work it out for himself and if one child disturbs another she does not scold or punish him but takes him to some new activity which is likely to gain his concentration.
In the Montessori context, observation is defined as the tool which helps us follow the child’s manifestations, to refine our understanding of how to help. The goal is to understand and respond to needs (know what developmental needs are arising and respond to them by presentations and activities) and remove obstacles (unnecessary materials, interference from adults and peers). Love is not enough without the wisdom that comes from observation – the teacher must keep in contact at all times with the child’s technical, spiritual and intellectual preparations.
Attributes of an Observer
Physically a good observer sits still or moves quietly and discreetly, even with her eyes so as not to take the child’s attention or cause him anxiety, with similarly quiet gesture and expressions, she does not speak or touch the child or his materials but helps only in an emergency. She makes her recordings unobtrusively, so he does not become self-conscious.
Emotionally the observer is humble, with an open mind, willing to be surprised, admit mistakes and has faith in the object of her work. In her observer’s role, she identifies when the needs of his inner child are stimulated and become concentrated, so she can be careful not to disturb this process which put the child in the path of normalisation and so that she can monitor his progression and predict what may stimulate his interest next. If she observes children struggling at an activity or disagreeing with each other her response may well be to do nothing, as it is key that the child solves his own learning and social problems. The directress does not react to all of the behaviours exhibited by children. Still, to the situations she sees folding, so only if a child continues to have problems with an exercise will she draw attention to the Points of Interest and only if the disagreement between the children disturbs others who are concentrating will she intervene.
As the inner life is not easily perceived we generally see the reactions of the child to obstacles and not the inner child, it is important to be able to observe difference and notice glimpses of the inner child. To do this requires the usual mode of adult thinking to shift and the need unusual faith in child’s ability to uncover his true nature must develop. The observer must remember that we do not have all the information in front of us. Hence, it is important not to judge or assume but to still the mind at the moment and accept the fats you see, later it is possible to gather more information. It is a privilege to observe, avoid labelling, observing with love transforms wisdom.
There are three stages to observation, to watch as a natural scientist, gather data objectively and patiently, then reflect on the information and finally arrive at conclusions and put a response into action. Observation can only be done at the moment, without combining other experiences, prejudices, preferences and this skill replaces our usual mode of relating to the world.
When children in the Montessori environment are observed, they usually follow a similar pattern known as a ‘Curve of Work’, as while disorder presents abundance of varieties normalisation is a convergence of harmonious traits. Firstly, when children enter the classroom they cannot focus on one task, are disorderly and have a low attraction for the objects in their surroundings. Secondly, the children become involved in an activity and focus their attention on preliminary work for an hour and a half. After which there is an increase in noise and movement in the infants, there is a temptation to stop the class, but if the teacher continues to allow the class to work this becomes a rest period. The students enter into the third stage of focused efforts for a longer time with a final elevated stage where activity becomes calmer, more disciplined and this is when the most important work is likely to take place.
Daily records include a quietly observed list of children who are not present, absent or late, rather than reading out a register of names. Birth-dates and special events are noted and planned. Files are kept with the children’s name, date of birth and date of admission.
The Director keeps notes of Community Activities such as songs stories and activities the group has done and how the children respond so she can use them in future, establishing familiarity with those which the group enjoys. She records each Individual and Collective Presentation given, to whom the presentation was made and the number of times it was repeated. She records how the children react to the presentation and if they choose to respond to the activities if they choose to repeat them and the level of concentration they use. A record is kept of prevalent activities and those who are not enjoyed to help inform future planning. To record how a child spent his day ‘Curve of Work’ can be presented in a diagram, where the four stages outlined above, can be seen at a glance to represent the child’s day in a precise and objective manner. Records of how a child spent his day should be made at least once every two weeks in their individual file; the focus here should be on work attitude, discipline, obedience and the child’s weight recorded every month on the date of the child’s birth.
Throughout the day observations are recorded, which will help to inform the monthly or 6 weekly reports of child’s activities and a termly report for parents. These observations will include how a works with adults and those who escort him to the Children’s House, how the child performs his activities, looking for repetition, changes in activity and concentration and how he acts and watches demonstrations. The working attitude is noted, degree of involvement, how he responds emotionally to a mistake, (calm and keeps going or frustrated and gives up), his attitude towards and achievement of perfection and how he simplifies those actions he has learnt, how he varies his activity from the way demonstrated, his will in choosing an activity and repeating it, the social and emotional development of a child, (waiting his turn, amiability, joyfulness, or interrupting, being aggressive, showing fear) and his social graces (humour, expression of regret and thankfulness), level of independence discipline or over-dependency and obedience to instruction. Phobias, concerns and strong attractions will also be noted.
The reports include the child’s social development as well as individual achievements, for the two and a half to three and a half years there will be an emphasis on Practical Life and Sensorial Activities whereas between three and a half to six years these reports will also focus on Mathematics and Language. As they are designed for parents, the reports will be written without technical language, generalisations and labels, advice should be stated, humbly and tactfully and give a reply slip where they can note their responses. An end of term meeting should take place between the parents and director.