Observation, defined as a way of looking at something very carefully, plays a key role in the Montessori classroom. Observation can help you know the child better which builds trust and improves the relationship with the child. A child feels safe and secure when they sense that you know them. Observation also helps in providing examples of what children know and can do, that you can share with their families. Family members love hearing stories about the child and his progress. Observing is more than just sitting and watching with the hopes that something may happen. It’s more about the understanding of the child or the situation they are in, and assessing it. Ultimately, it is trying to have a connection with the behavior and inner state of the child. The goal is to understand and respond to the developmental needs of the child and to try and remove the obstacles to make the process successful and peaceful. According to Dr. Maria Montessori, observation is an art which has to be exercised and practiced continuously.
Observation is one of the most vital teaching tools for any directress in a Montessori classroom. The main aim of observing is to follow the child, and help them find their strengths. Through observation, the directress can evaluate if the child is prepared for the material in the classroom. By observing several different aspects, the directress can better assess if the child’s developmental goals are met. It also shows at what pace the child is learning, and perhaps if she can introduce a new lesson or activity to meet a specific need of a child. For example, the teacher observed that Albert was going into the library and reading books every day. She sat with him to talk about the book he was reading and realized that Albert was able to comprehend what he was reading. Albert was currently at the word building stage and this Observation helped the teacher progress him quickly to the reading material.
In a Montessori classroom observation involves three key steps:
- looking at the child
- documenting what we see
- reflecting upon what we see
By continuously observing, recording and collecting the information and then reflecting on the observation made about the child, it helps the directress process all the information and elevate her teaching method. Through observation the directress helps the children follow their interest and give them individualized personalized education. In the book “The Hidden Hinge” Packard says that
“Observation and a record of that observation go hand in hand. To observe without making a conscious statement of what you saw leaves you without a control of error. You only understand what you already knew. Making a record after an event allows information to consolidate. Gaps, inconsistencies irrelevancies patterns are revealed. Recording on the spot provides a disciplined focus for your observation, often enabling you to notice things frequently overlooked rather than merely taking in habitual kinds of information.” (Packard Pg. 123)
It takes time to really know and understand children. Just observing once will only give a sneak peek about the child. The more you observe the more you can have a better understanding and build a good relation with the child. As Maria Montessori says ‘ “ In order to do this, “a habit… must be developed by practice…. To observe it is necessary to be trained”. ’ ” (Lillard pg. 80)
The directress should not only observe and asses the child for their academic abilities but also for their social, emotional, physical, and intellectual development. For example, the teacher observed that Elizabeth was blinking her eyes often in the classroom. She then made a note of this and asked her other colleagues to observe as she needed a second opinion. Her colleagues also noticed the blinking thus confirming her initial observation. The teacher followed up on this by asking Elizabeth’s parents if she was having difficulty in seeing. They confirmed with her doctor that her eyesight was fine. Later, post ruling out any issues with the eyes and more detailed observation over a longer period, the teacher saw that the blinking was more prominent every time Elizabeth was asked a question or was put on the spot. After analyzing her notes the teacher understood the root cause of this and focused on making her comfortable in the classroom atmosphere. This helped Elizabeth get over the blinking to a significant extent.
The directress should know when to step in to offer guidance, and when to challenge a student with the next step in the learning sequence. While observing the teacher should be very soft spoken and quiet. While she is focused on one child, she should also keep her eye on the entire classroom. She should always remove any bias in her mind before her observation. To make sure that the judgments she makes are without bias she should ask another teacher to observe the same child and record what she notices. The directress should not worry about the right way of observing, or the perfect way of keeping the records, or making sure she sees everything. But instead she should allow herself to be curious about the children, should slow down, and be present while interacting with the children. She should only observe a few children every day, and work with her colleagues for second opinions. Maria Montessori says in her book The Montessori Method ‘ “ The teacher must bring not only the capacity, but the desire to observe natural phenomena. In our system, she must become a passive, much more than an active, influence, and her passivity shall be composed of anxious scientific curiosity, and of absolute respect for the phenomenon which she wishes to observe. The teacher must understand and feel her position of observer: the activity must lie in the phenomenon.’ ” (Lillard pg.79)
Often teachers don’t get enough time to observe, since their time is mostly spent in classroom management and guiding the children in the classroom. The most important thing to remember is that observation makes the teaching process easy and not more difficult. It significantly improves the teacher’s ability to respond to the child appropriately, to understand the child’s needs, their level and give them the right lesson. Observation makes classroom management and planning the academic, social, intellectual growth of the child easier. This also helps the directress in being aware of each student’s progress as she works towards mastering the skill of observation.