I have been working and observing in Montessori classrooms for a good fifteen years now and I’ve seen dozens of different ways to keep track of the mountain of information generated on a daily basis. I’m also a bit of an information junkie and I collect ideas like they’re about to run out (have you seen my Pinterest boards?!) Today I will share with you the various ideas I’ve experimented with over the years and the results I’ve gotten from them.
Phase I: Ambitious New Teacher
I worked under the guidance of a very organized supervising teacher for two years as an assistant and intern. Her methods made a huge impression on me. Every week she had a new list of lessons typed up for each child. During the week we took notes about the works every child selected and which lessons each child was given. All this information was transferred to a master binder at the end of the week. If you asked her exactly how many times a child had done the pink tower over the course of three years, she could tell you!
I was fascinated by the whole concept of organizing all this data. Actually, at first I was mostly fascinated by collecting all this data. I attended as many workshops as I could about record keeping and read any book I could get my hands on. Unfortunately there’s not much out there specifically for Montessori teachers. I was delighted and overwhelmed by Dr. Marlene Barron’s Recording & Reporting: A Comprehensive Early Childhood Recordkeeping System.
Here’s my water-stained and well-loved 2000 edition.
Remarkably, you can find the complete 1985 edition for free on Eric.ed.gov
When I moved on to a new school and had to set up my own system, I went all out. I had the typed lesson plans and the daily notes. I drilled down and tried to figure out just how much data I could gather on each child every day or week.
Take a look at this insanity:
That’s right, I was trying to keep a graph of each child’s concentration level during the day. Who does that?!
Phase II: Overwhelmed New Teacher
Well, that graphing system got me about half way through September. Then I threw my hands up, tore my hair out, cried in my pillow, and gave up. I had too much else to do. Collecting that much data was just not possible. So I went back to a simple grid and wrote what I could when I got a chance. There was no transferring of information to binders. There was no typing up of individual lessons beforehand. There was just a one inch square dedicated to each child on my single sheet of paper each day. I also used a variation of a standard grade book from a teacher supply store. The names of the students were written down the side, and the names of the presentations were written along the top. I used a different page for each curriculum area (similar to the ones found here).
Phase III: Light Bulb Moment
Circumstances had forced me to pare down my record keeping to a bare minimum. When I came up for air after that first year of running a classroom on my own, I realized that it hadn’t mattered all that much. I had only gone back and referred to my notes a handful of times. I didn’t really need them. I had all the information I needed in my head. It was then that I realized how the beautiful sequence of the Montessori materials and the Montessori emphasis on following the child had supported me. In one quick glance around the room, I could tell in an instance exactly which material each child was ready for next and whether I needed to provide more support. I could remember whether I had presented a material to a child before and how he had done with it. I didn’t need to look at my notes for that information. This freed me up tremendously and I was able to spend time focusing on mastering my actual teaching skills for the next few years.
Phase IV: The Organizing Bug Bites Again
After a few years of coasting along without a formalized record keeping system, I decided I’d like to try my hand at it again. The OCD part of me liked the idea of having a lot of data and organizing it. Many years later, I wrote a detailed post about my system here, and even sold it as part of a larger package of tools for teachers.
A couple of years ago I made a video outlining my system for the talented Anita and Rob Amos, creators of Montessori Compass while they were still in the earlier stages of developing their software.
Here’s a summary:
1. Prepare in Advance
- Print out monthly calendars for each child for the school year and place in a tabbed binder.
- Print out a list of all the Montessori presentations/materials (also called a Scope and Sequence). You may want to list them by curriculum area or skill or approximate age. You can get free printables at The Helpful Garden, Teachers Pay Teachers and Maitri Learning. One of the teachers at my former school showed me how she had it organized by year, and this is the system I adopted.
2. Daily Observation Grid
Print out a grid with enough spaces for each child in the class. Print on address labels so you can peel and stick onto the calendar sheets instead of having to copy the information by hand at the end of the day/week. You will have to tweak the size of the grid so that the labels fit neatly onto the calendar sheets you’ve printed. During the day, write down any pertinent observational notes. At the end of the day, peel and stick the labels onto each child’s calendar sheet. (I use Avery 5162 and I need to make two long cuts down the sheet to get the right size for my calendar.)
3. Weekly Individualized Lesson Plan
Print out a grid with enough spaces for each child in the class. Again, print on address labels. During your lesson planning time, write down the lessons you plan to present to each child during the coming week. Over the course of the week make a notation on your grid once you give that lesson. Write down any spontaneous lessons presented as well. I used a pencil during my planning stage and wrote over it in pen once I presented it to the child. At the end of the week, peel and stick your lessons labels onto the child’s calendar sheet. Flip over to your Scope and Sequence for each child, and make a notation next to the lesson presented. I use a simple triangle to indicate the the stage of mastery. One side of the triangle represents “presented”, two sides represent “practicing”, and a complete triangle represents “proficient/mastered”.
** Watch the video if you want to see how we used the Livescribe smartpen for our record keeping**
Phase V: Simplification
No matter how much I like data, the question that nags away at me is always, “What is it all for?” As I wrote before:
The very first step in setting up your record-keeping system is to figure out your purpose. Why will you be keeping records? Who are they for? What information do you want to record? What will you use that information for? Are there legal requirements? There will be a range of answers to these questions. Some schools require certain information be passed on to parents every year. Other teachers simply need a way to keep track of their students’ progress so they can keep them on track and motivated.
I don’t have external requirements for keeping individual student records. It’s all me- and the teachers I share the classroom with. There is just no point in collecting data if I/we don’t go back to it.
I’m back to wanting a simple, minimal record keeping system. There’s one glitch though. As I’ve gotten (a little) older and have lost my healthy eating and exercise habits, I’m finding I can’t rely on my memory like I used to. In fact, I can’t remember a darn thing unless I make a record of it! Curses. Now I DO need a record keeping system, but it has to be super simple and not rely on my memory.
This is a great video of Anna Perry talking about the importance of record keeping in Montessori schools.
Over the last few years I have experimented with a few online record keeping solutions and have settled on Montessori Workspace for now. I have been using it in earnest for a year and I am very pleased with it. (Disclaimer: apart from being their customer, I am not affiliated with them in any other way and have not been asked to write this review). I started off the year putting a ton of information into it daily but all that did was take up time and not give me any benefits.
Now, I simply make an entry if I have personally worked with a child. I will occasionally add anecdotal notes if they seem important enough. If I notice that a child is ready for a new lesson but I can’t present it right away, I can add it to the child’s lesson plan with a couple of clicks. It’s also very easy to see at a glance exactly where the child is in the sequence of materials.
Navigating through Montessori Workspace is very intuitive and streamlined. A few clicks (or taps if you’re on a mobile device) and you’re done.
If you’d like to experiment with it over the summer, Montessori Workspace allows you to use all their features for free for the first five students.
We make heavy use of photos and videos for documenting children’s progress in a way that is meaningful for parents. Check out our Vimeo and Youtube channels for our public videos.
A note about electronic record keeping systems: If you’re going to use one, I think you should be able to put your information into the system directly. If you’re writing things down on paper and then transferring it into your electronic system after school, you’re missing out.
More Montessori Record Keeping Resources
Montessori Records Express (MRX)
MRX is a web based Montessori record keeping system. It has been around the longest and is very popular with the larger Montessori schools. It is very comprehensive. I worked with it briefly a few years ago but it had many more features than I needed. At the time, I also felt that its user interface was not that intuitive. That has probably changed since then!
Montessori Compass is another comprehensive online record keeping solution for Montessori schools. It has a lot of features and a pleasing user interface. It has a fantastic capability of automatically sending individualized information to parents. The folks at Montessori Compass have also been working closely with the Montessori Foundation. They have aligned the Foundation’s Scope and Sequence with the Common Core standards and have integrated this into their software. Wowzers!
I have no experience with this company, but Montescoring seems to have made a product that I’ve been dreaming about for 15 years. A shelf that automatically scans and records which child took which activity out for how long?! You have to watch the video on their How it Works page to believe it. (But, I have come to realize that this kind of data is actually not that useful for me.)
Plain Ol’ Paper and Pencil