Coffee Talk!

Anna Schwind, Lower Elementary Directress
Anna Schwind, Lower Elementary Directress

We had quite the full house for our most recent morning coffee talk as Anna Schwind, Lower Elementary Directress, and Laura Ceretti-Michelman, VdM Head of School, addressed methods of assessment in the Montessori classroom.   Many thanks to all who could join us for a hot cup of coffee/tea, tasty banana bread and lively discussion on how learning is evaluated in our elementary classrooms.  

For those who couldn’t make it due to work or other commitments, we’ve got your back!  

For those who prefer other avenues for receiving information, no worries- we’ve got your back as well!  

We love to share, and we love questions and interest from our beloved community!


If you attended, here is your summary in review!

If you couldn’t join us, here’s a nuts-and-bolts recap of the discussion for your reading/learning pleasure!

No homework.  No tests.  No grades.  

So, how in the world do the teachers know what’s going on with the students’ learning and growth?

The goal in the Montessori classroom is to foster learning for learning’s sake.  The academic content serves as the vehicle for nurturing both curiosity and a passion for deep learning.  

Consider these four “umbrellas” used in the classrooms for gathering information and making decisions for each individual child’s growth.  These are examples of formative assessments, which simply means they provide information and evidence for teachers to adjust and inform further instruction and lessons.

1.  Observation

  • The powers of observation our teachers possess are astounding.  Close, consistent observation is an art and a talent most don’t possess to the degree in which they do!
  • Observation is how teachers best assess the needs of students and how they determine what will propel them forward.  What’s sticking?  What’s confusing?  What, if anything, is missing?
  • It’s about watching and then deciding what the next steps will be in fully engaging the child.

2.  Interaction/”Live” Assessment

  • Most lessons in the elementary classroom are sequential (especially with math and language).  The directress reviews the previous lesson in the series and notes the depth of understanding.  Every new lesson is an opportunity for “live” assessment to gauge learning.
  • Some materials offer an overlap of skills.  For example, the directress may notice a language gap while students are working on a history or science lesson.  The skills don’t reveal themselves in isolation.
  • While interacting with students, teachers can clearly see what work is needed next that follows academic development and timing.

3.  Self Assessment and Peer Assessment

  • This is a definite strength of the Montessori classroom as students are encouraged to think, reflect and develop awareness of what they do/do not understand and what they do/do not need to work on with more focus.
  • The students can literally “see” the academic trajectory as the lessons are lined up on the shelves (for most areas of the classroom) in the progression they’re given.  As Mrs. Schwind states, “The seeds are planted, and you, too, will one day do THIS extraordinary thing!  What you need to do to get to THAT lesson is this, this and that.”  It’s not a mystery to the children what they’re working toward.
  • Peer assessment is used at times with work such as paragraph writing where many distinct skills are cohesively applied as a unit.  Peers are coached to offer constructive criticism in a respectful way, and students return to their writing (without judgment) to improve their work.

4.  Weekly Conferences (one-on-one or one-with-two)

  • At the end of each week, the directress meets individually or with groups of two students (an older and a younger) with their work journals to assess what was accomplished during the week AND to set short-term goals for the following week. 
  • The work journals provide a record of exactly what lessons the child chose each day and show how long he/she worked on each.  
  • The students often come to the conference with clear thoughts on what they need to do next.  Other times, the directress will note that certain lessons need more time and attention, and she clearly communicates such.
  • Children create a work plan for themselves; the directress holds them accountable.
  • The interaction, thought and discussion during conferences improves every week with practice, and that is a wonderful thing!

Below you see work journal samples from a first-year student, a second-year student and a third-year student.  Mrs. Schwind noted that the third year also has a couple of extra lines because she recently gave them a lesson on a reflective Journaling. They now have the choice to write a few lines about their day, if they wish to.


Please note:

You may notice that the work coming home may have mistakes.  The teachers do not “red-pen” the completed products as they believe the work belongs to the student- it is evidence of the learning process.  Any and all gaps that exist are noted and addressed individually.    

If you have any questions or concerns or if you’d like more information on assessment, please don’t hesitate to contact us!  

One last note, Ms. Rebecca, our Upper Elementary Directress, has kindly offered to host a follow-up coffee chat to focus on formative assessment with the older students as well.  She was literally in flight to New York City for the Montessori Model United Nations during this initial discussion.


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