The weekly conference is an immensely important part of the Montessori Elementary experience. As there are typically no tests or homework in Montessori, the weekly conference serves an important role: to provide a child with valuable feedback and engage a child in self-assessment practices.
An interesting piece of the weekly conference is its variability between Guides and classrooms. Guides agree that the importance of the weekly conference is stressed as very important during their intensive training; however, it is up to each Guide to decide the particulars about how the weekly conference will be conducted.
Megan Eilers, Lower Elementary Guide of the Checkerboard classroom, prefers to hand-write her notes from conferences, then add them to a large class binder for the children to access throughout the week. Children who feel they need a little more direction during the week can access the notes and review what they had discussed with Megan, as well as suggestions (often their own suggestions) for upcoming work.
Observing conferences between the Guide and the pairs of children was much like sitting in on a meeting with one’s boss (a very nice, warm, and friendly boss, be assured!). There is an indisputable feeling of respect between all parties involved: a definite sense of seriousness. The Guides set the tone, and here, they have set one of professionalism. Doing so is a way to show that they take the children’s work seriously, and so should the children.
Anna Schwind, Lower Elementary Guide of the Racks and Tubes classroom, shares that also she prefers to conduct her weekly conferences in a highly structured manner. Keeping conferences more rigid allows the children to know what is expected of them and how to prepare for them. This is also more effective from a timing standpoint; with nearly 35 students and one Guide, conferences could take up quite a lot of time if they were less structured.
In the Lower Elementary classrooms, children attend conferences in pairs. A younger child is often paired with an older child in order to provide modeling for the younger child (the older child usually goes first during the conference). However, if the younger child comes to the conference more organized/prepared, she may go first!
If the Guide senses (or is told) that a child needs to speak about something in private, the Guide sets up a time to meet privately with the child. However, there are many times when a child is happy to speak up about an issue in front of the child with whom he is paired. Most of the time, the concern is of a social nature, which is typical of this plane of development.
Children are expected to bring their work, finished and unfinished, to each conference. Anna starts by reading from her computer last week’s list of things each child previously committed to working on. They may discuss what goals they have accomplished, or what other works they may have been inspired by instead. At times, a child will not have been able to follow through on the work he had flagged the week before, but this may have more to do with other work coming up rather than a lack of follow-through. For instance, if a child is cooking one week, this work takes up much time (the researching and planning the menu, the list-making, the budgeting, the shopping, the prep-work, the cooking…).