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The Art of Observation

Updated: Sep 1, 2023

Promoting collaboration among educators is crucial in diverse educational environments, as it serves to elevate professional practice. One area that exemplifies this is observation.

While Montessori education is widely recognized for its emphasis on child-centered learning, the practice of conducting formal observations in Montessori classrooms presents valuable opportunities that can be adapted and applied in traditional educational settings.

Through observations, educators gain valuable insights into student development, enabling them to effectively plan future classroom activities that cater to individual needs.

Formal observations offer a multitude of benefits and encompass well-defined procedures, empowering teachers to enhance their instructional approach and foster optimal student learning.

Benefits of Formal Observations:

Individualized Instruction: Montessori classrooms are best known for tailoring instruction to meet the unique needs of each student. By conducting formal observations, educators gain a deeper understanding of students' strengths, weaknesses, and learning styles. This knowledge can be applied in the traditional classroom, facilitating more personalized instruction and targeted interventions to support student growth.

Authentic Assessment: Formal observations provide an opportunity to assess students' progress and development in a holistic and authentic manner. Observing students engaged in hands-on activities and self-directed learning allows educators to assess not only academic skills but also social-emotional development, problem-solving abilities, and critical thinking skills. This comprehensive assessment approach can be incorporated into traditional classrooms, promoting a more well-rounded evaluation of student performance which is also helpful for parent conferences.

Informing Curriculum Design: Through formal observations, Montessori educators gain insights into students' interests, motivations, and areas of curiosity. This information informs the design and development of the curriculum, ensuring that it aligns with students' needs and fosters a deep love for learning. Traditional classrooms can also benefit from this approach by incorporating student interests and inquiries into lesson planning, creating a more engaging and relevant learning experience.

Procedure for Conducting Formal Observations:

1. Define the Focus: Clearly identify the specific areas of interest or goals for the observation. This could be observing student engagement, problem-solving skills, collaboration, relationships, or any other aspect of teaching and learning.

2. Select Observation Techniques: Choose appropriate observation techniques that align with the purpose of the focus area. You can isolate one task or describe everything a student says and does. Types include anecdotal notes, checklists, rating scales, time stamping, and running records. You can use an observation book. Teachers can use a formal chair for observations to define the space and activity.

3. Establish a Schedule: Plan a schedule for observations, ensuring that a range of activities and interactions are observed. Allow sufficient time, usually ten minutes, for observation to capture a comprehensive picture of student learning. Lean into the observation experience as part of daily practice. Relax and enjoy the time connecting with your students by understanding them more.

4. Be Non-Intrusive: Maintain a non-intrusive presence during observations. Blend into the environment and refrain from interrupting or interfering with student activities unless there is a safety concern. Observe through what you hear as well as what you see. Consider body language. Use your peripheral vision. Do not linger on a student too long or write anything if they notice you. Hold the thought and write it down when they are not paying attention to you. This will ensure that students' natural behavior is observed.

5. Take Detailed Notes: Document observations in a structured, detailed, and nonjudgmental manner. Record students' behaviors, interactions, levels of engagement, and any noteworthy instances that align with the observation focus. Avoid judgements statements like, “She is happy.” Instead, write, “She is smiling.” Take notes like a scientist recording what is seen and heard, not what is assumed.

6. Reflect and Analyze: After the observation period, take time to reflect on the data collected. Analyze the observations, identify patterns, and draw conclusions about student learning and instructional practices. Do these observations warrant an intervention?

7. Implement Actionable Strategies: Utilize the insights gained from observations to inform instructional decisions. Develop strategies that address students' needs and facilitate their growth. Then, observe for effectiveness.

As educators learn from each other, the professional practice of teaching grows stronger. Formal observations, a cornerstone of Montessori education, offer invaluable benefits that can be seamlessly integrated into traditional classrooms. By utilizing formal observation, educators can enhance individualized instruction, employ authentic assessment practices, and design curriculum that caters to student interests and needs. It is a habit of practice that requires disciple and self-control. However, incorporating a well-structured observation procedure allows educators to gain valuable insights into teaching and learning, ultimately fostering a more engaging and effective educational experience for all students.

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