Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Work Plans and Work Journals, I Think I FINALLY Understand!!

Oh my goodness. I've thinking about that idea of a "work plan" for what, a year and a half now? I tried this, and I tried that...I planned and I read more Montessori theory. I asked questions, I responded in the comments. And I wondered WHAT IN THE WORLD ARE THEY TALKING ABOUT? What is a work plan supposed to be?

In the beginning my kids used what I had provided them as a checklist. I wanted them to understand how to MAKE THEIR OWN checklists.

I had this "conversation" in the comments of my last post and then had an epiphany. What if...I had a conversation with each child about what they did last week, what they would like to repeat, what they would like to pick up that had been neglected for a few weeks, and, with my input and guidance, what new areas might they like to explore? What if...from this conversation together we developed a "work plan" or list of works for the week?

I realized that I love planning. I really do. I like making lists, sequencing, getting things done, and checking things off. I thought, might the kids also like a list of things to do? Might they like a clue as to what is coming up next and how to prepare for that event? Well, do they know how to make a list or how to prepare, or even what comes next? Probably not, and that is where I, the guide, can help. We will make their "check-list" if you want to call it that, or "work-plan" if you want to call it that together. In conversation. I know the scope and sequence and I know, through observation, where they need more practice and where they are ready to move forward. I can suggest they move in these directions. But through our conversation, they get a lot of input as to what goes on the list. They get to choose what from that list they do each day. They get to choose how much time they spend on that chosen activity. They also get to decide how fast or slow they'd like to move through each lesson. I am the one who entices them to continue forward (though it is really they who choose to move forward) by giving them teasers about what comes next. There aren't other children in our environment working on what comes next. So I need to let them know, "hey, if you want to use the decimal fraction board, you need to finish work X, Y, and Z." Then T can choose to put X, Y, and Z on his work plan list and he can choose to work on those works during the week.

To me, this method felt right. It seems way more collaborative. The child can exercise their freedom to choose. And I, as the guide, can well, guide them along, giving them a push where they need it, suggestions where they need them, and new material when that is needed too. In the end there is a check-list, but it is made by the child.

I should also mention at this point, that their check-list is meant to be a "reminder." There are no check-off boxes. The child is welcome to repeat a work. They don't need to do every work on the list every day. They don't need to cover every work on the list in that week. They do need to be mindful of what they put down and what they have done and what they haven't completed. But as I see it, life evolves. I never get to everything I put down on my to-do list each week. I prioritize and some things get bumped up, repeated, or tossed out. I am only slightly worried that there will be an area that they thing is just horrible and they will refuse to work in this area. My plan to handle this, as of right now, is to present. If the initial presentation doesn't work, we do revisit in upper el, or I could re-present in a different manner that might catch their attention a bit more. I can also introduce some follow-up work that could be interesting and engaging as well. I feel it is really up to me, the guide, to engage their interests and find a way present the "key" lessons in a manner they find interesting.We'll see how this pans out. I'll keep you posted. :)

And now to our regularly schedule program...
I have a ton of photos the first part of this week. I did a ton of planning this past weekend. I rearranged a ton of things in the classroom, and for the first time since we started I felt more comfortable about how proceed.
S started off the week with some Color Tab Box 3 work.This box contains 9 sets of graded colored tabs...as you can probably see. I've seen it recommended in both the Primary sensorial album and the Elementary Art album. (As you also probably already know, I use the Keys of the World and the Keys of the Universe.) Even so, the approximate age for presenting is 3.5 yrs to 5+ years. Generally, this work helps hone the child's visual sense and ability to identify distinctions between different color gradients. Some of these sequences are NOT easy! I wrote about why I had S start this work int this post last week.

Here S is doing an extension I made up purely based upon what she has been doing and seemed interested in in the classroom. After she organized all the colors from darkest to lightest, she got out her colored pencil set and started grading the different hues. First she pulled out all her "red" pencils and then organized them on the rug from darkest to lightest. Then she drew her own color tabs on a paper, using each pencil in turn, organizing them all from darkest to lightest. S really liked this work.

Then T asked to do this work too. I feel that this might help T enhance his artistry.

T finally picked up the Bank Game. Since we were doing our conversation work planning, I mentioned that after he felt he was done with the LBF (he has done a LOT of problems on this material and can do the problems now, on paper, without the use of the bead frame) we'd start on the Bank Game. So, he felt he was good with the LBF and so we started in on the Bank Game. Here T is laying out his "answer" number cards. They are color coded by hierarchy: green for units, thousands and millions, blue for tens and ten thousands, and red for hundreds and hundred thousands.
Then, we brought the problem number cards to a different rug across the room. We selected a 4-digit multiplicand and a 2-digit multiplier. T picked out the number cards for each hierarchy. For the multiplicand, T picked out 8,000; 100; 50 and 3. And for his multiplier, he picked out a 3 and a 0 to make "30" and over the 0, he placed an 8 in the units position. (Usually in an elementary classroom, there would be three people doing the different roles here. Someone would be organizing the rug cards, some one would be running between the mats, and the other person would be managing the "answer" number cards, which are in the "bank." Because T is the only one in our classroom, he gets to do all three jobs.)
Then we decompose the multiplicand and the multiplier as you can see in the photo above.
Then we multiply each part of the multiplicand by the unit multiplier or in our case "8." T is doing the math in his head here, and not organizing his "answer" cards correctly. You'll see that 5*8 is 30, so he placed a "30" answer card from the other mat/bank to the left of his problem.
Then he multiplied through. I think in the photo above, he's gone to get the 64,000.
Sorry about this photo, I almost forgot to take a shot of this step. After we've multiplied through by "8" we multiply through by "30" which is the rest of the multiplier. Instead of multiplying 5*30, we multiply 50*3, and transfer the "0" to the multiplicand. Here he is multiplying 80,000*3.
Then we have all the partial products lined up to the left. And so we add them together. T added 30+50 and went to exchange these number cards for 80 at the bank.

When he was finished exchanging all the number cards, this was his final answer all put together. Neat humn?
T then tried another problem, but this time needed to do something a little bit different with the answer cards. (Sorry, I didn't get a shot of his first step.) He picked up the "10" answer card when he multiplied 10*1. Then he needed another "10" answer card when he multiplied 10*1. So, instead he exchanged his first "10" answer card for a "20" to represent both partial products.
This was his second final answer.

This work comes sandwiched between the Large Bead Frame and the Flat Bead Frame and Checkerboard multiplication. This work can presented after the LBF and before or after the FBF but before the Checkerboard.

I ask you readers who may know, is there a reason to have T linger with the FBF if he is already doing 3-digit multiplication problems on paper only and ignores the LBF? I want him to work longer with the hierarchies that we see in the Bank Game and then with the Checkerboard so he understands how these work within the multiplication problems but I don't know if the FBF is a step he can simply skip. At this point, is there another reason to have him do this work?
I went through our Montessori storage closet yesterday, looking for fishing wire to hang glittered snowflakes from our dining room ceiling for S's party, and re-found our open/closed work.  (I spent 2 1/5 hours going up and down a ladder yesterday.) (Well not all of the work, there are a few items missing I think. Moving does that. Make things go missing.) Anyway, I re-introduced this work, and D immediately re-named it "surprises" because indeed, there are surprises in each little item.
Monday, this was the "surprise" line-up. Little erasers I got a while ago from the dollar store that all have vehicles printed on them.
And two little crayon buttons because the erasers were too large for a few of the containers.
He was delighted that he got to choose which "surprise" went back in which container.
This Chinese coin pouch was a doozey to try and figure out how to open.
 This was D's face today after I whispered to him that the "surprises" changed.
This is the random stuff I stuck in there today.

D did this work for 15 minutes straight and there were a lot of initial, "whoa's" and "ohhh's."  This work develops hand strength and coordination, which D needs really badly.
THIS is why I introduced S to the Color Tab box 3. Here she is using our prepare slides and drawing her own illustrations of what she sees.
Ugh, sorry for the blurry picture, but it was a shot that captured her in action.

I don't know if I've introduced you to our "tape-dog." We got him from Office Max I think. If your tape dispenser is an irregular figure it is only some-what harder to mis-place it.
S also worked on some penmanship. Here she is working with the sandpaper letters and blue banded paper.
Although remembering the word forms is challenging, she has no problem getting creative with the spelling or thinking up what she wants to write. She was very enthusiastic about this work.

 Here S is addressing a special letter to her friend in Virginia.
I also had S help me change out the flags on our giant flag poles. These are just from North and South America. (The material is from Alisons.) (You can read my rant about these here.)
 Then S selected new flags and looked them up in our flag book.
I think this time she picked the Bahamas, Peru, Paraguay, Guyana, and Surinam. Then she drew each flag in her working notebook and labeled them.
S finished off the Waseca animal biome readers for South America and called D over to say "good-bye" to the Chinchilla book. Then she organized the laminated cards and booklets for the Asia biome readers in our Waseca box, which fits perfectly. (I like it when this happens. And the box comes with the complete set of animal biome readers.)
 On Monday, D was acting a little impossible.

REALLY? WHAT?? Turns out I had forgotten that he hadn't had breakfast. He slept through it. He was just acting "hangry" (hungry and angry.) After a little food in the tum-tum, he was all smiles again.
These are the lists of the "work-plans" S and T made for the week. We keep these as reminder lists for now. I am trying not to be too concerned about them getting fixated on one work. My peaceful side is saying, "breath, there is always tomorrow."

T is using the US map as a warm-up for his state/country memorization. Then he took out the map of Europe, removed and replaced all the countries he remembered and then selected three countries he didn't know.
He traced, colored and labeled Moldova, Romania, and Croatia. Then I had to print out a map of Europe so he could color in and label the countries he has memorized and keep this as his record of countries he has done.
 D fed.
D's talk to the hand. "I am working Mama." This is a new smelling exercise. I used liquid smoke (it's near the BBQ sauce in the grocery aisle), citronella candle wax, lavender essential oil and Ralph Lauren perfume from one of those magazine inserts. (I got this list of scents from the KotW sensorial album.) (I had fun putting this one together since I got to try out my new Iwatani kitchen torch to melt the candle wax. Next I'll be using the torch to attempt making Elsa's frozen ice castle out of isomalt.)
I talk a little bit more about the Smelling exercise here.
Here he is a little more happy.
And here he is not doing the exercise correctly, but rather matching the control stickers on the bottoms of the smelling bottles, rather than matching the bottles by smelling them.
Oh, red rods. I am trying to encourage this area a bit since D is expressing interest in the numbers department. I need to do red-rods before we get to number rods, cards, and sandpaper numbers and all the rest. Oh, hey, does it matter that he hasn't learned the English alphabet but can learn to write and read numbers first? Should I hold off until he has the sandpaper letter letters down? Any advice would be really appreciated here!

Anyway, here he is doing the simple first installment of the red rods. They are mixed up, but all flush to the left side. And then he is grading them, albeit backward, from longest, up to shortest. The longest should be at the top and the shortest at the bottom. At first he had a hard time, but as he worked, he got it on his own.

He likes swiping each one as he places it in order on the rug. He also likes transporting the rods, with one hand at each end to really experience each "quantity." The shortest rod, which represents "1," is really 1/10th the length of the longest rod, which represents "10," and which is too long for D to hold at each end.

Finishing it up. Upside down.

There were a number of other works I failed to document here, if you can believe that after 59 or so pictures. Right now I am in the final stretch of preparing for S's party, so I am not sure if  I'll be here on Friday. I will continue to do school most days and document what we do, so check back for our next installment. And wish me luck that I don't melt the cake with my new kitchen torch.


  1. Awesome work!

    No - children can certainly learn numbers before knowing all their letters ;)

    Not all children NEED the flat bead frame, but I am finding in homes and small groups, I prefer to show it just to make sure (it is amazing what a large classroom of children working at various levels can do). The sliding of the paper, revealing the zeroes below helps to solidify the concept of adding zeroes.

    Perhaps you could help ME with something. Work plans/journals. What needs to be clarified in the theory album to ensure that what you describe above is what comes across to the parent reading it? Because what is in the album is supposed to say what you said above --- but either 1) people aren't actually reading it or 2) it's not clear AT ALL because of the continued lack of understanding.



    1. Thank you!
      Is it really okay for D to start the numbers sequence (after red rods and number rods) if it is before he has started sandpaper letters? I was planning to start those after we have a really strong handle on segmenting sounds aurally. He can already recognize some of the number forms and likes to count individual items.

      I did introduce T to the FBF a while ago and he did just fine with it. The zeros weren't a problem on the FBF, but I think that he got some really good zero place holder practice doing the entire LBF problem set on paper with nothing else. He wasn't decomposing any more...just adding zeros to each partial product and multiplying through. We'll proceed, and then circle back if we need to. Any hints on knowing if we may need to? How have you found children illustrate they don't understand the zero place holders?

      As for the work plans and journals, I think that my misunderstanding was a product of multiple sources. I think I read the concept in the album, (and in books, and on websites, and in my trainings) but didn't really understand its systematic implementation, (conversations about what you did do, didn't do, would like to do, and then "should do" will produce a collaborative/life-minded to do list) nor its concise purpose (to teach the child to organize their own activities into steps to reach a larger goal and how to deal with life in context.) Combine this with what seemed to me to be a guide created checklist style implementation (by other bloggers and even our former Montessori school) and I was going around in circles.

      I think what was missing for me, was the "guided review" part. This exercise in planning is almost a lesson unto itself. This is how you plan. This is how you break down a goal. This is how you think through the prioritization process. This is how you follow-through, and why you follow-through. This is how you do it yourself. These were the key concepts that I missed. What I took away from my reading was that there were a number of subject areas the child needed to do works within. We, as guides, use these subjects as a framework, and list them for the child. Then the child looks at this list of subject areas each day and does something, because they theoretically remember what works they are doing/have done, in that subject area. The guide checks in with the child every week to make sure that they have done what they said that they were going to do, and puts his/her foot down if the child has ignored a particular required area. This exercise sounds guide led to me. The conversation sounds child-collaborative to me. Does this make sense? Or is it just ramble?

    2. Perfect - thank you! I am organizing some thoughts to put together to help others; then I am looking into rewriting some portions of that theory section, with some visuals I hope!

      Yes on the sandpaper numbers - their sequence is really unrelated to the letters - I have done them in both orders and the children come out reading and writing ;)

      Regarding the Flat Bead Frame - if he's seen it, worked with it - feel free to move on from it. If you notice any trickiness with the multiplication steps, look through the album again and pull out the material that addresses the particular issue. The FBF goes into bigger numbers too which the children like, especially when they are not ready to just ALL of it on paper. So he may be perfectly fine without out it ;)

  2. Thank you for your epiphany with work plans! I knew what you said but you sequenced it better than I could...lol. You helped me organize what I knew about it but wasn't quite sure how to implement. I've done conversations but was still lacking. I didn't know what to get out of the conversations or how to use what I got out of it. Anyway, thanks for putting more light on it for me! Can't wait to go have some conversations now! :)

    1. I know we talked about this yesterday, but let me know how it continues to go with MJ and Cat.

  3. I'm glad you are starting to get a feel for the work plan. I try every time I do a big post about them to get across that there is a whole "verbal" and "actions over time" or "relationship and expectations over time" aspect of them that is really at the core of what make ours NOT a checklist. However, I don't do a very good job at expressing it and that part of it seems to go in one ear and out the other for most of us.

    1. I know you explain work plans, oh, Queen of Homeschool Montessori! It is I, just a very humble, and sometimes quite thick, student of Montessori homeschooling, that has leaky ears, who didn't understand for the longest time. Heck, we've been at it for what, two years? You've got what, 7 years of experience under your belt...:)

      I guess this time I just sat on the other side of the pond and saw a completely different pond that some how made me "understand" that it was a guided-CHILD-made checklist, when all along I'd been making it be an ADULT-led checklist. Your methods, well they just weren't sinking into my brain that is particularly dense. :) Thanks for trying to explain it all to me though!

    2. Oh dear, I wasn't making fun of you Abbie :(. I meant the multiple e-mails I get after I write such a post that say, " isn't it bad to give your kids a checklist like that". I' m the one who has been at this seven years and still can't manage to implement the work journal that is arguably more important than the work plan. If any one is thick, it's me.

  4. Don't worry, I didn't take it that way. :) I AM a little dense at times though!

  5. Abbie,
    I have been reading your blog for a while now. As a side note, my kids are 1/4 Korean (Thanks to Halmeoni Suja!). I decided to add a comment today because I think you were very clear at putting the word out for work plans (if only a better term existed so they wouldn't sound so bad). I don't implement a Montessori approach as you do, but I use many of the materials that fit my kids' learning styles. Nevertheless, I do use work plans on our white erase board every morning. When you use words like conversation, collaboration, prioritizing, and independence they totally make sense, and they are NOT a check list. I am glad you are starting to see the positive impact work journals can have on our children's self driven education.

    1. Thanks for stopping by and leaving your kind words! Do you do any of the more traditional Korean celebrations with your children? I grew up in an adopted family so I didn't get to experience any Korean culture until I married. :) Keep an eye on the blog because we insert Korean tradition here and there!
      I don't know why I didn't understand and feel comfortable with work plans until now. It just must have been a topic that needed to roll around in my head for a while. I am planning to post soon a post about how I more specifically implement our work plans and use our journals, so stay tuned.
      It is nice to hear from you again!

    2. I think a good deal of the confusion comes from inaccurate information given to us first; it saturates us so that we come to the accurate information if it is not MORE forceful and MORE clear and MORE everything than the inaccurate information (and sometimes even then!) it gets pushed aside, not read/understood as intensely because an opinion has already been formed.

      I REALLY wish certain other places would stop with the checklists - "download, print and use this as work plan". Those are not work plans, they are checklists. And they are adult led.

      We ALL have work plans - whether written down or in a planner or in our heads - we all have a plan for the day, the week, the month, the year, life-plans - and we are all working towards those. To help the children we discuss, we check-in, we guide them, we make sure they are aware of scheduled activities that are upcoming so THEY can plan to get into deep or not so deep work depending on how much time they have, we let them make some mistakes but we also offer words of wisdom at the right moments --- and the children can write that down.

      I don't see "checklist" in there anywhere. I am SO happy that the truth is finally being understood and being spread (I have felt like a lone voice for FAR too long) - but I am so sad at the depth of the misunderstanding....