Okay, disclaimer: The following is only my opinion and my opinion alone. I am not a formally trained Montessori guide and the following description is entirely my own interpretation of the texts I've read and the conversations I've had.
I was writing to a friend the other day to answer her question, "what do you DO with the information that comes out of your work plan conversation with the child" when I thought, oh hey, this response is like a post all by itself. So here is part of what I wrote to her.
(If you are interested in reading my run-on sentences about my work plan epiphany you can go here to this post.)
But, just to recap, what we use now:
T and S each keep a work journal. We have a conversation each Monday about what they did last week, what they didn't get to last week, what they really liked doing last week and want to do this week, what new lessons I'd like to give them this week, and what lessons they should pay attention this week to since they were ignored last week.
T and S write down these lessons in their work journal in a special weekly list. Then daily, they refer to this list when they need to figure out what to choose next.
We have another conversation mid-week to assess what is getting done and what isn't getting done and why. This isn't a judging "why" just a let's see "why."
Each day, T and S note down the works they did in a daily entry page and then we can see next week what they did the previous week.
It was really the conversation piece that tripped me up. Up until about two weeks ago, I had been to the one leading the list making and the children always did just the bare minimum to get through their work list. I just FELT something was missing. It seemed like the child-led, freedom of choice part was just not there. I was giving them the lists and the planning activity was actually an adult-led work.
Then I realized that our conversation about what we did and didn't do was the key. Engaging the child and letting them know the reasons why we make planning lists was the key. And then making that list a living list was key.
My friend asked, how do you implement this work plan conversation? How is this work plan woven into your classroom life? What goes on?
First a Conversation About the Past...
On Monday I sit down with T, or S, individually and we have a conversation, led by me. I ask them to look in their work journals and describe which works they did last week. T would look at last week's work plan list and his daily entries and say, the puzzle map of Europe for memorizing country names, a geography lesson about latitude and longitude, the bells matching, grading, and definition cards, the bank-game with 3 digit multipliers, etc. (He would remember some of the works' specific names and he may have to walk over to the bells to re-look at the labels on the outside of the card packets he used. This detail isn't always in his daily journal entries--yet.) Then we'd review how well his daily work choices covered what was in his last week's weekly work plan. We'd just point out what he got to and what didn't get done to draw his attention to the amount that he did accomplish, how well his work choices followed his work plan, and the specific works he ignored. This isn't a judgement but rather a light toned conversation to call attention to last week's highlights.
Then I'd ask him what works did he liked best and ask him if he'd like to continue those works in the coming week. If so, he'd write down these works in this week's work plan, or whatever work came next along those threads. T might say, "I liked the bank game", and since he finished all the lessons for that material we'd write down the work that comes next: the checkerboard with 2-digit multipliers. This last bit of information is usually supplied by me, though sometimes the child will know what work comes next...see below how they might know.
I don't really ask which works he didn't like. I can usually tell from observation which things he didn't want to do and didn't get to. I'll just note these omissions and seek other ways to make these works interesting and work he chooses to do.
Occasionally T will let me know that a work was particularly difficult and I'll suggest we do a new/repeat lesson on that work. Other times, he'll say that he doesn't like a work and then it is my job to figure out a way to make working on that skill more enticing for him. (Notice I wrote "working on that skill." I believe the child doesn't always need to work every work, and can sometimes pick up the same skill doing a different work. It is just my job to make sure that T practices each key skill the albums outline.)
While we are writing down and talking about the works for the week to come, I'll mention works that come next AFTER the works he is doing right now even if they aren't going on the work plan for a couple weeks yet. Sometimes we even take a peek at the new materials. This kind of inspires him to choose works that get him to the next level (and me to find shelf space for that work) without seeing other children doing that next level...especially since there usually aren't children in our classroom doing any level beyond T's level. I'll just note here that this is a very IMPORTANT part of our conversation. I'll call it enticing action!
I like to know what comes next. Perhaps we all do in some way. But the reality of life is that we don't always get to know what comes next. My planning brain likes to project what comes next. I'll come out with a bunch of "what-if" permutations and follow each through to a mental conclusion, estimate which permutations are most likely and work to prepare for those. I think the kids like to know what is next too. Maybe, just maybe, at this lower elementary age what comes next in life is more predictable than it will ever be. Since my children like to know what comes next, I show them what works come next. It is kind of comforting to know what is around the bend, even the stinky challenging stuff. I kind of wish more of life was like that.
About the Present...
So next, (and I do progress in this topic order) our conversation continues. I mention the works that I'd like to introduce during the next week. Sometimes these are works T has no idea even exist. For example, we didn't do any geometry last year so it is a totally new subject this year. I'd say, "please write down that I will give you a geometry lesson this week. It will be about congruency and similarity." And I write this down in my planner book too to make sure I prepare for that lesson the night before. We sometimes talk a bit about what is involved with that lesson if there is interest and to get him interested. Sometimes there is a choice he can make in the matter, like, would you like the lesson on Tuesday or Wednesday, or with or without S and we note down his decision as well.
I also ask T if there are lessons or works he'd like to do that he didn't have on his list last week. For example this week he doesn't have biome readers on his list, but he sees his sister reading these colorful booklets and I suspect that he might request this work too. If the work choice is appropriate then I'll approve the new list addition. If the work choice isn't appropriate for some reason, like his list is already long, and we can't eliminate something else, or...well I can't really think of another reason we'd deem the work choice inappropriate, we'd discuss why the work isn't going on the work plan list. If the work seems to be an outside-the-classroom kind of work, we'd work :) to make it an inside-the-classroom kind of work by perhaps incorporating it into something he is already doing. (I don't mind too much if T or S wants to do a primary work. Many times they just need a break. Or, if there is a more advanced version of that primary work, I redirect and suggest that they do the more advanced version. For example, if T wanted to wash a table, maybe I'd have him wipe down the vanity counter in the kids' bathroom instead and help me out with the house cleaning that week.)
I also have T write down on his work plan list lessons we do every day, like dictation, like prayer memorization, and activities we do weekly, like changing out the flags.
Finally, I look through what he has written down and suggest we fill in some gaps. If I want to give a nudge in the grammar corner, I'll say, "I see that you wrote down grammar boxes last week, but didn't get to any of them. Why don't you write down that you'll do 4 this week. There are 23 left to do, and I know you do these quickly so 4 shouldn't be too much in one week. If you need a reminder lesson for any part of speech just let me know and we'll schedule a lesson. You can do all four boxes in in one day, or do one box per day. Also, you can chose from any stack, but you need to do the stack starting from the top. Let's check in mid-week next week and see how much you've done by then."
Do the work plan lists get long? It depends. I try to keep them pretty short and manageable so that they have a prayer of getting through most of it.
Through each "stage" in our conversation (what did you do last week/review, what did you want to continue doing/favorites, new lessons/brand new topics, other new lessons/other interests, daily/weekly activities, lessons to pick up again) I am keeping a mental tally in my head and prioritizing the list we are creating together. I know about how long it takes T to do any given lesson (though sometimes he surprises me by zipping through) and though I don't want to overload him, I want to give him a small challenge and list on a few more lessons than I think he can manage in a week. I do this to encourage him to prioritize and plan. When you can't do it all, what do you do? When there is a lot, how do you manage your time?
Every Sunday I make a list of works I think we should be getting to during the week and I know what is coming up, how much I'd like to get through by semester's end, and how fast T is moving through what threads. Basically, I can tell what balls are in the air and which have seemed to have rolled elsewhere and I can help T put those lost balls back in play.
T and S and I usually check-in midweek and have a light review discussion. We simply point out the works he has completed, which he's started, which lessons I've given, which lessons he has yet to ask for, and which things he has ignored. I use this time to remind him of what he set out to do and go over the things that have gotten in the way of him doing everything on his list. These other things might very well be valuable outcroppings and very worthy works so I don't judge or criticize but rather just point out that life happens and we can make good responsible choices in response and we can make not-so good choices too.
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This planning method feels to me to be a more a child-led process. T has input and can write down works he wants to do and I gently suggest filling in the gaps. T chooses which works he wants to tackle and when he wants to work on those works. I observe and devise creative ways to get T interested in working on the lessons he has ignored. My goal is to help T and S, and later D, learn HOW to plan, how to create goals and how to work to achieve those goals, and how to deal with life that sometimes gets in the way.
I feel there is so much more to write about this topic. The "what ifs", the how does the child know what is required of them, how to do you keep up with the public school curriculum, and the "what do you do whens"...these will have to wait until I have another quite moment to think about these topics and have the inspiration to write.
So this is how I do it. It may not be 100% Montessori, but so far it is working for our little group at home.
Sorry, a long, long text-only post. Maybe fun for you to read? Maybe these posts aren't as fun to read and write as the school posts, so stay tuned for more school this week!