Three Tools of Responsibility in the Elementary Classroom

Kely HaleKelly Hale joined our community in 2014. She is the Lower Elementary guide in the Cedar Room. Here, Kelly describes the Three Tools of Responsibility that support the elementary students developing independence and love of learning:

Fostering a sense of independence is a common theme throughout all stages of Montessori education.   Dr. Maria Montessori developed her method to invite each child’s love of learning to develop through their own individual experience within a specially prepared environment (the classroom) and with the support of specially trained adults (Montessori guides).  The founder of the West Hills elementary program and my Montessori teacher trainer, Elise Huneke-Stone, often refers to children in the first plane of development (members of the primary community) as striving towards ‘functional independence,’ while second plane (elementary) children are working toward ‘intellectual independence.’  The elementary classroom offers some unique and helpful support for children to reach new levels of independence.  In the Montessori Elementary classroom, each child has their own personal book where they record the day and their work list; each also participates in regular meetings with the teacher (guide) to set goals and to review finished work.  These three aspects are often referred to as ‘Tools of Responsibility,’ a phrase that is used throughout Montessori elementary communities worldwide.

Each day, the elementary child is expected to greet the teachers with a handshake and to then record the date on a new page in their Record Book (sometimes called a journal).  This routine is an essential part of the child’s experience at school and is something that provides many benefits to development.  The children know that the expectations around the Record Book include writing in each of their work choices during the day, as well as recording any lessons and group gatherings that they attend, such as group time and daily read aloud.  This is an immense responsibility, especially for children new to the elementary community, and adults and peers in the community support those who are still adjusting to this new level of personal responibility.  As the child’s development progresses, expectations are raised to include recording the time at which each event occurs during their day, recording information and events in cursive, and eventually recording everything in full sentences.  Holding the child to this expectation encourages thoughtful and diverse and independent work choices, acknowledges how they have chosen to spend their time each day, and serves as useful information for conversations regarding their progress over time.  In addition to the teacher’s record keeping of each lesson presented and revisited, the record book is regarded as a Tool of Responsibility for the child to take ownership of their time spent making independent choices at school.

The record book is also a helpful tool during regular meetings with the teacher.  These meetings are referred to as ‘Cubby Conferences’ or ‘Management Meetings’ in our community.  These one-on-one conversations are a time for each child to review work that is finished and ready to go home, work that is still in progress, lessons that need to be re-presented and/or practiced, as well as one of the many opportunities for the child to request new lessons.  These meetings occur on a regular schedule set by the teacher, as well as by request of the student.  After the meeting the child is welcome to take home finished work or allocate the work to go into their personal portfolio, which is a collection of work that represents their activities and progress throughout the year.  The portfolio is always available to be viewed by parents after school during open classroom hours and at conferences.

In the classroom, there is a Work List binder, which holds every child’s current work list, which can be considered as a list of educational goals set by each individual child with the support of the teacher.  This particular Tool of Responsibility contains ideas for the children to consider when they are making independent work choices, as the list is created by the child and guide during/after lessons and during individual meetings with the teacher.  These lists are purposefully contained in a binder together so that when the children flip through the pages to find their own list they are offered the opportunity to see what goals their peers have set, and also acts as an aide for choosing work mates.  The elementary classroom is rich with group work opportunities and this binder assists the children in finding like-minded work partners, either self-directed or guided by the adults in the community.

As Montessori practitioners, we strive to co-create a learning environment that is inspiring, engaging, diverse, fun, and well supported for the children in the elementary community, along with the input of the students.  In addition to the structure of the Montessori elementary classroom, these three Tools of Responsibility are important factors in supporting  intellectual independence, collaboration,  and joy in learning for every elementary child.

~Kelly Hale


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