[EDIT (Sept. 15): Lynden Dorval, the Edmonton teacher who gave the zero grades, got fired.]
What sparked this talk was the situation with Edmonton teacher Lynden Dorval, the high school teacher who was suspended for giving students a zero grade on work that they did not hand in.
Here’s an…unsettling excerpt from the interview with two high school students. They first talk about their concerns about grading by biased teachers. Then the conversation turns to competition. One student does say that it’s about competing against herself, but then this exchange about “rating” students occurs:
Student 1: “The world is competition. That’s what the world is.”
Student 2: “If there’s no competition, then, like, what are we doing? If everything is fair? That’s how you distinguish, like, people’s, like, hierarchy, right?”
Reporter: “Is that important?”
Student 2: “Yes, that’s very important. That’s, like, how there’s rich people and poor people.”
I found that comment so sad. This is the impression of the world that this young person (wow, “young person!?” I’m really getting old.) has, and once that way of thinking is set, it’ll take a lot to change it.
You will not find grades on a Montessori progress report because it goes against Dr. Montessori’s beliefs about children’s education. A child’s development is highly unique and rating her against a scale in comparison to others just serves to slot her into a hierarchical acheivement ladder.
However, if we are truly concerned about the individual child’s needs, abilities, passions, and challenges, then our focus should be on her personal goals and progress instead.
- Every child is unique in her way of thinking, learning, and expressing knowledge.
- A focus on getting good grades can take away from the learning process. If the student is focused on the grade itself, she will likely just work on what “counts” in order to get those grades. However, if the work is learning-based, then the focus is on gaining knowledge and enjoying the work itself.
- Grading is based on a set scale and checklist. You get an “A” if you are in the top 10% of the class. You’re put into competition with the rest of your grade (and those who came before), no matter what your learning style, previous knowledge, and personal abilities may be (unless you are in a specialized class). This does not allow for individual achievement and true “competition with yourself.”
- In Montessori, learning “spirals” in that a child will often come back to the same concept already introduced to learn more and go further. With grades, it can be common to find students who just learn for the exam, then not worry about retaining the knowledge after it’s over (that’s how I always thought about exams, at least!).
- It’s a matter of intrinsic vs. extrinsic rewards. Montessori students gain satisfaction from learning. Graded students do too, but there’s a higher probability that satisfaction will come mainly from good grades.
I totally get why parents want to see grades. Even Montessori parents, who at least are familiar with the philosophy when they enroll their children, can become anxious, especially when the children are close to changing schools are about to enter the public system. They want to know where their child is “at.” I get it, and it’s normal.
A Montessori teacher will make sure that the child’s progress is clearly outlined in the comments. Families can get further clarification during Parent-Teacher Interviews regarding their child’s development. For those families where English is the second language, the interviews are helpful for understanding the wordy reports!
What does a Montessori progress report look like, then? As you’ve guessed, it’s a LOT of writing (I looked at an old report that I wrote and there were about 2,000 words!). I mentioned that Montessori teachers make detailed daily observation notes on students. These, combined with the teacher’s assessment and notes about academic progress makes up the long, long comments under each subject heading. The teacher will describe what the child has been learning and working on in that particular subject and her progress (specifics about the concepts mastered or are being practiced). If there are areas for improvement then those should also be specified.
At the end of the report, there may be a “Personal/Social Development” section about teamwork, if they follow class routines, listening skills, leadership skills, etc. where the students may receive a letter/number based on a legend (Highly Developed, Developed as Expected, Beginning to Develop, Not Yet Apparent). These “marks” should be based on the teacher’s understanding of the child and not in comparison to the rest of the class.
Needless to say that progress report writing was very long and arduous work!