The freedom to choose work is a key element of Montessori at every level. Offering a child choice is radically different from educational models that are teacher-directed. Naturally, you may have questions, such as:
How does that work in practice as children get older and there are more requirements?
Can you trust that the child will make appropriate choices to meet societal expectations?
What tools exist to keep them on track?
There are three essential components of Montessori elementary that help guide the child and balance this freedom with accountability: the work journal, individual conferencing, and state educational standards. They interplay to ensure that the child is on track. Here, we will focus on the work journal, its purpose and its lifelong benefits.
The work journal is a booklet, notebook, diary, or composition book that the child uses to keep his own work records. He typically notes the time he started an activity and the name of it. In early elementary, the child may draw a picture of a book if he doesn’t know how to write it yet, or he may use a time stamp to draw the clock hands if he can’t tell time. As the child’s skills develop, he can write in greater detail and eventually even use the work journal as a planning tool.
In the work journal, the child records both how his time is spent and what lessons he has received. This cultivates time management skills and responsibility by holding the child accountable for following up on work and making well-rounded choices. It also gives the child some ownership in the process. It is geared to help the child, not to be punitive or an assignment book.
If a child has allocated extended time to do something he is passionate about, that will be reflected in the work journal. The work journal is a tool to help the child self-assess — sometimes with guidance and gentle questioning — if they are spending too much time in one area or neglecting others.
It is a basis for the child’s teacher to have an informed conversation with the child about his follow-up work. In this way, it helps the child stay balanced and lets the child participate in an evaluation of his own progress. He does this by reflecting on his choices, adjusting, and planning for the future based on new understanding.
Planning and Organization
When children get older, they can use their work journals to set goals, manage ongoing projects, and record deadlines, if any, to help track them. Children may create reminders for themselves if there is a particular area in math, for example, that will need daily practice after receiving a new lesson.
These records fill the gaps between what lessons the teacher gives, how the child follows up on them, and the spontaneous choices the child makes.