Like most teachers, I spent a little time this summer filling out my lesson plan books. However, if you look carefully at the photo above you might notice that my lesson plan book is a little more BLANK than a traditional teacher's book.
Because Montessori students choose their own work every day I will fill in the squares until after my boys have done their work rather than before. It is a "work journal" not a "lesson plan book." In a traditional Montessori elementary environment.the work journal is one of three essential tools that balance the freedom of cosmic education with responsibility.
Confession: At the time of this posting I keep the work journal, not the boys. In a traditional Montessori elementary environment the CHILD fills in the work journal, not the guide. Yeah. I know. I'm not utilizing one of the three ESSENTIAL tools. Once again I am grateful that there is no such thing as the "Montessori Police."
So why don't my boys journal? My main concern is that we spend far fewer hours in our "formal" Montessori environment than a Montessori student at a traditional Montessori elementary school. A traditional student would be at school all day five days each week. We are typically in our "school room" four days a week from 9 to noon. When Kal-El is accomplishing careful and thoughtful work similar to what is expected in a work journal it takes A LOT of time. We wouldn't be able to get enough work done with the Montessori materials if Kal-El spent half of his time journaling what he did.
Another concern is that the boys step into the school room on their own frequently outside of "school hours" and both are reluctant writers. I don't want them to think that "if they do work" they "have to write it down" and stop doing extra work to avoid journaling.
Another big concern is that we spend a lot of time learning outside the school room. In my mind we homeschool all day, every day. I haven't figured out how that translates to a child's work journal. The guidelines of "what to journal" in the Montessori Guide article linked above is very clear that the child journals everything: their work, their "down time," when they leave the classroom for appointments, etc., Can you imagine doing that every day, all day, at home rather than just at school during school hours? Obviously one wouldn't. That opens a new can of worms: what to journal and what not to journal. I'm not comfortable defining our activities as "journal-worthy" or not "journal-worthy." If we spend an hour baking a pie and don't put it in our journal does it become a less-valuable learning experience than working on division with the racks and tubes? Of course not. But if you train your child to record one or not the other might they start applying such value-judgments themselves?
Anyway, enough about why the wrong person is keeping the journal. Let's just look at the journal, shall we?
I very specifically like these lesson plan books from Carson Dellosa called "The Green Plan Book".
I like it because it is in landscape format, very few lesson plan books are. Lesson plan books in portrait orientation don't have enough columns for the amount of "threads" we have in Montessori. This landscape book has 18 "subject" columns.
As always, my photos will enlarge if you click on them.
I also like the blankness of this book. Some other books have a lot of things, like subject headers or dates, "helpfully" filled in. This book also is one of very few that has dashed rather than solid lines separating the columns. This is handy for Montessori. The number of threads you are working in and the amount of work you are doing for particular threads will change from month to month. It's nice to merge two columns into one when you are working with fewer threads and doing a lot of work in a particular thread. We always seem to need all of the columns all the time lately. However, the dotted lines is very spillover-friendly when I have a lot to write in a particular column.
Me Too and Kal-El each have their own book. The list of threads at the top changes throughout the year and is often different for each child. To give you an idea of what my work journal looks like at the end of the week, I randomly chose a week in Kal-El's book from last year.
His threads at that time were as follows:
- Math: numeration, multiplication, division, fractions, squaring and cubing, word problems
- Language: reading, writing, grammar, spelling, Spanish
- Geography: maps, Earth, BFSU
- Biology: Botany, Zoology
Below are pictures of each page for that week (left and right) so you can see how I fill it out.
Our work plans keep the boys moving along pretty consistently across most of the threads. However, because they choose their own work not every thread is touched every week. In the week above it looks like we didn't manage to do anything out of the history album or the zoology portion of the biology album. Blank columns like that help me guide because they tell me that those threads need a little kindling in the form of a presentation the following week. Columns that filling in well are either humming along nicely on their own or I've been consistently giving presentations. I usually am ready to give the next presentation in any thread because I keep track of them on a chart.
The companion to the work journal for me as the guide is my planning clipboard.
My clipboard holds four sheets of paper on which I have printed these charts. Basically I needed three-column charts with about five rows per page. This gave me enough room to write. Each row is for a different "thread" in our cosmic curriculum. The first column is for the thread name. I happened to pre-print my thread names, but one could just leave that column blank and write them in because they do change from time to time. The second column is a list of the next THREE presentations following our current place in the album/thread. When I record things in this column I make sure I understand the procedure for giving that presentation. The third column is where I record any materials I need to fetch from the basement or make. You can see that there are check marks on the right-hand side from when I checked off that the materials were prepared. A wavy line is sometimes used to divide a row in half when the boys are in different places along that thread.
In this way, I make sure I am prepared for the next three presentations for each child in each thread. It's like an "assignment notebook" for me as the guide. I make sure I am physically and mentally ready to move forward along any thread my children choose or that I choose for them. If you give an interested child a presentation and watch that flame ignite there is nothing worse as a Montessori Mom than to have them ask "what's next" only to realize you can't show them because you haven't prepared the material or don't remember how to use it. Yuck.
I use each chart for several weeks at a time. When I give a presentation I just cross it off and add a new one to the list if there is room. When I run out of room I print a new chart and keep going.
The work journal and planning clipboards (maintained by me) work in tandem with the work plans that the boys use to keep us moving forward in all areas in our homeschool. I plan to post about the boys' work plans very soon. You will see that they double as a VERY simple work journal as well, albeit an impermanent one. Perhaps I will find a way to reconcile the concept of a child-kept work journal with our homeschool sometime in the future. If I do, I will blog about it. I encourage you to read "The Three Essential Tools" at Montessori Guide. It is a great post. Read it and decide for yourself how the three essential tools will look in your homeschool.