In this part of the course, we look at the importance of gaining multiple perspectives on the raw observation and assessment data that you collect in order to inform intentional teaching. When making assessments, it is important to gain the perspectives of other teachers in your teaching team, as well as those of the family and the child themselves, as this enables us to develop more secure assessment judgments (validity) or at least acknowledges and creates space for alternative interpretations (uncertainty).
In this part of the course, we are aiming to:
- Understand how and why to use multiple perspectives to increase the validity of assessments
- Learn how and why to involve other people in assessment practices
This will involve:
- Watching a video in which Lorraine Manuela discusses the importance of collaborative approaches to assessment
- Listening to a podcast about involving others in assessment
- Engaging in a reflective conversation with a colleague to generate another perspective on the learning you observed in the last part of the course
- Reading about involving parents and whānau in the assessment process
- Putting your learning into practice by gaining more perspectives on the learning you have captured in your learning story
There are also links to develop your understandings around working in partnership with others in our further reading section, and the opportunity to discuss different ways of getting family perspectives on children’s learning with other participants in the online forum.
Revisit your learning so far
How many different observation and assessment tools or techniques can you name?
In the previous part of the course, we talked about the importance of having a variety of sources of data or information about children’s learning, in order to develop high quality assessments that then feed into highly effective intentional teaching. Alongside this, it is important that we seek a variety of interpretations of our data, to ensure that we have considered a range of possibilities as to the meaning of what we have observed and the information we have collected. Seeking other interpretations can often lead us to new evidence about children’s learning. When there are a variety of sources of information confirming the same strengths, interests and achievements for a child, and a range of people important to the child, and possibly the child him or herself, agreeing that these strengths, interests and achievements are evident, we can be much more confident in our assessment outcomes. As you will note, all of the expert interviews in this course reiterate the importance of collaborative approaches to assessment practice.
Watch a video
In this video, Lorraine Manuela discusses the practices she and her team use for assessment and intentional teaching at Tots Corner in Auckland. Lorraine has been teaching in the early childhood sector for many years, working with children and teachers in a number of professional roles. She is the director of Tots Corner ELC, where she and her teachers are actively engaged in action research within a socio-cultural context. Lorraine believes that early childhood settings, teachers, and leaders have a profound responsibility to cultivate a culture of play and inquiry that builds upon children’s dispositions to question and research as they pursue connections and meaning.
Lorraine affirms the importance of getting multiple perspectives in assessing children’s learning. She suggests that this is enabled when teachers have multiple ways of assessing children, and when they collaborate with others to assess learning. Lorraine reminds us that assessment is always subjective, and that each teacher has their own unique and individual lens, which means that they look at learning in different ways. The families and whānau also have their own, very different, perspectives, and will know the child really well, which is of great benefit to the assessment process. Bringing these different perspectives together is very powerful, and Lorraine suggests that, in fact, this is the most ethical way that we can approach early childhood assessment. She is very cautious of approaches in which teachers spend time alone in an office producing learning stories. Getting multiple perspectives requires plenty of opportunities and time for in-depth dialogue. This means making time to discuss photos and videos in teaching teams, with families, and with children, which can be as valuable a means of assessing as producing a learning story.
At Tots, assessment is seen as a process of observing, interpreting, documenting, and reflecting on learning. The documents produced are not merely for providing families with information about their children but are living documents, used for the purpose of thinking about and trying to understand children’s learning better. The teachers observe children’s play and come up with hypotheses about what children are thinking and learning about, which they use to connect with further experiences. We’ll learn more about making hypotheses later in the course.
Lorraine stresses observation as crucial to the assessment process. She makes the point that we can’t assess children unless we truly observe them, really listening to what they think and learn about and how they go about negotiating that learning. She gives the example of noting an interest in cockroaches or monarch butterflies. Where a common response might be to discuss butterfly life cycles or look at the physiology and habitats of cockroaches, in her centre, as a result of genuinely listening to children, teachers discovered and supported children’s interest in anthropomorphising these creatures (giving them human characteristics) and relating them to concepts of family and self. Having a strong understanding of children’s interests and thinking in relation to particular topics enables Lorraine’s teaching team to offer exciting, and highly intentional, ‘intellectually rigorous’ opportunities. Experiences are not often pre-planned, as the teachers want to listen to and be responsive to the trajectories children are navigating. This makes the practice of listening to children crucial for enabling teachers to be highly intentional in responding to children.
This podcast covers some of the key ideas about involving others in assessment, and particularly who to involve and why, and offers teachers some practical tips.
The best way to get feedback and additional perspectives on the learning you have observed is to share your initial observation notes, photos, or perhaps (if you are in the process of writing a learning story) just the description part of your story, with a range of people who know the child well, and with the child if appropriate, and find out how they interpret these events. Below, we look a bit more closely at why and how we should gain the perspectives of families.
Read this short piece offering ideas about how to involve whānau and children in the assessment process.
Involving parents and whānau in the assessment process
Active parent and whānau engagement in assessment practice is very powerful in terms of helping you to understand children more deeply and better support their learning. Learning with and from families to gain a deep knowledge of children’s strengths, interests, family and community activities enables you to create links to these within the programme and to provide children with continuity in their learning and expectations. Working in partnership with parents enables you to support children in connecting their home and school experiences, which enables deep learning. There are many ways to support parent and whānau involvement in assessment practice, including:
- Using email, diaries, displays, information evenings, photos on slideshow, and parent interviews, as well as daily conversations, to share information about children’s activities and what they are learning at the centre.
- Ensuring that assessment documentation is easily accessible. This means ensuring documentation is easy to find and use but also that it is relevant, meaningful, and easy to comprehend.
- Using children’s and families first languages when possible.
- Regularly inquiring into family aspirations for children’s learning, and allowing this understanding to influence what you notice and focus on as learning. Families and whānau will then be more likely able and willing to participate in assessments and make links to children’s home experiences and cultural contexts.
Involving children in the assessment process
Learning stories offer children an opportunity for reflection and self-assessment, which is really important for developing children’s metacognition (an ability to reflect on their thinking and learning, in terms of how they learn and what they know). Revisiting previous experiences and recalling their ideas and theories can help children to remember the thread running through their learning, and can motivate continued exploration. This can help children to dig deeper into a concept, or develop deeper investigations. Learning stories might be specifically written to help children to examine their own thinking and the thinking of others related to a topic or activity. They can also stimulate children’s interest and curiosity about each other’s learning, interests, problems and strategies.
When learning stories are shared with children, teachers can invite children to comment on their own learning. As well as supporting metacognition, gaining the child’s perspective on their learning enables teachers to recognise children’s intentions and interests in order to co-construct curriculum with children. This means that curriculum will reflect children’s interests. The concept of co-construction requires that teachers support children to develop the skills they need for planning and executing their own learning trajectories. These are skills such as reflecting on their current thinking and understanding (metacognition), and different skills for inquiry and creative work such as testing ideas, and revising products.
The following list provides some ideas for gaining children’s perspectives.
- Provoke children’s narratives, conversations and explanations about their learning experiences by looking at photographs or art work. Use PowerPoint slides or photo presentations to construct an open-ended story, then ask children for their comments and about what might happen next.
- Invite children to create their own learning stories by choosing photographs and dictating words.
- Ask questions that encourage children to discuss and think further, for example, such as asking them to think about how they might develop an idea or skills. For example, would they like to keep their insects a little longer next time to study them? What would they need to be able to do so?
- Include older children in setting goals and in planning next steps for their learning journey. Acknowledge the goals children set for themselves, use them as a basis for spontaneous and formal planning, and indicate through your feedback how children are doing.
- Make opportunities for children to make judgements about their achievements. Use materials and resources to provide points of reference with which children can assess their achievements, for example you might refer to earlier assessments in their portfolios to help children compare their current ability or performance with that of a previous time.
To read the full version of this research review, with references, click here.
Relate your learning to practice
Let’s now get some additional perspectives for the analysis of your observed learning event. There are two parts to this activity, as you are going to seek the perspectives of both a colleague and a family member. Optionally, you might also like to share some of your assessment data with the child or children for their perspective too.
- Colleague perspectives. Use a reflective conversation with a colleague to generate more ideas for interpreting the assessment data you have collected. Share the observation data (video, photos and notes) without your analysis and ask them for their thoughts about the learning that is occurring and their particular interpretation of the learning that is happening. What other knowledge or understanding about this child and family, or about the context of learning, does their interpretation add to your growing understanding of this learning event?
- Family perspectives. Work through the following steps to invite families’ perspectives on the learning that is happening or the next steps.
• Select the most appropriate way (specific to that family) to share this information. This might be through sending home a paper copy of the documentation with some written questions, emailing the description of the story and asking questions, using an online portfolio communication system, or chatting face-to-face.
• Share the raw observation data (a video, set of photos, or observation notes) with families to find out their interpretation of the learning. Sometimes families can be discouraged from adding their own interpretation after reading a more polished analysis from the teacher.
• Invite a general comment with questions such as ‘what do you think of this we’ve observed about your child?’ as well as specific questions that invite parents and whānau to analyse and plan for learning. The latter might include ‘What abilities do you see your child developing here?’, ‘Why do you think your child is so interested in dinosaurs?’, and ‘Does this connect with anything your child has been doing at home?’ (although don’t overload parents with questions though, as one or two carefully designed questions is enough!)
• Make time for a follow-up conversation or dialogue with families in which you respond to their comments and ideas (particularly if your interaction is not face-to-face).
- Child perspectives. If appropriate, you might also like to explore the ideas from the reading about involving children in the assessment process and getting their perspective.
Here are the important points to take away from this part about analysing children’s learning:
- Reflection on learning can be aided when you gain the perspectives of others, including other teachers, families and children. This enables you to develop more secure judgements or open up a space for alternative interpretations, both of which enhance the validity of your assessment. Different perspectives also help to present children’s abilities as shifting and fluctuating over time and context.
- Active parent and whānau engagement in assessment practice helps you to understand children more deeply and to support their learning with increased continuity and connection across children’s diverse contexts.
- Children’s self-assessment and reflection on their learning is really important for developing their metacognition and for encouraging children to extend on learning. Involving children in assessment practice can also support the co-construction of curriculum with children.
What are the different ways that you invite parents and whānau to contribute to assessment practice and planning for children’s learning? What works well in your setting? You can discuss these questions in the online forum for this part of the course.
Read this article by Sue Werry, Eric Hollis, and Roberta Skeoch which explores how offering families unanalysed observation data improved whānau contribution to the assessment process in one ECE centre.