Tag: e-learning

Early Childhood Learning Assessment

So what does learning assessment mean in early childhood?

The team  have literally spent months agonising over this issue (trying to conceive the best approach for our product LIFT). We have had heaps of input from a number of services trialling and already using LIFT and we were not that surprised by the inconsistency and problems surrounding this issue. For many years now our own service has been utilising an offline version of LIFT in conjunction with a variety of other supporting assessment techniques (mostly check-lists) but our approach, just as we observed when we consulted with many other services, was haphazard and disconnected. It seemed that the advice out there too was just so variable and contradictory. The overwhelming question that keeps being asked is: "Why are we doing this this way?"

Getting back to basics

To answer this important question, we felt it important to get back to basics and understand the signficance assessment has in early childhood programming.  We found a great quote which answers this: 

"The overall purpose of assessment, regardless of age, is to help teachers make appropriate instructional decisions about how to best teach children" (Early Childhood..., 2005).

The next step was to identify assessment techniques and tools and evaluate their use and importance. We found a myriad of approaches, however we identified four key assessment categories typically used in early childhood learning assessment (see our illustration below). 

Formative assessment

Formative assessment is what we typically see in most early childhood services today.  It is the process by which a teacher observes a child or children learning and develops strategies & new learning opportunities that will further promote new and/or extend learning.  

E.g. OBSERVE - PLAN - OBSERVE - PLAN..etc. etc. 

What became obvious when reviewing this aspect of early childhood programming was that too often this approach is used without planning for the next steps (eg. observations taken with no outcome).  Sometimes this may be valid, particularly when we are building up a portfolio of observations about a particular issue or behaviour, however more often than not many early childhood operators observed but rarely connected their observations to the next steps and even more rarely evaluated whether a desired learning outcome or objective was achieved, although we will discuss evaluation later in this blog.  

What we found most interesting was the emerging criticism of the use of 'learning stories'; and we wish to point out that this criticism is more about the way in which some teachers are using 'learning stories', rather than about the technique itself. The concern seems to be that there are many wonderful and pretty stories being created but are teachers answering the question "So What?" (I can quote numerous recent examples of early childhood educators, including Kathy Walker and more recently a representative from the DEECD who argue this).  I must say that we also agree.  Learning stories can be a trap and an incredible time waster, if not applied effectively.   This is the reason why in our product LIFT we ask only three questions which we believe can be translated across a huge variety of observational techniques (from traditional more formal programming to learning stories and emergent curriculums):

1. What learning did you see and/or hear?

2. What learning is occurring?

3. What are the next steps/future learning opportunities?

The take away message is to avoid the trap of observing for the sake of 'observing' with now clear defined 'next steps'. 

Diagnostic assessment

For most early childhood teachers, this primarily means check-lists, but can occasionally (when working with medical practitioner) mean more detailed and extensive diagnostic tools and testing.  

So when it comes to finding the right check-list it can be very daunting. There are just so many check-lists out there -  Whose forms do you use?  The universities and educational institutions often have different check-lists, but their focus changes and there are inconsistencies.  If you go online, you can find various check-lists from all sorts of providers including government, toy providers etc.,  but again they are all different and most have copyright issues requiring early childhood services to purchase their forms to use them practically in their services. 

The other issue is, assuming you find the right check-list for your service, what is the purpose of using a check-list at all and how do you use a diagnostic tool correctly? 

Advocates of strength based programming might argue that negative assessments of children is pointless , but I always find this argument weak as there is overwhelming research to support the benefits of early identification and intervention in learning delay/problems . 

Early this year our team attended the KPG conference in Melbourne and there was a strong push from one of the presenters to connect with our local maternal health providers as there is a wealth of resources and support available to providers through these services.  This prompted our team to investigate this and we came upon pre-screening checks in PEDs (PEDSTest.com) that can be used prior to conducting a standardised developmental assessment screen, which are used by numerous maternal health nurses and peditricians around Australia.  We also came across an amazing website called 'Ages & Stages' http://www.agesandstages.com/ offering a paediatric screening service tool for medical practitioners, but this is likely to be too costly for most early childhood services.  It will be interesting to await resources that are released under the EYLF (Early Years Learning Framework), but until then services will need to resource their own tools.  We will keep you all posted if we find out any further progress in this area. 

Having found the right tool to use, the next question was how to use this tool.  The key question we were faced with was "do we integrate this tool into our daily formative assessment & planning process or do we undertake the check-lists independently (eg. tick the box in a list). Overwhelmingly we found you have to do both, leaning and drawing heavily upon families to participate in the process and inform you of their child's progress which for the most part they should be able to readily assist teachers with.  The challenge here (albeit not a challenge in LIFT) is to somehow effectively collaborate with families to complete these assessments. Prior to LIFT our service implemented quarterly parent teacher interviews and our team relied heavily on sitting down with families and working through various checklists. Obviously now with LIFT, parents are participating online and can see and participate in reporting and assessment as it occurs. We would recommend that if collaboration with families is challenging for your service, that you use diagnostic tools sparingly and only when it is clear a concern about development may be valid.  In our opinion, for the majority of children who are developing normally, diagnostic assessments should not be a focus for their learning assessment. 

Summative assessment

Summative assessment is essentially summarised reporting of a child's progress and achievements. There are endless ways this is completed and it is a personal style (from letters to families, school reports to folios),  however, some reporting formats are mandatory such as production of 'Transition Statements' which are forwarded onto primary teachers by Kindergartens immediately prior to starting school.  

Tip for teachers working with children under four
We thought it worthwhile to share with you an important observation we discovered.  Transition Statements are based on the EYLF (Early Years Learning Framework) and encourage educators to summarise children's learning dispositions and achievements into the five EYLF outcomes, whilst also explaining important contextual information about the child's learning including attendance and the service's/teacher's educational philosophy.  Surprisingly we found is that the 'Transition Statement' could effectively be used to summarise children's learning achievements and disposition of all ages and it is particularly helpful when sharing information and transitioning between groups. 

Evaluative assessment

Evaluative assessment extends not just to a child's individual work performance or achievement, it also equally includes a teacher's own self-reflection of the teaching methods, environment & outcomes. Ultimately it requires teachers to ask:

1. what did I do (understanding impact & influence)? 

2, how did it go (are goals, objectives or outcomes being achieved)?

3. what could I do better?

It builds upon formative assessment...


or PLAN - OBSERVE - EVALUATE-..etc. etc.

There are numerous tools to support evaluative assessment.  These include information, guides, standards, checks etc. A goal for the Raise Learning team will be to resource and develop evaluative tools to assist this process and support the evaluative steps already provided for in the LIFT tool. Part of this is includes translating & providing guidance on the new requirements as further regulation and guidance emerges under the new National Quality Standards.  We will keep you posted with updates as they arise. 


A note about LIFT (Learning Involving Families & Teachers)

This blog was produced by the Raise Learning team. 

LIFT is an online service for early childhood professionals to safely & securely document & share with families children's learning.  If you would like to find out more about LIFT you can visit http://www.raiselearning.com.au/pages/lift.  Raise Learning is currently offering an amazing free 30 day trial where you can try LIFT for free.  You can also register and sign up for our LIVE DEMO version of LIFT where you can see demonstration records of what LIFT can do.  

"Early Childhood Assessment from Birth to Age 8"  (2005), Early Learning Standards Task Force and Kindergarten Assessment Work Group,  Pennsylvania BUILD Initiative, Pennsylvania’s Departments of Education and Public Welfare, Harrisburg, PA retrieved 11 October 2010 from http://www.pakeys.org/docs/EarlyChildhoodAssessment.pdf


2010 DEKTA Conference

Yesterday I went to the DECKTA (Diamond Valley and Eltham Kindergarten Teachers Association) conference in Mill Park where 150+ teachers and educators meet annually to discuss key industry issues, enjoy a formal social lunch and participate in a choice of practical workshops. 

The day opened with an award presented, based on 25 years of service, which I think was absolute gold!  Unfortunately our industry does very little recognise the achievements of its teachers, and this is one way this association is addressing this.  It also clearly shows that experience, measured by length of service, really has great value and should be recognized. 

The keynote speaker at the conference was Kathy Walker.  While I didn't agree with everything she said (she was extremely controversial) I loved listening to her and was inspired to really think about the issues she raised.  The reoccurring theme in her presentation (and subsequent workshop of hers that I attended) was that the recent changes to the framework should not make teachers completely rethink their teaching practice and potentially change everything they do, but rather use the framework as another tool to help you critically assess, reflect and improve what you already do.  Kathy gave example after example of why what Kindergartens already have been doing for so long is the right way and how some of the new language, terms and issues are so confusing and creating unnecessary angst in the teaching community.  

Kathy made some key points:

- relationships are what matters in preschool.  Kathy made reference to key research on brain development and other numerous early childhood research and explained how consistently the evidence supports how the development of relationships was key over all other learning domains: I particularly liked one example she gave, where she noted that a smile between a child and an adult,  fires up all parts the brain over 50% more than doing an activity, reading a book providing flash cards etc. 

- educators should really display their diplomas/degrees and be proud of their early childhood profession;

- Play based curriculum is the only key curriculum that we all must follow, other emerging influences from Regio Emilia to Te Whariki have no real basis on their own that supports their style or view of the world exclusively. I would like to note here particularly that 5 years on and the New Zealand government have been reviewing the effectiveness of the Te Wharaki approach and there are many issues and criticisms  emerging, so it is very important to take care when jumping too quickly on the band wagon of popular approaches (also reinforced numerous times over by Kathy throughout the day. Kathy also expressed extreme dismay at how some educators are wrongly using the term 'emergent' learning. She said teachers must always be intentional and thus have fully formed plans for each lesson, but that they must then only be sensitive or informed by children and flex their teaching to this as they intentionally deem best.  Kathy argued that children "don't know what they don't know" and hence it is ridiculous to have all learning be emergent on the day. I agree emphatically with Kathy and point further that such an approach conjures the timeless problem of the chicken and the egg, which comes first?

- Preschool is not about a year in preparation for school, it is about providing a year for children to do preschool and be preschoolers.  Kathy's belief is that too often children are pushed too quickly into formal learning approaches and she was very happy now that the government are now moving the first two years of school to be play based. 

 - Kathy expressed concern at the emerging trend of using the 'Voice of the child'.  Kathy argued that some approaches are emphasising the child make choices in life changing events such as when and where to go to school.  Kathy emphatically rejected this  approach and argued that the voice of the child is just one part of informing the teacher, but that the teacher and then ultimately the parent under the advice of the teacher, are the ones with the brain capacity and life experience to make important decisions on behalf of the child. 

- Kathy expressed her concerns with the use of terminology in the framework like outcomes and suggested educators view these as goals.  Kathy noted that she had observed some educators using the framework like a check list and since their are actually thousands of way each outcome could ultimately be expressed, she said applying a checklist approach was dangerous.   

- Kathy noted that the new terminology was very confusing and while educators should move to learn the new terms, they should continue, particularly in communication with families, use simple and easily understood language.  Kathy also noted that primary teachers have had a formal state governed curriculum for many years now and as a rule it completely changes every few years, such that not too much emphasis or effort to change using the current curriculum should be implemented.  I must say I found this part of Kathy's presentation hard to accept, as it effectively argued that we will walk the same rocky road the primary schools have over the last 100 years.  I am hopeful that this is not the case.  While I agree that some of the terms are a little academic and should be used sparingly till they are absolutely well understood by all stakeholders, this does not mean the that it will be acceptable to undertake a half effort wait and see what's next approach.  I personally love the viewpoint that we should uptake the curriculum at a rate where we can safely and with quality, intergrate the new idealology into our practice, no more and no less with a positive view to refining the current approach, rather than waiting for it to be completely reinvented.  

- Finally Kathy expressed significant disappointment with the government's management of the transition statements.  Kathy argued that transition statements should be much simpler, three or four points at most which would actually help primary school teachers, not create an administrative nightmare for all.  Kathy advised the group to take great care at keeping the statements as brief and to the point as possible and to never ever cut and paste indicators into the plan. 

I have to congratulate the DEKTA team! The workshops of the day were fantastic and it really was a great pratical and very professionally ran conference which needs to be noted since it is run by such a small group of volunteers.

Last notes: 
Raise Learning participated in the trade fair, exhibiting our new service LIFT (Learning Involving Families and Teachers) which is an online program planning and child documentation software service which allows parents and educators to easily login and access information about their children and programs.  It was wonderful to get such great feedback about our product and we look forward to working with you all in the coming weeks. 

Using Technology to Improve Early Learning

Today’s generation are now faced with a myriad of technology and communication tools and early childhood research now supports fostering early adaption of these technologies, will lead to better outcomes for children. 

Do we agree? Yes - We absolutely do! 
The benefits go deeper than just a cursory attempt at facilitate children a head start at developing key future employability skills…Digital media opens children’s learning up to a whole world of information and people, breaking down barriers of distance or culture and allows children to creatively and more easily explore their own learning threads. Children can engage in the learning through a wide range of tools (camera’s, internet, music, recorded sounds, video etc). They can (either by themselves or with guided assistance from their teachers) record and summarize their own learning in ways that reinforce the construction of their own theories, allow them to share their learning with others and take pride in a visually engaging production. The social aspect of digital exploration also cannot be understated…teachers, parents, children can open themselves up to local, regional or even international communities in amazing new ways… everyone can get involved in the learning that is occurring! 

Here’s some ways we suggest you can use digital media in your classroom. 

Invest in a computer – It won’t cost you as much as you think! Here are a few ideas to get you started! 
- Buy a refurbished computer – they cost nothing and practically do everything you’ll ever need for your classroom! 
- Ask people to donate their old computers – parents, local businesses may give you whole computers or parts for free, so it’s well worth asking. 
- Check out the auction houses…there are so many around the world. In Australia, we’ve often used with great success www.graysonline.com.au – you can practically buy anything you can think of from them at a quarter of the retail prices and they also sell new which is well worth a look in. 
Get connected
It is impossible to write a blog to adequately cover the breadth and depth of activities and information available on the internet!  The fact that you've found our blog, we think you 'get' that.  We'd thought however that we'd provide you with a couple of links we really enjoy and hope they inspire you to start leveraging all the amazing and free activities out their in the ethos of the internet. 

Some great free activity websites:

Some amazing information websites:

Free TV/Movie Shows
http://fixplay.ninemsn.com.au/ - we found walking with the dinosaurs and Thunderbirds here!

Buy a camera and a colour printer
Take photos and allow children to take photos of what interests them, what they see and what they are learning. It is always so surprising when you sit back and see what has occurred and it inspires both the children, teachers, families and others seeing the learning to think of new ideas, discussions and ways to further extend on the child’s understanding.  Have a go at writing a learning story (we’ll write a blog on how to do this soon!). Print up your photos and display them with your artwork!  Capture amazing moments of creativity and expression that create story with your displays. Email your parents or add photos to a shared web album like Google’s Picasa. 
Go Social 
- Start a social group on facebook and update information to a closed community. 
- Start a blog and document your learning and photos. You can create blogs using Wordpress and Google’s blogger with closed communities. 
- Sign up to Twitter and tweet funny comments and observations
    Word of Caution on Privacy Laws: Children and families have legal rights to protection of their privacy. Please ensure you have the necessary permissions and documentation to take photos and share, even within a closed social community. It is always best to err on the side of caution – If in doubt, leave them out! 

    Revive the old TV and video.
    TV and video are amazing tools not used enough in early learning environments.  There is a stigma in the early learning community that TV is a mind numbing tool used by parents to ‘baby sit’ children! As a parent myself, I can attest there is some truth to this BUT this is not the way an early childhood teacher can use TV and video! The goal for the teacher is to leverage the fantastic ‘entertainment value’ provided by TV and video to stimulate learning and discussion in new ways. There are so many engaging early childhood learning shows from Sesame Street to Playschool; children love these and they can provide fabulous opportunities to explore ideas, themes art work and other ideas. But it really doesn’t just stop kids’ shows: I personally can attest that children as early as two absolutely love documentaries on all sorts of topics! You’d be surprised! If children ask questions about a topic you know you have a documentary on, this can be a fabulous way to answer them…You can also use documentaries to stimulate interest or further discussion on a topic. The trick is to keep the showings (as you’ll unlikely be able to show a whole show, at least not in one sitting to a preschooler) short a sweet. Stop the shows regularly and ask questions. 

    Other Digital Media ideas you may not have thought of!
    - For those of you a little more computer savvy, make a video of your class! You would be amazed how much everyone (children, parents, teachers) love seeing themselves learn, play teach and interact! 
    - Use an old (or new if you can!) Overhead projector – show children’s drawing, pictures and artwork. I love creating silhouettes of children. 
    - Use Stop watches to extend or change an activity – children can quickly adapt new ideas such as time and consequences. Count down time, run races, challenge children in simple activities etc. 
    - IPods – Buy e books or download stories online. I recommend teachers go to ITUNESU or Podcasts as there are so many free preschool stories available for download. 
    - Use your phones – record voice, audio, take photos or video easily on most smart phones.

      We'd love to hear your ideas?  Feel free to respond here or email us your ideas to info@raiselearning.com.au 
      Some amazing information websites: