Saturday, 3 March 2018

Assessment in the early years....

If you are reading this blog post, I am absolutely that like me, you did a little dance and leap for joy when the demise of National Standards was announced.

If you have been reading my blog for a while you will be well aware of my views on assessment or to be more specific 'testing'.  I have also talked a little about this in my last book My Journey into Play which is available in PDF through TPT in my Number Agent Store.

In my opinion assessment has taken over many schools, it has made the teachers role one of box ticking and created stress for children and adults alike.  It has taken a way a lot of the freedom and innovation and led us to believe that there is no other way.

I won't go much further into this, because this blog post is not intended to be full of my opinion, but to share what we are doing and where we are up to at the moment.

I did however want to share with you a little story that made me cringe...I am still hearing too often about visual assessment on classroom walls.  A recent story I heard talked about a display that pitted children against each other in a race to be reading at a certain level.  This kind of practice breaks my heart.  I don't for a moment think that these teachers are doing this to hurt children, but I don't think they have taken time to think about how the children feel.  How does this shape their view of what reading is or even learning is?   How does it promote a culture of shared learning and journey?  How does it speak to these children about failure and mistakes?

I came across another practice like this, not regarding assessment, but specific learning activities.  Children received a sticker on their chart if they chose a certain type of activity, but did not receive a sticker if they chose to play, because, well that is just play right, not learning?  This was supposedly a motivating strategy.

Would we as adults like to be pitted against each other in this way?  What would it do to our staff culture if we were pitted against each other in this type of competition?

Food for thought.

Ok, back to the point of this post.  It is really just a follow up, because I have blogged about this before and a lot of the info in here will be the same.  I have had many asking however about new entrant assessment and my opinions on readiness, so I thought I would create an updated post to cover off these questions.

Firstly my opinion on new entrant assessment....for some of you this will be quite confronting, but it is my intention to challenge current practice, just as I have challenged my own over the last few years.

I do not think that there is any place for academic (cognitive based) assessment of children on school entry.  I do not believe we should be doing a traditional SEA, testing children on aspects of learning that most are not cognitively ready for.  All this does is create anxiety in children right from the outset.  I also do not believe there should be a rigorous timeline that we stick to in terms of assessment.  No reports at certain times, none of that.  Assessment should be seen as part of the learning process and particularly for our youngest children needs to be governed by an individual timeline of development.  Take age off the table and think about developmental stage.

Why would you assess children on something they have no idea about, just to prove they have no idea?  Surely you could learn more by playing alongside and talking to the child?  What an earth is it that we are trying to achieve or prove.  There are other ways to show progress, that are far less damaging.

Yes, I said damaging, these practices are damaging, we need to own it, and we need to change it.  The growth in the level of anxiety can in the opinion of Peter Gray be related to the decline in play and the feeling of 'being out of control' for children.  I believe that the over emphasis on testing also contributes to this anxiety in children.  Children in traditional environments have limited control over what they are being 'tested' on.  They have no role to play in this, other than by being measured.  I believe we can still get good information on progress, while still allowing children to feel in control of their learning and involved in the process.

Ok, obviously I have strong opinions on this.  Obviously these are my opinions, but I have lived this change and observed the differences it has made first hand.  I know more about my children in my class now, then I ever did when I was using traditional new entrant assessments like observation surveys.  Children engage happily in the process of working through their developmental goals (which they are given after a month or two at school) and approach this process with a growth mindset and understanding that they are not being tested.

So what is it that we do?

Well we use this as our framework for how we approach each individuals journey.  This framework has been based on the development of the brain and allows us to engage with a child from the point they are up to.

From that framework we use this goal sheet that children work through with us as and when they are ready.

This framework and goal sheet is used as long as needed and you will notice that after working memory development, it starts to become more cognitive.  Age is not a factor here, the focus is on development and a child in Year 2 or 3 may still be working on developmental goals if that is where they are up to.

We also use this writing chart to track progress...taking a writing sample each term as needed. (this is not designed by me and is freely available online)

You will notice that we do not read with children straight away, and our children read interest books, rather than traditional readers.  When we do start reading, we used decodable texts so that the process makes sense and we working individually with children.

We use narratives via seesaw and class 'stories' in our learning scrapbook.  These show the progression from a narrative more based on dispositions, urges and stages of play, transitioning as the child develops to a more cognitive focused one that is based on the curriculum.  These narratives can be individual, small group, or whole class and we try to make them as specific to the learning as we can so that it is visible to those that are reading it.

We also use seesaw to focus in on dispositions and keep a class learning story scrapbook in class which children and parents can access.

In maths I use a lot of observational assessments through agents, but we do give children knowledge based goals to work on and track them ourselves through the stages.  We use JAM if we feel they are stage 4 and we need to know more about what they are doing strategy wise, but this is just one tool and often quite a narrow one.  We use video a lot and visual images.  Reflecting on these gives us a wealth of information and sharing these with the children throughout the day also enhances the process.

Dispositions form a huge part of our assessment of children along with stages of play and urges.  These are kept anecdotally in each child's assessment journal (we have one for each child.)

In practical terms we check in with each child once a week on whatever goals they are up to and full in their journal accordingly. 

This year I want to trial creating a mindmap for each child, describing them as a learner throughout the year, their interests, urges, talents, dispositions etc  I can see this painting a valuable picture to sit down with parents and talk about. 

I hope that this helps.    Have we got the process completely probably not.  I think we are always on a journey and things change accordingly, but if we always have children's needs at heart I think we will always go forward with the best of intentions.

We need to ask ourselves why we do what we do and who it is helping.  Assessment should be for learning, it is about improving, not proving. 

1 comment:

  1. Some great ideas in here. Thanks Leslee. Assessment continues to take up a great deal thinking time in most senior leadership teams.