5 tips for… Assessment for learning

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The eighth and final blog post in the Practices series looks at Assessment for learning and transitions. If you missed any, why not go back to the archives and have a look. Next week I will start exploring the Principles. Here are 5 tips to help with this practice …

  1. Build your own professional knowledge: The more confident and skilled you are as an educator the easier it will be to assess children’s learning and identify ways to support this in your curriculum. This knowledge can come through formal study, professional development, research, networking, or mentoring. Without a commitment to continuous improvement of your own knowledge your ideas can become stagnant and there can be issues in seeing how children are demonstrating their learning and how to use this to design the curriculum. Particularly if you studied prior to the NQF coming into affect where there was a much more prescriptive approach to assessment and curriculum decisions.
  2. Understand each child as an individual: In order to assess children’s learning it is important to recognise that they will demonstrate this in their own ways and may use resources in very different ways than you had planned. This is a valuable tool to support your assessment for learning as it can allow you to modify and change the curriculum based on how the children engaged, instead of seeing it as a failure because they didn’t engage the way you had planned.
  3. Assess children holistically and in a strength based approach: All children have strengths and capabilities they can bring to the curriculum and it is up to us as educators to design a program that supports these. Therefore we need to build relationships and connections with each child to find out how best to support them to connect to learning in ways that are practical and meaningful for the individual child. Sometimes we can design a curriculum that supports the needs of the educators and their strengths, and then expect children to fit within this and wonder why they struggle. Assessing the learning opportunities on offer for children to engage in holistic and inclusive experience will help children to feel valued and build their sense of belonging which in turn will allow for better assessment of their skills and abilities as they engage with the program at a deeper level.
  4. Use your assessments to drive curriculum decisions: Your assessments on how children learn, how they engage with the experiences and environment, how the routine works, how your resources allow for holistic learning can all then be used as tools for modifying your curriculum. Some children may prefer or need more structured activities to help them to feel confident and engage. Others may need more open ended and child directed experiences to allow them to develop their creativity, investigation and planning.
  5. Reflect on your practices as part of your assessment: It is not only the children that should be assessed to ensure that learning opportunities are maximised, but also the role of the educators. It can be easy to just look at the children and assess them, however for a truly reflective and valuable curriculum the role of the educator and the impact this has on the children’s ability to engage or feel secure and emotionally supported must be assessed. A really easy way to achieve this is to look back at the other practices blog posts and assess how your role supports or inhibits learning, whether there are areas that could be enhanced or modified to create a more meaningful and child directed program and routine based on these assessments.

 

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5 tips for… Continuity of Learning & Transitions

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The seventh blog post in the Practices series looks at Continuity of learning and transitions. Here are 5 tips to help with this practice …

  1. Work in partnership with families: The closer you can work with the families the more of an understanding you can gather on how children learn within the context of the home environment, including any cultural considerations. This can help support the transition of children in to the service with practices they are used to from home which will help children feel a sense of belonging and build secure and trusting attachments. Utilise your enrolment forms and orientation period to get to know valuable information that can be incorporated into the curriculum and routines beyond the child’s favourite toy.
  2. Work in partnership with support agencies: Many children access different support agencies for example therapists, medical professionals or cultural support groups. Taking the time to build a professional relationship with these services/agencies can ensure that there is a consistent approach to the child’s learning and development as they transition between the different services. This can allow the child to feel more confident and avoid frustration or confusion, as well as help the families feel like there is a holistic approach to their child’s care and education as the different organisations work together to support the child’s needs.
  3. Reflect on how and why children transition between rooms in the service: There are many reasons children move up rooms in a service, sometimes it is because the child is ready and capable to transition, sometimes it is because the parents demand it, sometimes it is because of a child’s age, and sometimes it is because of a business decision to get more spots in rooms that make more income for the service. Reflect on the reasons for moving children up in your service and whether the child’s needs are a key driving factor. Also it is important to consider how children are moved up between rooms. Do they have time to transition slowly over a few weeks? Do the staff in the new room get a discussion about the child and what it is important for them to know? Do families fill in new forms with new updated information to support the home/service continuity that may have changed since enrolment?
  4. Utilise learning opportunities that can support transitions: An easy way to support positive transitions and enhance children’s continuity of learning is to consider the types of resources, environments and curriculum decisions in each of the rooms and where there are opportunities for consistency. If the aspects of each room are vastly different then children have to spend time familiarising themselves with new routines, expectations and resources. Resources such as loose parts can be modified to reflect the age while remaining a constant between all rooms. The way in which transitions occur, educators engage with children and children have agency can also be examples of consistency between rooms.
  5. Get to know your local schools: One of the biggest transitions in a child’s life is the transition to school. This can be supported by building connections with local schools and finding out –
    a) their expectations around school readiness (as it may be very different to what you are working on);
    b) whether you can share in any aspects of the school (events, fundraisers, band practice etc.);
    c) whether you can access a school’s facilities such as a library to borrow books, the play equipment during the school holidays to help children feel confident and less likely to injure themselves; and
    d) what time recess and lunch occur (as they are often very different to childcare centre times which revolve around kitchen schedules and getting the cook home on time, and this can leave children hungry and struggling to concentrate when they get to school).

 

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5 tips for… Cultural Competence

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The sixth blog post in the Practices series looks at Cultural Competence. Here are 5 tips to help with this practice …

  1. Understand what cultures are in your community: When thinking about culture it is important to not just consider the cultures already in your service but those in the wider community. If you only focus on the cultures you currently have in the service then you may be excluding other community members as they cannot see themselves reflected in your service and the decisions you make. The same can be said for Indigenous Culture, where a lot of services may argue that they do not have any Indigenous people in their community so why bother, but it is about creating an accepting and culturally diverse mindset in the children so no matter who they meet in life they are greeted with respect and a sense of acceptance.
  2. Create a culturally safe and respectful environment: Consider the resources you have in your environment, the experiences you engage with and the way in which you embed culture. The more authentic and meaningful the approach the more respectful and safe the environment will feel to others. Are you reflecting contemporary representations of different cultures or just traditional and historical representations? Do you look beyond geography and flags when talking about other countries and develop an understanding of their culture? Can you connect with aspects of different cultures that you feel comfortable with as a starting point e.g. art, cooking, architecture, music, language etc?
  3. Consider your celebrations and events: It is important to choose celebrations that support cultural competence and demonstrate both respect and knowledge of the culture they represent. It is also important to allow children to be able to connect to a range of different learning opportunities through events. You do not have to celebrate the same events every year and could discuss with the families and the children at the beginning of each year which events are important to them, instead of just the staff deciding. Also, be careful not to choose tokenistic or inappropriate options just because they look cute or seem fun. Instead reflect on the learning opportunities available and whether the chosen experiences align with your philosophy and pedagogy.
  4. Reflect on your own biases and beliefs: Sometimes our own upbringing and circumstances can create barriers when it comes to cultural competence. It is important to recognise these in order to work through them and not have these barriers come through in your interactions with children and their families. It is also important as a team to hold each other accountable and address any barriers that may be observed in others to help reflect on the possible causes and support each other to be more present and intentional in our work.
  5. Trust that children are capable and competent: If you believe that children are capable and competent then you can do richer and more meaningful work with them on a range of different topics including culture. Trusting the children to be able to unpack and understand a deeper level of information can see learning opportunities around culture extend beyond craft. Allowing the children to direct and lead the exploration of different cultures can be insightful and support the development of curriculum in ways you may never have considered. You can even do projects around culture and the importance of valuing and respecting diversity as a way to collaboratively build knowledge and challenge each other through children’s voices.

 

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5 tips for… Learning Environments

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The fifth blog post in the Practices series looks at Learning Environments. Here are 5 tips to help with this practice …

  1. Conduct an audit on your environment: When was the last time you actively assessed your environment? It is important to be connected to your environment and assess how useful it is in engaging children, demonstrating compliance and providing evidence of learning. All of the the points below will highlight some of the ways in which you can audit your learning environment and work out if it is achieving what you hope it will.
  2. Value your environment as a member of the teaching team: Your environment plays such a big role in how the children engage with learning and the curriculum that it is like an extra member of the team. Too many resources in the environment can be overstimulating or restrict children’s creativity. Too few resources to share or a lack of variety can cause boredom and acting out. It is important to see how the children engage with the environment, both inside and outside, and see whether it is in a productive and purposeful way. I once didn’t set up outside, no equipment other than the physical areas that were there already (sandpit, bark pit, trees, garden beds, hill, veranda), as a way to reflect on how the children were able to a) use the environment and b) resource their own learning. It was an experiment and through it we learnt that the children were far more engaged (after the first 10 minutes or so) in what they chose to do than they ever were with the equipment and resources we provided them to choose from. This taught us to value and respect children’s abilities to resource their own learning and not to feel like we needed to offer them resources and set tasks to keep them occupied. It also meant we changed the way we set up to keep some areas open and free for real choice and agency, instead of allowing the children to choose only between the activities that we had selected for them.
  3. Use critical reflection to connect with the environment: Critically reflecting on any aspect of the service or organisation will allow you to be better connected to it. Here are some areas you may like to use as a basis for reflection:
    • What message does your environment send to children/families/educators?
    • Who gets to make choices in your environment?
    • Does inside or outside get more attention? why?
    • Do you equate a busy environment with busy children or do you provide spaces with minimal resources for children to create their own learning opportunities?
    • How inclusive is your environment? (does it support children with additional needs? sensory issues? physical disabilities/illness that may cause children to be tired? are different cultures reflected in safe and respectful ways?)
    • Are all displays current and able to communicate holistic compliance?
  4. Use your environment to reflect your context: Every service is operating within its own context and and as such this should be reflected in the environment. Decisions made in the service should be made based on the needs and values of the local community and area, not feel like the service could be anywhere in the world. A service should feel like money is reinvested into the service in meaningful and valuable ways so there might be an additional educator, more qualified staff, project based work for the children with a regular visitor, excursions to places rich in learning potential, redesigning spaces to support children’s engagement and opportunities, instead of having the newest and best of every resource and piece of technology. A service in the bush should have an outside environment that reflects the space the children will be used to playing in and feel most at home in, such as grass, open spaces, natural resources, creek beds etc. Versus a service in the city where children all live in apartments and may not have access to yards and gross motor challenges that are present in suburban houses and may need more obstacle courses etc to challenge and support children’s development.
  5. Avoid a tick box approach to compliance evidence: There are ways to demonstrate compliance that are value laden, holistic, meaningful and child/family focused, that rely on a deep and comprehensive understanding of the compliance requirements as well as best practice and early childhood theory. Then there are ways to demonstrate compliance that are about ticking boxes, a surface level approach to each compliance point where one thing achieve compliance for one thing. I can walk into a service and see/feel whether there has been thought and critical reflection put into place behind the decisions that are being made, or whether ideas have been replicated and ‘pinched’ because they look good or cute or tick an obvious box. A simple example of this is having a downloaded poster off the internet of children washing their hands in the bathroom and explaining how to wash hands, vs discussing with the children about hand washing and having them think of ways that can remind them to wash their hands. Perhaps they want to make their own posters – take photos of each other, print them out, cut them out, write the steps, maybe laminate them. All of which highlights the value of the children’s voice, child directed learning, promoting and valuing learning opportunities (such as problem solving, using technology, working together, developing fine motor skills etc), creating a sense of belonging in the environment because children can see themselves reflected in the displays, as well as promoting hygiene practices.

 

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