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In this part you are going make a start on observing and documenting a learning event in your own setting, and so we’re going to spend a little bit of time this week thinking about how we are going to observe learning. We will then guide you through transforming this observation into the description of children’s activity that begins a learning story.
We are aiming to:
This will involve:
Revisit your learning so far
What are the strengths of using learning stories as assessment tools in early childhood education?
Our assessments depend on focussed and detailed observations, and are going to be more relevant and accurate when the observations underpinning them have been carefully and thoughtfully recorded. Read the following information on what and how to observe for effective assessment, thinking about what and how you might observe in your setting.
What and how to observe for effective assessment practice
The first choice in assessment practice is determining what to document for assessment purposes. Teachers are constantly assessing children’s interests, skills and understanding as they play and talk with children. The choice of what to formally document depends on your interests. You will select what is most meaningful for you, but also some learning activity that you think might have potential for extension. You want to document something that can provoke discussions with other teachers, as well as children and their families, that will help them to get to know children and their learning, and help them to plan ways to further learning.
It can be useful to have a discussion with colleagues about important priorities for individual children, or to develop a shared sense of curriculum priorities in your setting with parents, whānau and teachers, to focus your observation. You might observe children’s participation in a teacher-led experience which has been intentionally planned to extend a child or group’s interests, and here you might have specific aspects that you want to observe, or specific questions about children’s learning to guide your observation, such as “how do the children tackle collaborative activity?” or “what strategies do the children use for exploration?” or “what do Daniel and Tzipora understand about looking after animals?”.
Another option is to look at when children are intensely engaged and absorbed in an activity or project, or a new or sustained interest, which indicates that this learning is meaningful to them. You might also observe aspects of play that parents and whānau have indicated are important. Finally, it is also useful to write stories about larger projects that include several children, which enables you to explore social relationships and the different roles children take in the development of group interests.
One of the easiest ways to observe children is with a digital camera – you can take photos of the children in action and then use these photos later to reconstruct the event. Photos can provide a lot of detail about context and perhaps the finer detail of things like children’s hand positions as they mould clay and so on, but there is also a lot that they miss. One important element is the dialogue and speech that accompany a learning event, or the subtle non-verbal communication offered by an infant or toddler. This can give great insight into what children perceive to be important about the task at hand. If you’re taking photos, also grab a clipboard and paper or a pad of post-it notes and note down what you can of the dialogue and action. You might also add some of your immediate thinking about what you’re observing at the time.
You could make a voice recording of the dialogue while you are taking photos, and transcribe some of the children’s dialogue and speech later, but this will take time, and may not be all that clear because of background noise.
A simple way to record both action and dialogue or the finer detail of non-verbal communication is to use a video camera. Video recordings capture a lot of the context of the learning event (although not all, as sometimes crucial aspects of the context are off-screen) but they can be time-consuming to view. With this in mind, keep video recordings short but focused, and you are bound to get lots of assessment information from them.
Relate your learning to practice
Choose a learning event to observe in your early childhood setting– this will be the focus for the learning story you will write during this course.
Look for and select something that is meaningful, for example, something that reflects your setting’s curriculum priorities, or something in which a child shows new, sustained or intense interest, or something that is important to parent and whānau aspirations for the child. It should also be learning that you would like to understand more about in order to better support, expand and extend it.
How to observe and document – tips
Next, you are going to write a learning story about the event of children’s learning that you have observed and planned to document in your early childhood setting. The first step in a learning story is to describe the events that occurred, in an engaging narrative.
Watch a video
Describing and narrating learning in a learning story
Relate your learning to practice
Write the description part of your learning story. Use the following pointers to help you:
Find more exemplar stories within the Ministry of Education resouce, Kei tua o te pae.
This week we’ve focused on understanding and practicing effective observation of learning, and on translating that observation into a meaningful and engaging narrative within a learning story. The main points we’ve covered are:
Writing descriptions of learning