When I was a preschool teacher working with children ages 3 to 5, I was really focused on planning based on each, individual child. Not only is this best practice, but it was a requirement of the program. I knew from my time in college that the most effective way to do this was to continually assess the children, which felt very daunting at first. “Assessment” is such a heavy word. What I mean by that is, the word “assessment” has so many meanings and connotations. It felt very formal, like sitting down with a child so I could “test” him or her, then having to communicate what the results meant to the parent which probably would be very serious. What I came to find out is that assessment isn’t always formal, and it can be a very effective way to plan for each child.
The first thing I did was set some goals. I am the type of person who needs guidelines and parameters or else I am all over the place. In an effort to get organized, along with the other teachers in the room, we set a goal. We would each write an anecdotal record for six specific children at least once a week. An anecdotal record is a very short story about a significant occurrence you observe the child experience. It includes what was happening before the occurrence, the occurrence and what happened after. For example,
Eden was playing in the block area with Hannah. She said to Hannah, “We need four more blocks to make the cage for the zebra.” Hannah handed Eden three blocks. Eden set them up around the zebras. Then she pointed at each one and counted one by one. She then said, “We need one more block.”
In our program, we used a sheet that included a space for the name of the child, the date and listed the areas of the classroom to indicate where the child was during the observation.
We also wanted these observation notes to be conveniently located, so when something happened that we wanted to write down, we didn’t have to go far. We each kept some notes on us, in our pockets. We also set up clip boards with blank paper and pencils in “hot spots” around the room. These “hot spots” were in areas that generated rich discussion and interactions amongst the children, such as the dramatic play area, block areas and the art center. This easy access meant that as soon as we observed a milestone or a particular interest peak, we could write it down. I learned quickly that observations can happen anywhere, any time. I have over heard counting for the first time in the bathroom, seen pro-social skills develop while walking to the playground and witnessed literacy skills being practiced on a fogged up window.
Having this collection of observations from throughout the week gave us lots of information to begin planning. We had an idea of what each child was interested in or working on. When it came to planning experiences and activities that would support the development of each child, we were prepared.