Tag Archives: assessment

Invisible child

Do you know what it is like to feel invisible? Have you ever been in a room full of people and wondered if anyone would notice if you decided to leave? Have you ever made a comment or suggestion and minutes later hear someone else repeat your words as though you had been talking to yourself? Now think about the quiet, easy-going, and/or shy children that may be in your care.

Just because a child is quiet, don't let them fall through the cracks when planning for your classroom.

Just because a child is quiet, don’t let them “fall through the cracks” when planning for your classroom.

It could be the child that rarely asks for help. Perhaps they are the one who continually sits quietly through group time. Maybe they are more likely to wait patiently for lunch or give up easily for a chance to take turns with a new toy. Sometimes children with flexible or fearful temperaments will watch from a distance and resist joining large groups. They may be more willing to “go with the flow.”

It was common practice in my toddler classroom to write individual notes on each child’s daily sheet. We also wrote anecdotal notes on an on-going basis to document their learning. While finding a routine for these processes, I remember struggling to write detailed notes for all of the children in my care. I noticed that I could document all kinds of learning for some children, while straining to recall instances for others. I realized that these children were typically those that did not “stand out” for any particular reason. Perhaps they were less likely to “throw temper tantrums” or often times preferred to play on their own. Sometimes after the morning greeting, these children demanded a lot less from me, whether it was one-on-one attention, help with tasks, or behavioral guidance. I didn’t mean to ignore them but I realized that I was unintentionally doing just that.

It became apparent that I was going to have to be very intentional on finding ways to observe children with quiet and/or fearful temperament types. I realized that I had to make adjustments in my practice. I made sure that I sat near them as they played. Sometimes to watch and observe, other times to interact and make sure they knew I was there for them too. If I knew they liked to read books, I would invite them to read. If I noticed that they preferred to play somewhere else in the room while there was a small group activity available, I would allow them that time. The trickiest part was helping children stand up for themselves when other, more persistent children would take their toys, so I would gently let that child know it was okay to say “mine” or “no.”

Once I became more aware of my own behavior, I was able to make changes. It is the teacher’s responsibility to make sure that all children’s needs are being met. We have to be flexible and understand that not every child is going to fit in the same mold and it is our duty to make sure that no child falls through the cracks.

 

 

Assessment can happen anywhere, any time!

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.

Classroom assessments don't have to feel like tests!

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.

Everyday Things in New Ways

Imagine if you were a scientist and got to have breakfast with Galileo. That’s what I felt like this morning when my day started with breakfast with Ellen Galinsky in a discussion about how children learn. Well, I should tell you that Ellen is not sitting at my breakfast table at home, but is the keynote speaker at a national conference. Brrrrr, it’s cold in Minneapolis!

Ellen’s work, Mind in The Making, shares seven essential life skills for children. Her talk this morning was motivating and illustrated to the group that all adults play a key role in helping children pick up seven critical life skills. It got me thinking about school readiness, a conversation that gets a lot of airtime in early childhood circles. Aren’t skills for school really one and the same as skills for life?

Let’s try to break down this school readiness thing, and instead of being intimidated by testing, assessment, and standards, let’s focus on what matters- the children. In my estimation, we teachers must do the best that we possibly can to provide children with real experiences that are linked to the skills they will need in kindergarten and beyond. Kindergarten readiness skills are the same skills that will help children succeed all throughout their lives.

So, where should we start? How can you find out what children need to know and be able to do to have success in school AND life?

1. Talk to kindergarten teachers or elementary school principals near your program. This will get you what you are looking for, and is a great way to develop a relationship.

2. Watch the children. Watch each child for a long time. Knowing what children are able to accomplish with and without help will guide you to planning activities for them. Can Louis sort red teddy bears into a pile and green teddy bears into another pile? Can Jasmine hold a book upright, turn the pages individually, and imitate the telling of a story using the book?

3. Love and care for each child while they are trying new things. Ask questions to the child. “What will happen if you add one more block to your tower?”

4. Use tools like your state’s early childhood standards and research-based curriculum to break down the knowledge and skills into smaller “chunks.” Look for sections that correlate to some of the skills you have observed in your children. This will get you started with a lesson plan that meets the developmental level of all children.

5. Watch the children again. Make notes on index cards (easy to carry in your pocket) for every child. Refer to these when you make your next plan. The process of observing, making a decision about what each child needs to work on, and preparing the plan is a cycle.

6. Repeat. Repeat again.

Now that my breakfast with Ellen is over, I look to her for a pearl of wisdom in closing: “These essential skills don’t call for expensive programs, fancy materials, or elaborate equipment. They simply call for doing the everyday things you do with children in new ways.”