Why and how do an Early Year’s Team Observe and Assess Young Children?
When conceptualisations of research and academia appear in literature, academia and education are synonymous with each other. Once this connection has been made, the notion of the study of children inevitably manifests. Children are a valuable educational resource- they are the future of the world, in economic and personal terms. This is a viewpoint (or paradigm depending upon interpretation and application of the previously mentioned sentiment) that gives rise to the argument that monitoring children’s development strategically in the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) would be appropriate. This is presumably when their development is influenced the most. Although applied originally to the field of child language acquisition, Lenneberg (1967) noted that there was often a period of learning for children where they absorbed facts and content at their optimum and once this period had elapsed, they were still able to learn, but not as productively as they were in the aforementioned ‘critical period’. Such a line of reasoning could be potentially be transferable and applied to the development of children: once they have surpassed the EYFS, their personality, learning habits and other such traits may be fixed. However, the dominant view in educational psychology at present is that personality is not a fixed entity. Instead, it is something which is continually changing over time, being affected by heritability, environmental interactions (this is expounded upon at a later section of this assignment) and the schema of the child themselves (Roberts et al., 2010). Regardless of the debate over whether the traits of the child are fixed or are continually changing, some intervention (and assessment) by Early Years Practitioners is needed to observe the child and potentially project (or forecast) the characteristics of the child in order to inform provision for them.
Why Observe Children in Particular?
Although the development of children could be considered to be linear and homogenous, this could be a flawed interpretation. The expansive nature of the EYFS curriculum is testament to the fact that children’s development is hard to quantify and needs to be scrupulously assessed to come to a rational conclusion over how they are developing. The work of various educational theorists can be used to substantiate this point. Piaget (1954) explained the complexity of development in children. Piaget categorised children’s development by stages, although other theorists have adopted a broader outlook on matters. For instance, Bruner (1976) spoke of the environmental influence on children’s development- stipulating that the interactions that they held (with their parents, other adults or agents in their care and their peers/compatriots) were the most predominant influences on a child’s development. This was because they influenced the lens through which the child viewed the world, thus shaping their personality. Again this refers to the social component of a child’s development and the linguistic dimension of it (something which was replicated in Lenneberg’s theory at the onset of this assignment). This seems to infer that literacy (and linguistics) may be central to a child’s development and affect them in numerous ways. Evidently, the literary abilities of a child need to be something which should be assessed throughout the course of the EYFS. This assignment will now proceed to a discussion over the precise assets of why an Early Years Practitioner (EYP) assesses children, which is parallel to the other objective of this assignment- a line of justification as to why certain observational and assessment methods are used to observe and assess children. Essentially, the remainder of this assignment will be an expansion of the points which were alluded to in the opening gambit of this essay.
Nature of the EYFS Curriculum
Recent curriculum reforms in education (and particularly in the EYFS) have acknowledged the development of the whole child- a move to a holistic pedagogy of education where all dimensions of the child’s development are appreciated and recognised (DCSF, 2008). This is indicative of the transformation and shift of attitudes in the world of education which have occurred in recent years: that the development of children should be tracked, recorded and appraised at many different levels. Aside from the changing landscape of educational attitudes, it also seems pertinent to acknowledge that there may be other reasons as to why it is has become increasingly important to monitor the educational development of children. The phrases ‘educational journey’ and ‘educational career’ are often espoused in educational vernacular and documentation, which refers to a child’s progression throughout the various stages of education (DfE, 2014). As is common knowledge, the EYFS refers to the provision and care for children who are under 5 years old (encompassing nursery, pre-school and reception). With the next stage of their education being primary school, it may be important for EYPs to observe and assess children so that they can facilitate a smooth transition for the next stage of pupils’ learning (DfE, 2014). This could be potentially achieved by collecting information about the child’s academic abilities. This type of assessment used to be known as a ‘baseline’ assessment, however with the inauguration of and development of the EYFS, new terminology has been adopted. Presently, providers must complete an EYFS profile for children, something which stipulates their attainment in a number of areas. This entails assessing their development in a number of areas: including their literary abilities, numerical aptitude, personality traits (such as how they interact with other children) and their interpersonal skills (DfE, 2012).
DfE (2014) also articulates that practitioners are also required to record whether children are exceeding expected levels of progress (also known as ‘early learning goals’ which are set out in the EYFS) or if they are not yet meeting them (with children in this classification deemed to be ‘emerging’). This method of assessment bares some similarities with the classifications used at higher levels of education, such as whether a student is exceeding, achieving or emanating below their target grade in a given subject. This information is then passed onto the teacher whom the pupils will have in Year 1 (often considered to be the first ‘official’ year of primary school) to inform their practice and help them tailor their practice to meet the needs of the child (DfE, 2012). This alone indicates the rationale for why observations and assessments are undertaken of children: to cater for them academically and personally. Such practice could be considered to be indicative of an individualised model of practice which embraces the individuality of the child and caters for them on a more unique level. However, it should be appreciated that it may be hard for a teacher to do this for every single pupil in a class (or for EYPs with every child under their tutelage and guidance). However, balancing this point out, there are many methods of observation and assessment which can really give an authentic insight to the development of a child.
Methods of Observation/Assessment
Progressing more to an academic perspective on matters, it seems pertinent to point out that the learning style of a child should be an integral part of the assessment which is undertaken by EYPs. Briefly covering the generic perspectives on this issue, Gardner (2004) devised a spectrum of learning styles which encompassed various domains of learning: mathematical, linguistic and interpersonal to name just a few. Even more specifically, Sperry (1968: 1748) dichotomised intelligence into individuals being either ‘left’ (logical and being comfortable with subjects such as Mathematics and the sciences) or ‘right’ (more creative people who display a predilection for linguistic and the Arts). However, in the field of Early Childhood studies, the term ‘learning dispositions’ tends to be used to describe a child’s learning style or preferences (although it could possibly be extended to adult’s learning styles in education). Carr and Claxton (2004) indicate that learning dispositions are to some extent innate (corroborating the aforementioned work of Sperry) as intelligence (and behaviours relating to it) are undeniably influenced by genetic factors. The authors also elaborate that it is the environment which children are situated in which contributes to their learning disposition. For example, an early childhood setting may be particular enthusiast/proponents of outdoor education. This could ignite the intellectual and heuristic curiosity of children and inspire them to have a natural affinity for the outdoors. This is known as ‘heuristic’ play (similar to multi-sensory play), where children have access to a stimulating environment (full of playthings and natural artefacts) which allows them to interact with others (Goldschmeid and Jackson, 1994). The arguments above certainly illustrate the impact of the environment (in terms of activities/resources at the children’s disposal) on children’s development.
Specifically, in the field of Early Years Studies, the environment has to be an ‘enabling’ one, which is seen to influence the development of children in a positive manner (DfE, 2014). This is where all of the components of the learning environment are balanced, with the physical, tangible assets (such as the amount of space and selection of equipment) of working nicely with the intangible characteristics (culture and working practices) of the setting. There are various ways of assessing the development of young children, particularly in accordance with their learning development. Drummond (2003) argues that it is at the power of the teacher/practitioner what observational methods they use. This point is not inconceivable and could be true to a point: however, the practices inherent in an institution will arguably dictate what observational/assessment methods are adopted within teachers’ practice. One such method was formulated by the authors mentioned in the previous paragraph in the form of a ‘learning disposition’ grid (Carr and Claxton, 2002). These could be filled in the form of rudimentary observations of children’s behaviour (such as the activities they are engaging in or basic quantifiers like date, time and duration), but it is becoming increasingly common for EYPs to use more sophisticated methods of observation. Palaiologou (2010) notes that it is now commonplace for childcare practitioners to use ‘learning stories’. Elaborating that these originated from New Zealand, the author noted that EYPs favour these over traditional observations due to their versatility and flexibility. Instead of recording basic details of a child’s development, they include a story of a child’s progress and space for parent feedback. This certainly communicates the relevance of involving parents in the provision of care which a child receives. Indeed, it also represents the importance of a team of EYPs working collectively, to ensure consistency.