How do we know children are learning what we think they are learning? How can we be sure that the activities we plan and execute are supporting children so they construct knowledge?
Early childhood teachers prepare the environment and plan the curriculum based on the interests of their children, what their children already know and are able to do, and what is developmentally appropriate. Teachers consider individual children while also holding dear the needs of their group as a whole. They differentiate the teaching and learning so that each child can work within their own Zone of Proximal Development. When you add all of this up, children should be learning what we think they are learning.
Educators throw the word “assessment” around a lot. Assessment is the cyclical process of finding out what is working in terms of learning, and what needs improvement so it will work better. For me, the most important part of the cycle is using this information to improve learning. With older children and adults, good assessment is designed to uncover, in a systematic way, what students learned and how they learned it. Often, this is done through written exams, assignments, projects, and essays, etc. Naturally, none of these systems will work with young children since they don’t read and write and they don’t perform in the same ways as older people do.
The most appropriate way to assess the learning of the young child may be through the use of authentic assessments that incorporate information over time. We paint a broader picture of a child when we look at her work over time as a scrapbook of learning, rather than a one-time snapshot.
These scrapbooks provide a roadmap for planning and decision-making. Regular and systematic assessment provides a much clearer and stronger map than fly-by-night assessment. Over the next few weeks, I am going to explore ways in which we can assess early math skills so we can improve early math learning.