Kei Tua o te Pae
Kei Tua o te Pae/Assessment for Learning: Early Childhood Exemplars is a best-practice guide that will help teachers continue to improve the quality of their teaching.
The exemplars are a series of books that will help teachers to understand and strengthen children's learning. It also shows how children, parents and whānau can contribute to this assessment and ongoing learning.
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Research findings – Ngā kitenga rangahau
The most comprehensive review of research on formative assessment in recent years was carried out by Paul Black and Dylan Wiliam at King’s College, London.21
Although these findings refer originally to the primary, secondary, and tertiary education sectors, they are relevant to the early childhood setting as well. The findings highlight the role of empowering processes and of reciprocal and responsive relationships in formative assessment. The review concludes that the following practices are important for effective formative assessment: meaningful and interesting tasks, the active involvement of learners, a culture of success, the opportunity for all learners to express their ideas, and self-assessment.
Meaningful and interesting tasks
Black and Wiliam,24 writing about strategies and tactics for teachers’ formative assessment work, include a discussion of the nature of educational tasks that form the basis for assessments. They cite research that concludes that tasks should: be interesting; offer reasonable challenge; help learners to develop short-term, self-referenced goals; focus on meaningful aspects of learning; and support the development and use of effective learning strategies. In early childhood settings where children have a sense of belonging, tasks/activities/projects will encourage learning goals through which children understand and “own” the questions and problems.
The active involvement of learners
Early childhood teachers characteristically teach through interaction and develop a number of strategies to encourage the involvement of every child (including knowing the children well, which is an outcome of listening as well as noticing, recognising, responding to, and revisiting documentation about the child).
A culture of success
Such a culture avoids the idea that the capacity to learn is a fixed inner quality that cannot be changed by effort. In classrooms where the culture focuses on feedback in the form of rewards – “gold stars”, grades, or class ranking – then “where they have any choice, pupils avoid difficult tasks … Many are reluctant to ask questions out of fear of failure.”28 A key issue here is the beliefs that teachers hold about the learning potential of all their students.29 Also, Black and Wiliam state, “There is evidence from many studies that learners’ beliefs about their own capacity as learners can affect their achievement.”30 The narrative formats for assessment being developed in New Zealand early childhood contexts, learning stories for instance, are designed to contribute to a culture of success. They need to be accompanied by the teacher’s belief in the potential of all children.
The opportunity for all learners to express their ideas
In early childhood, assessments frequently include, or follow on from, children expressing their ideas. Teachers ensure that all children have this opportunity to express themselves and that discussions are genuinely reciprocal.
Self-assessment where learners take responsibility for their own learning
"What this [research] amounts to is that self-assessment by pupils, far from being a luxury, is in fact an essential component of formative assessment." 32
An essential element is for teachers to provide “the stimulus and help for pupils to take active responsibility for their own learning”.33 A number of exemplars provided in the Kei Tua o te Pae series include children commenting on and evaluating their own learning. Revisiting documented assessments with peers, teachers, family, and whānau provides further opportunities for the children to do this.
These research findings on effective formative assessment can be seen to parallel the five strands of Te Whāriki:
- Belonging – meaningful tasks
- Well-being – active involvement by learners
- Exploration – a culture of success
- Communication – the opportunity for all learners to express their ideas
- Contribution – self-assessment.