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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Noticing, recognising, and responding

In this project, assessment for learning is described as “noticing, recognising, and responding”. This description comes from Bronwen Cowie’s work on assessment in science classrooms (2000). It was useful to the teachers in her study, and early childhood teachers have found it useful as well. These three processes are progressive filters. Teachers notice a great deal as they work with children, and they recognise some of what they notice as “learning”. They will respond to a selection of what they recognise.

Mary Jane Drummond’s (1993) definition of assessment can be adapted to add more to this description of assessment for learning:

"[the] ways in which, in our everyday practice, we [children, families, teachers, and others] observe children’s learning [notice], strive to understand it [recognise], and then put our understanding to good use [respond]." page 13

The difference between noticing and recognising is the application of professional expertise and judgments. In particular, a powerful role for exemplars is to help teachers to recognise some of what they notice as learning (that is, to develop their ability to recognise learning). Sometimes recognising the learning occurs in retrospect, some time after the event. However, if there is a time gap between noticing and recognising, the teacher can’t act (respond) in the moment. The exemplars have been published to assist with closing the gap so that many more responses will be immediate and professional and all members of the learning community will be better able to notice, recognise, and respond to children’s learning.

The early childhood exemplar books use the term “assessment for learning”. Many writers call this “formative assessment”. Philippe Perrenoud (1991) says that “Any assessment that helps the pupil [child] to learn and develop is formative” and adds:

"Development and learning depend on countless factors that are often interrelated. Any assessment that helps to optimise one or more of these factors, to however small a degree, can be considered formative." page 80

Perrenoud includes children’s motivation, their social identities as learners, their views about learning, and the learning atmosphere among these “countless factors”.

One important connection between assessment and learning is feedback. Research tells us that feedback to learners improves learning. Some of this feedback will be through documentation (such as assessments that families and teachers can read back to children and photographs that children can “read” themselves). Some of it will be verbal. Some will be non-verbal (through a gesture, a nod, or a smile). Feedback tells the learners what outcomes are valued in the learning community and how they are doing, and it acknowledges the goals that children set for themselves.

Teachers share stories as well as feedback, and this enriches their noticing, recognising, and responding. A teacher in a childcare centre, discussing the sharing of stories at a team meeting, commented, “We’ve followed on. Jackie did one, and then from reading hers, Sheryl saw something happen and was able to follow it up.”

Electricity in the wall

Tim is interested in vacuum cleaners. The record of this interest includes layers of noticing, recognising, and responding by the teacher and by Tim himself over a number of days.

Child using vacuum cleaner Child using vacuum cleaner Child using vacuum cleaner Girl and boy

Noticing: Tim arrives at the early childhood centre and tells Julie, the teacher, in some excitement, “I’ve seen a Dyson”. Another teacher hears the comment and explains to Julie that a “Dyson” is a vacuum cleaner. 

Recognising: Julie has a conversation with Tim and discovers that vacuum cleaners are of great interest to him. She recognises that for Tim, vacuum cleaners provide many opportunities for learning.

Responding: Julie fetches the centre’s vacuum cleaner, and they take it apart and try an experiment to find out how many plastic plates it can suck up before the warning light goes on. A number of children also become involved.

Fairy Claire visits the early childhood centre. “Do fairies have vacuum cleaners?” asks Tim. “Yes, of course,” she replies.

“Can I see it?”

She explains that she has left it at home.

Child's drawing Child's drawing Child creating a model

The teachers have already noted Tim’s early attempts at drawing. Julie recognises this as another learning opportunity and encourages Tim to draw a picture of the vacuum cleaner.

He also completes a painting.

Perhaps feeling that the 2-dimensional drawing and painting are not enough to portray what he wants to represent, Tim decides to make a 3-dimensional model of a vacuum cleaner.

The learning environment is widened when Tim goes on a visit to a vacuum cleaner shop. Tim notices the engines at the shop and later has a conversation with the teacher about motors and electricity. 

Child using vacuum cleaner Child using vacuum cleaner Vacuum cleaner parts

Tim: Some vacuum cleaners are connected to motors.

Julie: Can a vacuum cleaner go if it doesn’t have a motor?

Tim: No. If the motor’s out, the vacuum cleaner might not go.

Julie: What do you think makes the motor go?

Tim: Um ... don’t know.

Julie: What about the plug?

Tim: You plug it into the wall, because there’s lots of electricity in the wall.

Julie: How do you think the electricity gets into the wall?

Tim: Don’t know. When the cord is plugged into that plug, how does the electricity attach to the plug inside the wall?

Julie: Um ... what do you think?

Tim stood up and slowly walked towards the office, looking for clues. Julie followed behind, wondering where this would lead us. He came to a stop at the office door and peered in and up at the switchboard. 

Switch Circuit board

Tim: That’s where the power comes in.

Julie: Yes, I think you’re right – that’s the control panel. And, look, here’s a light switch.

Tim: I turned the light switch on and off.

Julie: Well, if that’s the control panel, how does the power actually get into the box?

Tim went outside and looked about. He pointed to the power lines.

Tim: Through those wires?

Julie: Um ... maybe. I’m not sure. Let’s get some other people’s opinions – do some research.

We went back inside and asked Ali in the office what she thought. She thought, yes, those lines probably did carry power.

Then the sandpit called, and Tim went to dig another water channel.

Isn’t it amazing where a journey with a child can lead! From baby Dysons to power lines. And the journey isn’t finished yet. Where to next? – Julie 

This is an example of Te Whāriki in action. Tim is gaining new information about vacuum cleaners and electricity. At the same time, he is gaining skills and developing dispositions about being a learner. He finds that learners explore ideas by asking questions, experimenting, observing (looking for clues), representing (in a range of ways), developing working theories (for example, the electricity is in the wall), and asking others. The teachers and Tim himself notice, recognise, and respond to opportunities to learn.