“Young children learn in a very different way to adults or even older children (Guddemi and Chase 2004), which cannot, and should not, be assessed by written ‘exams’ or formal tests. Young children need to express themselves with the whole of their being, during play and without any constraints.” – Kathy Brodie writes in her “Observation, Assessment and Planning in the Early Years: Bringing it all Together”.
When we talk about assessment of young learners the best way to do this is through an on-going process of observation and monitoring. This definitely means more work for teachers, as you need to be more attentive, to take notes, to make observation more precise and accurate, and to find more efficient ways to assess children. But firstly, let’s see what observation is.
Observation is seeing where a child is at and describing what you see. Teachers observe children as they play, do tasks, in their everyday activities and during more structured activities. When teachers observe children, they look, listen and take note. Through observation, teachers get to know the child, their interests, abilities, and existing knowledge.
What things should teachers focus on during observation?
- Level of participation. How active your learners are and if they understand tasks and do them successfully. If they are engaged and interested in your lessons.
- Passive skills. Many teachers consider that good result is when children start speaking or answering questions, reacting on requests, etc. However, as speaking comes after lots of receptive work, pay attention to passive skills. For example, listening, and how children engage in play and crafts making. Therefore, provide different ways for kids to express what they are learning.
3. Confidence in communicating. Once again, not necessarily verbally. See how they respond and if they do this at all. If they are shy, analyse the reason for it: is it because of their nature or they lack some English?
How should you observe?
During a lesson take notes of what children do or say. Jot down everything you notice about their English language, progress or drawbacks. It’s also essential to remember that children should be assessed in genuine situations rather than on out-of-context exercises. After all, we want them to be able to communicate and do things in real life, not in a vacuum. Also, bear in mind that each child might ‘show’ their progress differently and you shouldn’t make a mistake of overseeing it just because it doesn’t come in the form you are expecting (for example, verbal vs. non-verbal).
What about tests?
If your learners start developing reading or writing skills, you may organize some kind of formal evaluation: use tests or create revision lessons. However, make sure it’s not stressful for a child and it won’t discourage them from English learning.
Assessment is about analysing your observations and understanding the potential of each child. When you assess a young child you should be asking yourself, “What do my observations tell me about this child?” Children’s rates of English skills are so varied, that it doesn’t make sense to highlight what the child can’t do. What does make sense, however, is to point out, based on evidence, what a child can do. You can create a list of criteria to analyse your observations, e.g. a child shows awareness of some/most new language; they demonstrate/produce the new vocabulary; they use new vocabulary/structures accurately, etc.
Once you have observed a child and analysed observations (have done an assessment), you should be asking yourself, “What’s next?” This is a crucial stage in planning the next steps in their English learning. Consider what they need to work on more and what they’ve learnt well. Create your syllabus and next lessons plans based on your observations and assessments to make learning process logical, smooth and individual.
Good luck with observation and assessment!