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Chapter 22     Documenting Results

Research on brain development confirms the remarkable learning opportunities in the early years and of the long-term effect of early experiences (Shore, 1997). The early years of schooling, prekindergarten through third grade, is the time to begin the process of assessing children's performance related to standards. If the purpose of assessment is to improve educational outcomes, it must begin in the early years, not later.

But documenting young learners' growth is challenging. Traditional methods of assessment do not recognize and value the ways in which young learners demonstrate their learning most effectively. Standardized tests that require single answer responses within specified time frames put enormous pressure on young learners. Pressure can inhibit thinking (Jensen, 1998) and decrease the accuracy of assessment. On-demand assessments also halt the learning process in active, engaging classrooms and fail to provide timely information for modifying and redesigning learning experiences to improve instruction and outcomes.

The following is adapted from guidelines on documentation and assessment in the early years, and  provides some valuable ideas for the ESL teacher to consider.

The Challenge of Young Learners, Pre-K through Third Grade

Young children construct their knowledge best through active, engaged, meaningful experiences that provide interaction with their environments and others. The work of Piaget bears out the importance of sensory experiences and concrete learning activities (Labinowicz, 1980). In their position statement, Developmentally Appropriate Practice (Bredekamp, 1987; Bredekamp and Copple, 1995), The National Association for the Education of Young Children has confirmed the importance of direct, first-hand, interactive experiences.

Brain research indicates that learning is easier when experiences are interconnected and not isolated or compartmentalized into subject areas (Jensen, 1998). Teaching strategies such as complex thematic units and the project approach (Katz and Chard, 1989), which are the framework for instruction in many early childhood classrooms, provide this integration and challenge. Hands-on, thought-provoking experiences engage children's curiosity, motivate the application of skills, and challenge children to think reflectively. But these integrated, complex experiences are difficult to assess.

The early years are also a crucial time for children to develop positive dispositions towards learning as described by Bruner, Katz (1996, 1987), and Smith (1990). When teaching young children, we provide not only opportunities to learn knowledge and skills, but also to develop attitudes towards learning and using those skills. For example, how a child feels about reading can have long range effects on the child's reading achievement. Positive dispositions toward reading and learning are critical for achieving standards, yet dispositions are a challenge to assess.

Taping Speech

Particularly useful in the EYL classroom is a taperecorder.  Consider taping individual childrens speech at regular intervals.  Collect samples of a variety of different spoken language activities, for example,  reading, answering questions, speaking on a topic, conversing with others, singing, re-telling a story, reciting a rhyme.  This will provide far more accurate documentation and assessment of childrens oral ability than a test scoresheet, and is a valuable guage to look back on and measure progress.

Self EAssessment/Feedback.

Childrens own self assessment and feedback can provide much valuable material, both in terms of  identifying specific language needs, and giving insights into individual childrens psychology.  This information is vital  to tailor-make teaching to fit each childs learning needs. Opportunities for self-assessment and feedback are also valuable empowerment tools, which help to motivate young learners by giving them some control over their own learning, and boosting their self–esteem.  It is surprising how honest and perceptive children can be, and how much useful information can be gleaned from this type of enquiry.

There are many ways to elicit and encourage feedback and assessment.  Children are never too young to be given the opportunity and tools to voice their own opinions, state their needs, and discuss their views of themselves as a learners.  Some students however, may at first be reluctant to participate because of:
 -  shyness
 -  cultural attitudes
 -  lack of vocabulary
 -  unfamiliarity with concept so careful thought will need to go into how best to introduce it.

Some ideas for introducing self-assessment and feedback:

 -  Introduce a topic such as
       “How I did in the testElt;/FONT>
       “My progress this termElt;/FONT>
       “I can speak EnglishElt;/FONT>
       “My behaviour in classElt;/FONT>
       “What I like to do bestElt;/FONT>
       “What do I think of this course/teacher/subjectElt;/FONT>
       etc etc, then,
         -  Get children to place themselves on a physical number line,
            one end of the classroom being 10, the other end 0.
         -  Draw a picture/stick figure/face illustrating how they feel about
            a statement.
         -  Simplify by giving drawings of blank faces to draw mouth on;
            happy, sad, ok etc.

 -  Using some miming and imaginative cartoon sketches, teach young children extra verses to “Happy and You Know ItEto give them a range of vocabulary for describing  feelings.  Encourage them to use the words in everyday classroom situations.  Even very young learners can pick up quite difficult concepts like “boredE “excitedE “interestedE “shyE “grumpyE “disappointedEand learn to use them.

 -   Pass a talking stick, talking teddy, etc round the circle for each student to have a turn at giving feedback.  Give some format to help them organize their speech, such as EThe best thing about (the test/ today/ learning English/ coming to class/ my work) is.....Eand  “the worst thing about........ is .......Eamp;nbsp;  Or simply “I like...I don’t like...Eamp;nbsp;  Give encouragement, but allow the option to pass without speaking.

 -  Get children to list three things they’re good at, and three things they’d like to improve at.

 -  Let students write their own mock report.  Give themselves a grade for effort, ability, participation, behaviour etc, simplifying or extending as neccessary for different levels.  Give more advanced students the task of writing comments about themselves in the third person.

 -  Get into the habit of asking your students “How do you think that went?Ebefore you give  them your opinion.

Documenting Young Learners' Knowledge, Skills, and Dispositions

Because the early years so often predict future achievement, caring educators will conscientiously record and reflect on the knowledge, skills, and dispositions that children develop. We'd like to suggest a decision-making process for documenting children's performance that is consistent with the ways young children demonstrate knowledge and skills. It is a natural addition to recommended practices of active, engaged learning experiences.

An alternative to on-demand assessment is documentation of children's actual performance. Tying that documentation to state or national standards enables the teacher to evaluate the child's progress and make critical decisions about curriculum, classroom materials, and personal interactions. Those decisions can help move the child to greater competency and assist in reaching levels of development specified in the standards.

Documentation is defined as "providing evidence." The evidence of children's learning in prekindergarten through third grade classrooms can include combinations of the following:

  • Individual Portfolios
  • Individual or Group Products
  • Observations
  • Child Self-reflections
  • Narratives of Learning Experiences

  • How Documentation Is Collected in Classrooms for Young Children

    1. Individual Portfolios  Specific content area items collected at specific intervals, for example

  • writing samples
  • record of problem solving using numbers
  • Unique items that indicate
  • learning style
  • interests
  • personal talents
  • 2. Products
  • (Individual or Group)  Products of children's use of language such as
  • spoken language as collected in anecdotal notes or audio/video tapes
  • written language as collected in signs, captions on photos or drawings, letters, labels, child made books.
  • constructions such as play environments, Lego, or block structures
  • drawings or paintings
  • records of data collection
  • musical expressions such as made up songs or dances
  • webs, lists of words, or other records of vocabulary or concepts
  • 3. Observations  Observations made by the teacher and recorded as
  • specific knowledge or skills on a developmental checklist or curriculum guide
  • anecdotal notes on events indicating knowledge, skills, or dispositions
  • behavioral indicators of dispositions (expression of interest, time spent on activities, self-selection of activities)
  • 4. Child Self-reflections  Children's statements of understanding their
  • Activity preferences
  • enjoyment or interest in content areas
  • pride in accomplishment
  • acceptance of need for persistence and hard work
  • 5. Narratives of Learning Experiences  Stories of learning experiences of
        individuals, small groups, or the whole class in
  • teacher journals
  • displays on projects and units
  • books or explanations for parents
  • books or stories for children.

  • Adapted from Documentation Web. Helm, J., Beneke, S., & Steinheimer, K. (1998). Windows on Learning: Documenting Young Children's Work. New York: Teachers College Press. (p. 36)

    Documenting standards for young children requires careful thought and consideration. A teacher might have a number of questions: Which standards lend themselves more easily to documentation through observations? Which would be demonstrated through a long-term project? Are there times when children should be asked to construct rather than write so that the most authentic evidence of learning can be gathered?

    Guidelines for Matching Documentation to Standards for Young Learners

    Matching documentation with standards and classroom experiences is a decision making process. Here are some guidelines that may be useful in making these decisions.

    1. Plan assessment to take advantage of natural outcomes of routine classroom activities.

    Many routine classroom activities provide opportunities to document young students' performance related to standards. Informative documentation does not require a specially orchestrated event. For example, many teachers include journal writing in their daily routine whereby students, independently or in small groups, write on self-chosen topics. Usually, the goal is to encourage expression of thoughts in writing, rather than to demonstrate correct spelling, punctuation, and grammar. Yet, as students' skills develop, their writing provides evidence of their knowledge of the conventions of written language. Saving or copying selected pages from children's journals may document progress towards language arts standards. Other classroom routines such as oral language, oral math, sustained silent reading, partner reading, science experiments, science observations, literature extension activities, math manipulative activities, and long-term studies or projects may provide sources of documentation for all content areas.

    2. Provide for children's different learning styles.

    The range of young learners' skills and competencies, as well as the variety of ways that young learners demonstrate those skills and competencies is appreciable. To get the most accurate assessment of each child's knowledge, skills, and dispositions, teachers must know their students.

    For example, is one child's knowledge of science processes better expressed through writing or talking? Would constructing a model or demonstrating a process to others be more indicative of that child's progress? Would a musical expression or a dramatic interpretation be more appropriate for that child? Documenting learning according to the child's learning style insures that the child's performance represents what she knows and can do.

    3. Consider the natural products of learning experiences.

    Perhaps the easiest way to document children's expanding writing skills is by collecting actual writing samples. In math, young children usually demonstrate their knowledge better when using problem-solving strategies with real objects than in paper and pencil tasks. Effective documentation would not include worksheets or timed practice tests, but teacher observations of children's work with manipulatives. Quoting children's comments about their mathematical understanding would be most informative.

    4. Document progress towards standards, not just achievement of them.

    Rather than waiting until children reach standards, teachers should document children's progress towards the standards. The process of documenting progress alerts the teacher to the necessity of adjusting and improving instruction. For example, writing samples that include first drafts, revisions, and final edits reveal more about children's progress than examples of teacher-edited, "published" products. Documenting the writing process shows children's growth in spelling, grammar, and self-expression. With this knowledge, teachers can design learning activities that help children strengthen particular skills.

    Documenting children's progress towards standards complements integrated approaches that are most effective with this age group. As children engage in extended projects, it becomes possible to document their progress towards several standards. In a study of transportation, for example, children may study transportation now and in times past. As they compare and contrast, they are working towards history standards; as they analyze engines and speeds, they're making progress in science; as they organize data about wheels and seating capacity, that's mathematics; and as they research and represent their findings through written or oral presentations, they're developing skills in language arts. Projects of several weeks' duration provide opportunity to document progress toward standards in multiple areas.


    Documenting children's progress in the early years is important because prekindergarten through third grade is a time that sets the stage for learning. When teachers provide stimulating experiences for intellectual growth, engaging children in active learning, opportunities for assessment abound. Teachers can meet the special challenges of assessing young learners by integrating the documentation of standards into classroom experiences.

    Chapter 23
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