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Are there differences between observation, documentation and assessment?

Observation as an Important Aspect of Professional Practice

The purpose of this reflective essay is examining, what is observation, documentation and assessment, in the context of early children’s assessments and evaluations, to better understand them and present the difference between these factors with respect to the early childhood programs. The reflective study then categorically highlights their differences among these essential factors for early childhood programs. Observation, assessment and planning support early childhood programs that support their development. Documentation starts with observation and understanding their current interest development and learning outcomes. Observation starts with watching the child under care, their activities, individual interests effectively communicating with them and taking evidence of what we hear or see. When we assess a child’s development, analyzing the observation is of utmost importance and understanding what they require. A child’s care and learning needs are also required to be observed from their parents and guardians, this is then analyzed to determine interests, current development and learning abilities. Regulations (Ministerial Council for Education, has developed Early childhood development programs and Youth Affairs related programs, where the result of each child assessment process undergoes separate evaluation. All these parameters together are required for a child’s proper development and learning. This information comes from our evaluations based on these parameters.


I shall start with the concept of observation first, Observation is a very important aspect of everyday professional practice, when working with a child belonging to any age group. It is the way to determine the individual needs of children by listening to and studying their activities. It allows us to view the child as an individual, in any large or small and large group setting. The child’s activities, emotions and every activity is to be noted. Observation can be of two types, planned (formal) and spontaneous (informal). Without proper observation planning would be based on what the caregiver feels important. Carrying out regular observations is important since it puts the child at the focal point. What is vital, are the observational skills that include proper observation of the child’s activities. This helps if there is understanding of the present development and information gathered from parents. Attention must be paid to the interactions which the child has with adults and other similar aged children. A child’s responses, behaviour, learning and development is done by being an objective practitioner. If a child does not often communicate, to have an open mind to listen to him and establish proper communication, gather better evidence, properly reading the child’s body language, his communication with peers and adults (Alasuutari, Markström & Vallberg-Roth, 2014).Observations help us to recognise every child’s personal needs more accurately and to identify any causes that may concern the parties involved. Their emotional and well-being bears a very strong influence on their development, also on their ability of learning and communication and their behaviour.  Their coping ability, with different situations can only be learned through proper observation methods. Proper planning and questioning is also employed to clarify, to confirm and reject ideas about children’s demands, where a child can respond to questions directed to him. Most types of observations in early childhood are participant observations that are carried out when we are playing and working with children. Spontaneous observations are simultaneous behavioural actions of the child. The planned observations last for very short period of time. Participant observations are those which are understood when the practitioner is fully involved with the child, noting significant developments. IT involves observing on a regular basis, to gather different types of information about how is the child’s performance in any environment. The key idea is to systematically observe, timely, by practitioners and so that regular discussions may take place. If a concern is to be discussed with parents and caregivers to identify if an intervention is required. In every stage of observation children must be involved in the process, The UN article on child rights state that a child’s opinion is be taken into account every time, for any matter involving the child (McLachlan, Fleer & Edwards, 2018). Sharing the child’s record with parents is also an important facet of proper observation, since parents intimately know their children.

Types of Observation (Planned and Spontaneous)


The next process of evaluation is the method of Assessment. For many children in the early childhood phase of education, the notion of any assessment program, is an unfamiliar and often intimidating concept since its association with notions of passing and failure in an exam setting, and with testing procedures often makes some education providers very uncomfortable with including the term in a child based learning framework (Eddy, Converse & Wenderoth, 2015).  Childhood assessment is the process in which collecting information about the progress of a child and then using the very same information to form perspectives and notions about a child, the process revolves around review of the information, and using it to plan out a child’s educational activities and plan them accordingly (Krechevsky et al., 2013). Early childhood assessment is used for providing educators and parents with vital information about a child’s education development and growth and to plan for their educational activities on a level complacent with the child’s learning abilities (Suggate, Schaughency & Reese, 2013).  Assessment is important because it provides a complete record of growth in all developmental areas, including cognitive, physical, of language, societal, emotional, a cognitive, physical and innovative approaches to learning. To identify the children who need support and to determine any need for adult intervention. It helps educators plan individualised instruction for the child at the relevant stage of development (Van Hoorn et al., 2014). It also provides a common ground for educators and parents to formulate a strategy to effectively support for the child.  Methods of assessment also include creating portfolios or data records that are gathered from educator’s experience with working with children. Educator ratings are also an important aspect of assessment of the cognitive and language abilities and an assessment of the socio-emotional development. They help build partnerships between educators and parents. Standardised tests are created (Bresler, 2013). These tests are meant to assess the performance of the children. Two types of assessment tools that are used are program developed child assessment tools, aligned to a specific program’s philosophy and curriculum, on the other hand published child assessment tools are credible sources, in the assessment of the child’s overall development.


The next process of child assessment is the process of documentation, it plays an important role in the overall development of any educational program that deals with children. Successful documentation formats reflect a teacher’s overview and description of an event, experience or skill development such as photographs and videos of a school field trip (Sumsion et al., 2014).  A child’s work such as arts and crafts, science experiments, videos of events that take place in the class. Samples of a child’s work are also assessed like essay writing and drawing assignments (Fawcett & Watson, 2016).  Teacher’s transcripts of conversation during class interaction, and even parent teacher interactions are documented evidences that are required during documentation. Individual child growth and development of language progression, expected behaviours of any group, curriculum activities like class assessments, posting samples of learning standards and classroom routine work form part of the documentation process  (Branscombe, Burcham, Castle & Surbeck, 2013). The importance of an effective documentation process entails that children become more curious, confident due to the process of displaying examples of the child’s work. Children are stimulated by each other’s work, the display of documentation of one child motivates others to follow his example, and it encourages the development of something new. Careful display of children’s work makes them realise that they are taken seriously (Krechevsky, Mardell,  Rivard & Wilson, 2013).  Documentation gives information about children’s education and overall progress, it is focused on what the children learn and how well they are able to comprehend the information. Continuous planning, based on the evaluation of all tasks that children undertake, including complex individual tasks, the teachers discuss and document the tasks, and discuss their ideas with the children. Planning tasks based on what the children have found to be interesting, stimulating, puzzling and challenging. Teachers reflect on the progress of the child Documentation provides ongoing plan of action for the teachers to better planning and evaluation of the child’s overall progress (Blaiklock, 2013).  As teachers analyse the child’s work and evaluate and document it, their own understanding of child’s development, thus increasing their own knowledge. Documentation also helps teachers tweak their own awareness and redesign processes (Eddy, Converse & Wenderoth, 2015). Using the documentation the teachers are able to make informed decisions on appropriate ways to develop curriculums to advance children’s learning. Documentation allows to compare the previous experiences and provokes new understanding of previous experiences. It makes it possible for parents to become more aware of the progress of their child. Parent’s comments and their own personal experience of their child in their homes provide deeper understanding to the educator. This may even provide information to the teachers of situations of which they were previously unaware of.( Schertz et al., 2013). Through learning about their child, the parents become actively involved in the education of the child and take responsibility for their child’s overall development (Leonard, 2014). Thus effective documentation can improve a child’s overall progress and provide a vital resource when it comes to their assessment.

The Role and Importance of Assessment in Early Childhood Education Programs


To come to a conclusion about this topic, I believe that each of the three methodologies of assessing early childhood education is required for effective evaluation of any program intended to affect children’s educational programs. Observation, I believe is pivotal to the process as it provides the vital information to any program. Observation has similarities with assessment, it is an understanding of the child’s behaviour and activities, and assessment on the other hand is the process of collecting information about the progress of a child and then using the very same information to form perspectives and notions about a child. I came to the understanding that observing a child begins with simple and effective methods of evaluating how each child behaves, adapts to new situations and interacts with his peers. I have found some difference with documentation and assessment, while the former deals with Assessment involves means that enhance opportunities for a child’s overall development. The latter deals with the methodologies to study his activities. Documentation, I believe is the physical record of the child’s progress. Hence these methods while differing in their individual capacities, they are fundamentally important to the overall process of designing children’s educational programs.

References:

Alasuutari, M., Markström, A. M., & Vallberg-Roth, A. C. (2014). Assessment and documentation in early childhood education. Routledge.

Blaiklock, K. (2013). What are children learning in early childhood education in New Zealand?. Australasian Journal of Early Childhood, 38(2), 51.

Branscombe, N. A., Burcham, J. G., Castle, K., & Surbeck, E. (2013). Early childhood curriculum: A constructivist perspective. Routledge.

Bresler, L. (Ed.). (2013). Knowing bodies, moving minds: Towards embodied teaching and learning (Vol. 3). Springer Science & Business Media.

Eddy, S. L., Converse, M., & Wenderoth, M. P. (2015). PORTAAL: a classroom observation tool assessing evidence-based teaching practices for active learning in large science, technology, engineering, and mathematics classes. CBE—Life Sciences Education, 14(2), ar23.

Fawcett, M., & Watson, D. (2016). Learning through child observation. Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

Follari, L. (2015). Foundations and best practices in early childhood education: History, theories, and approaches to learning. Pearson Higher Education AU.

Krechevsky, M., Mardell, B., Rivard, M., & Wilson, D. (2013). Visible learners: Promoting Reggio-inspired approaches in all schools. John Wiley & Sons.

Leonard, L. B. (2014). Children with specific language impairment. MIT press.

McLachlan, C., Fleer, M., & Edwards, S. (2018). Early childhood curriculum: Planning, assessment and implementation. Cambridge University Press.

Schertz, H. H., Odom, S. L., Baggett, K. M., & Sideris, J. H. (2013). Effects of joint attention mediated learning for toddlers with autism spectrum disorders: An initial randomized controlled study. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 28(2), 249-258.

Suggate, S. P., Schaughency, E. A., & Reese, E. (2013). Children learning to read later catch up to children reading earlier. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 28(1), 33-48.

Sumsion, J., Grieshaber, S., McArdle, F., & Shield, P. (2014). The'state of play'in Australia: Early childhood educators and play-based learning. Australasian journal of early childhood, 39(3), 4.

Van Hoorn, J. L., Monighan-Nourot, P., Scales, B., & Alward, K. R. (2014). Play at the center of the curriculum. Pearson.

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