Over the years, our teachers have become experts at guiding play to create genuine learning experiences, but this has raised the question: How do we assess learning in this context? Here, Lower Primary Associate Principal Margarita Mendez shares the solution our educators developed to capture all the progress our students make!
Lower Primary Administration Team from left to right: Gayle Renken, Geoff Heney, and Margarita Mendez
“Stand aside for a while and leave room for learning, observe carefully what children do, and then if you have understood well, perhaps teaching will be different from before.”
Loris Magaluzzi, founder of the Reggio Emilia Approach to education
Pre-school teachers are masters of observation. They see and respect children as capable and responsible, and honor their innate sense of knowing how to construct meaning as they navigate their learning. Teachers of young children know when to step back and observe, when to lean in to listen, and how to notice and document that children learn best through play. By activating their power of seeing, teachers are able to know each child individually and design meaningful activities for them to amplify their play-centered learning.
Listening & Noticing The Early Childhood program at HKIS is anchored in this foundation of teacher knowledge and understanding. Our teachers pay close attention to the experience of being a young child and therefore spend a lot of time listening, noticing, and getting to know each student. The data they gather shapes the play-based activities they design for the children in their class. In Reception 1, when children are busy at play, they are busy at work!
Early Childhood teachers know not to interfere in such serious business as play. And yet, they need to be sure that students are progressing in their learning to set them up for success in later grades and beyond. In order to accomplish both goals, HKIS teachers use moments of play to collect evidence of the students’ passions and developmental stages. To do this effectively and systematically, our Reception 1 team developed a tool to assess each child’s language development during these authentic moments throughout the day. This tool has been so effective that it now replaces previous assessment practices which disrupted children’s play activities and felt out of context and inauthentic.
Reception 1 students at play in the classroom.
HKIS teachers use moments of play to collect evidence of the students’ passions and developmental stages. To do this effectively and systematically, our Reception 1 team developed a tool to assess each child’s language development during these authentic moments.
In addition, teachers use this tool to continuously embed pre-academic skills into play-based activities, while observing and taking notes to document learning. The tool allows teachers to step back and give the children opportunities to show them what they are capable of independently, through developmentally appropriate and designed play activities. So, a teacher can observe each student’s language ability while also making each child more aware of the sounds they hear in words they use while playing games that emphasize rhyming, reading stories with predictable patterns, or singing and clapping out the syllables of songs. For example, if a student is in a play kitchen, a teacher can say "you're playing with a pan! Is there anything else in the kitchen that starts with a "p" sound?" These activities cultivate purposeful learning for students, while allowing a teacher to understand what the child has learned, and what they should learn next. These activities cultivate purposeful learning for students.
And that is ultimately the goal: When students feel in control of what they are learning, they value it more, and learn more easily and more deeply. Targeting each student’s individual interests and needs for learning and assessment makes both play and observation the most valuable tools for early childhood educators.
Farewell to Ms. Mendez!
Margarita Mendez and her family are heading on their next adventure, this time to the American School of Doha, where Ms. Mendez will be the Lower Elementary Principal. We are thankful for Margarita’s leadership in the Lower Primary at HKIS and know that she will bring her passion for play and young learners to the community in Doha. Our loss is ASD’s gain!
Ms. Dratz guides Reception 1 students as they learn math skills during open play.