Let’s talk about the gap between how we’ve been taught to assess children, and other more playful and ultimately more informative ways, that leave you and the child smiling, instead of crying with frustration.
Think of the typical assessment practice with the small table in the classroom where children are “invited” to join you to show what they know and can do. As soon as they arrive…they are bombarded with questions and directives, leaving them to ask, “Can I go back and play now?”
This scenario leaves me wondering a number of things….
- Are the data gathered in such contrived situations accurate?
- Can the“truth” be found at our “testing table”?
- And, how do children perform “out in the real world?”
I have my doubts…so instead, here are three specific (and playful) things you can do to get at the truth regarding what children know and can do:
1. Connect first! Instead of asking, directing, or telling, sit beside children so you can watch and listen. Sitting beside and watching, lets children know you are interested in what they are saying and doing. It also allows you time to ensure children are “connected” to you…BEFORE…you give a direction and/or ask a question.
2. Create a match! As you enter children’s play, determine how your comments and actions can be a match in terms of intensity, complexity, and interest. For example, if children are working hard to stack and sequence objects, avoid shifting their attention, by asking them to label the colors of the objects, or to tell you, “how many” they have. Assess the skills they are naturally demonstrating, instead of asking them to perform higher or different skills you feel pressured to evaluate.
3. Imitate before you ask! Avoid assessing only by asking questions…as if you were interviewing a guest on a talk show. Instead, try imitating what the children are doing. For example, if children are repeatedly using simple motor actions, where they are mostly dumping and banging…then you too…use simple motor actions. If children are interested in describing or telling you about something they are doing, again, avoiding asking or directing, instead use self or parallel-talk to keep the focus on them.
To truly understand what children know and can do, try doing these three simple things…1) connect first by sitting beside them, 2) create a match by following their lead and building upon their interests, and 3) imitate before you ask, thus creating an interaction based upon their true abilities, versus your assessment agenda.