Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Kindergarten Classes Are Too Big for Teachers to Effectively Assess Students

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Kindergarten Classes Are Too Big for Teachers to Effectively Assess Students

Article excerpt

Kindergarten classes are too big for teachers to effectively assess students

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This article was originally published on The Conversation, an independent and nonprofit source of news, analysis and commentary from academic experts. Disclosure information is available on the original site.

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Authors: Christopher DeLuca, Associate Professor in Classroom Assessment and Acting Associate Dean, Graduate Studies & Research, Faculty of Education, Queen's University, Ontario and Angela Pyle, Assistant Professor, Dr. Eric Jackman Institute of Study, Department of Applied Psychology and Human Development, OISE, University of Toronto

Recent educational reforms have led to two fundamental changes in kindergarten classrooms.

Firstly, there has been a surge of play-based learning. Play, now shown to be beneficial both for academic skills and for socio-personal development, has been repositioned in many kindergarten policies as the dominant approach for teaching and learning.

Play-based learning is rooted in a history across

traditions of early primary education such as Montessori, Reggio Emilia, Froebel and the British Infant School tradition.

Play is further supported as a basic right of all children by the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. With Canada's adoption of this in 1991, Canadian educators had empirical, historical and philosophical grounds for play as a basis for classroom learning.

At the same time, the accountability movement has made its way into kindergarten. This movement results in a dramatic increase in academic standards expected of kindergarten students, and the coupled need for teachers to assess and report achievement of curriculum standards.

Both play-based learning and the value of assessment are independently supported by research arguing their value. Yet little research has explored what happens when schools implement these changes simultaneously.

In our three-year study, we found that many teachers report assessment as one of the primary challenges within the current context of play-based kindergarten education.

Asking probing questions

Today, Ontario kindergarten teachers are mandated to use multiple forms of assessment. Overall, these practices have two purposes: firstly, to report on student learning of curriculum expectations through graded report cards; and secondly, to provide feedback to help students become independent learners, which is a fundamental goal for kindergarteners.

Providing feedback happens when teachers engage with children through teacher-led instruction or play-based learning.

For example: a teacher intentionally lingers near children at play. Two children can't agree on an imaginary scenario, such as whether they are firefighters at a fire or adventurers riding horses to save a runaway train. The teacher asks probing questions to help children solve their own conflicts and imagine a story line.

At the same time the teacher is intentionally assessing children's collaboration and their ability to use existing story structure knowledge.

Thus we can see how assessment -- asking probing questions in this case -- supports child development. Children are learning to compromise and come to a mutually agreeable consensus. They are also developing the ability to reflect critically on their own thinking.

When assessment is recorded and shared, parents and teachers can identify for students where they are and where they need to go with their learning. Educators and parents can then help provide children with strategies for this.

All assessment practices are meant to continuously monitor student development and learning towards provincial standards, both academic and socio-personal.

Teacher challenges

In our three-year study in Ontario play-based kindergarten classrooms, through a series of initial and follow-up interviews and classroom observations, we explored teachers' perspectives and intentions about how they fulfil their mandates to assess children. …

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