let’s talk about learning: how do we assess it and communicate about it?


Covid-19 has caused a lot of disruption in all our lives, but throughout the craziness learning has remained at the heart of what we focus on at Skippy’s. As things settle down into a new normal, we’d like to talk about learning.


The Guide to the National Quality Standard, part of the Early Years Learning Framework, stresses the importance of educators communicating about learning with children, families and others. The framework is “designed to inspire conversations, improve communication and provide a common language about young children’s learning among young children themselves, with their families and the broader community, with educators and with other professionals” (Guide to the National Quality Standard, p. 21, EYLF p. 8.)


In this two-way exchange of information about a child, educators regularly share meaningful assessments about children’s learning in different ways with families at mutually convenient times. In turn, educators listen and learn from families about their views and insights relating to their children’s learning.


It is not feasible to communicate every bit of learning for every child, because learning takes place all the time, so we need to ask: What can we communicate and how should we communicate it? What is important?


What can we communicate about children’s learning?


Holistic and integrated perspectives


There are 5 Learning Outcomes in the Early Years Learning Framework (EYLF), but it is not possible to separate children’s learning into different domains or to link it to a single learning outcome because learning is holistic and integrated. When we speak to you about your child’s learning, we try to convey the holistic nature of their experiences.


For example, when we observe a child playing with other children in the sandpit, our evaluation of the learning might show that the child is learning how to make friends, solve problems, use his imagination and to express his ideas verbally as well as learning physical skills. Describing and communicating the complex, integrated nature of the child’s learning in this play-based experience to colleagues and families leads to deeper understandings.


Child’s interests and strengths


In the past, educators often focused on what children couldn’t do, rather on what they could do, say or know. For example, if we observed an older toddler painting, we may have interpreted ‘a developmental deficit’ under the physical domain if he wasn’t holding the paintbrush with the correct grip. Our planning for this child would have aimed at helping him to use the correct grip through activities to improve his hand-finger strength, flexibility and fine motor skills. By focusing our evaluation on only one domain of development, we missed what the child was learning and could do.


Now, our judgements about children’s learning focus on their interests and strengths. Using the EYLF, educators evaluating and communicating this learning experience to others might now recognise the child’s creative skills as a painter, and his intense engagement and interest in making marks with the paint. The ‘what next’ planning stage for this child would focus on what he can do and supporting his emerging interest in mark making, rather than on a perceived developmental deficit.


Meaningful learning


Because Educators can’t communicate every bit of learning for every child, we ask ourselves, “Is this important or meaningful learning for this child?”


What is important to document and evaluate for one child, may not be so important for another.


Meaningful or important learning might include:


  • a child doing or saying something for the first time, such as participating in a small group discussion or beginning to feed herself.

  • mastering a skill, such as jumping or skipping or riding a bike, after weeks of practising.

  • demonstrating evidence of dispositions or attitudes of mind that promote ongoing learning. In the above example, a child’s capacity to persist in learning to ride a bike is a valuable learning disposition which we want to encourage for every child.

  • a child telling or showing you by their words and/or behaviour that they are deeply engaged and that this is important learning for them.

  • a child demonstrating higher order thinking. For example, being able to work with others to solve a problem when building a complex block construction is a higher order form of learning than knowing the colours of the blocks.

  • a child demonstrating learning which shows that body, mind and spirit are all actively engaged. A baby focusing, watching, and hitting the mobile above her head, and kicking her legs as she squeals in delight, is using her body (legs, arms, hands, eyes) and mind (working out how to focus on the object). Her obvious enjoyment indicates a deep sense of wellbeing (spirit)


How do we communicate children’s learning?


Communicating children’s learning is undertaken in different ways for different purposes. Informal learning conversations with children occur across the day, at routine times as well as during planned experiences. These conversations can be with individuals as well as with groups of children.


Talking about learning can involve asking questions such as:


  • What did you learn when you were doing that?

  • How did you learn that?

  • Who helped you to learn or to do or know that?

  • What might you do differently next time?


Asking these types of questions helps children to think about their learning more deeply (meta-cognition). Educators working with older children can set aside time each day to talk as a group about the learning that has happened that day, what helped or hindered their learning, and what else they want to learn about.


Informal conversations with families occur each day at arrival or pick up times. Typically, these conversations focused on routine matters, such as how much the child ate or whether they slept or rested.


Since the introduction of the EYLF and the NQS, educators are re-framing these conversations to focus on the child as a holistic learner across the day.


For example, an educator might answer a parent’s question about the child’s food intake by saying something like, “Yes, Michael ate well today and he is learning to feed himself with a spoon,” or “We have noticed that Kiah is learning to regulate the amount of food she can eat when she serves herself.”


These conversations with families about learning encourage more shared understandings and partnerships. For example, Michael’s mum might say, “Oh, yes, we have been encouraging him to use a spoon at home too!” and Kiah’s parent may say, “Maybe we could try that at home instead of putting the food on the plate for her.” These outcomes are constructive, build continuity, and lead to further learning and insight.


At Skippy’s we are passionate about building this two-way communication about your child’s learning, and we understand that it is a vital part of your child’s learning journey. With the challenges posed by social distancing, our learning stories on Storypark are more important than ever, and our educators want to hear from you, so please leave us feedback, give us a call, or send an email or message.