Observing Learners to Communicate Progress

In my last blog, I identified three assumptions I hold about assessment. These assumptions were primarily based on my experience with observations and portfolio assessments in early education and closely matches my own assumptions about assessment. After examining an example of assessment from my classsroom, I still maintain my assumptions that assessment involves at least 2 parties, assessment should happen as part of a cycle, and assessment should leave the student feeling proud of their accomplishments and with an understanding of specific areas for improvement.

This has taken on different forms over time- written anecdotes, portfolios of work samples, photos with captions, and now electronic platforms for sharing photos and observations with parents to communicate progress. In the current iteration, I use EnSeed as a tool for capturing photos or videos during the day, recording my observations, and connecting these observations to the curriculum objectives. From there, I can assign a rating score between Emerging 1 and Secure 9. Over the term, these observations stack up as snapshots of moments in time and I can view trends before completing a final semester report. In partnership with my team, we capture 1-2 moments from each child every day. 

Figure 1: Example of an observational assessment used in KG1 for evaluating 2 literacy objectives.

This is assessment as learning- one designed to boost student learning through iterations of practice to see development over time. Writing in journals is one of my favorite activities to do together with my preschoolers because they are so excited to show off their skills and early mark-making follows a developmental continuum. I designate a day every month where I make sure to capture every child working in their journals to see how their writing and drawing is progressing, but also to assess growth in vocabulary. Below is an example of what growth or decline over time looks like in EnSEED.

Figure 2: Assessing growth over time in EnSEED.

Some of the assumptions made in this system of observations is that fine motor skills develop sequentially and lead to more refined drawings. I assume that by looking at the types of lines in art, we can understand current level of development and that this development is consistent across all cultures and languages. It assumes that children are uninhibited in their willingness to experiment and draw. From a technical standpoint, it assumes the teacher is prepared with a device for recording these moments as they happen and that the child and teacher are physically in the same space (a problem for assessing in the Spring of 2020).

These assumptions become significant when we begin to move into assigning a rating score. When I first began using this system for observations, children were rated as making Reasonable Progress (RP) or Not Yet (NY). A few years ago, we began talking about how to differentiate between children who made progress and were meeting developmental milestones and those who had perhaps made progress but were still significantly below what would be expected for their age. A new system resulted to include Emerging (E), Developing (D), and Secure (S). In my current school, this system has been further broken down to Emerging 1-3, Developing 4-6, and Secure 7-9 with a massive rubric for the progression of each curriculum objective. Reflecting on what Shepard shared in her 2000 AERA presidential address, the current model is an attempt to break down a broad statements in the NKCS Curriculum Framework (2019) like “Confidently shares ideas and thoughts, with others and is able to describe and explain things clearly” into individual skills that can be tested and checked for mastery. This is a characteristic of behaviorism and is one of the examples Shepard gives for how teaching practices have moved forward, but assessment is still pulls from the 20th century mindsets. 

Figure 3: A self-portrait assessment where the child identified body parts by drawing on a laminate sheet placed over their photo. Photo is my own.

Assessment through observations of authentic learning experiences aligns well with Shepard’s (2000) emergent paradigm. She articulates that assessment should be rooted in social constructivism and cognitivist mindsets because these theories best encapsulate the 21st century skills that students will need to succeed in the future. My journal assessment is rooted in social constructivism and the belief that learning is active and builds upon what children already know. The child in the example above knows friendship and focuses on his friend in his drawing. As we had a conversation about his drawing, more and more vocabulary surfaced as we identified and labeled body parts- eyes, nose, mouth, head, and ears. Between the image captured and the written comments, I can see that he is becoming more confident in sharing his ideas and beginning to assign meaning to elements in his pictures. By looking back at earlier observations, I can see growth from the beginning of the year. After considering the history of assessment as well as the skills and concepts we want students to have for the 21st century, I believe that observational assessments such as the one I use are a step in the right direction for encouraging thoughtful, iterative, and reflective learning activities.


Byington, T. A. & Yaebin K. (November 2017). Promoting Preschoolers’ Emergent Writing. Young Children, 72 (5). Retrieved from https://www.naeyc.org/resources/pubs/yc/nov2017/emergent-writing

Dipont (2020). EnSEED (version 1.2) [Mobile application software]. Retrieved from www.teacher.enseed.cn.

Shepard, L. A. (2000). “The role of assessment in a learning culture. Educational Researcher, 29(7), 4-14. Retrieved from https://journals-sagepub.com.proxy1.cl.msu.edu/doi/pdf/10.3102/0013189X029007004

Wuxi Nanwai King’s College School. (2019). Kindergarten Curriculum Framework Implementation Version.

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