Planning is the bane of many teachers’ lives and it can take over your practice. Neil Farmer shows how observations and assessment can help ease the burden of detailed planning
Neil Farmer has a background in early years education as a nursery and reception class teacher, advisory teacher, deputy head, Foundation Stage consultant and head of early years. He has made countless visits to numerous settings and schools, has...
Too often, teachers plan first and try to fit children into the plan. This will result in a curriculum that does not meet the needs of the children and exasperation and exhaustion on behalf of the adults. To plan effectively, you need to start with observations (what are the children doing?) then assessment of observations (what are they telling you about individual children?). Only then should you start planning.
Plans should be adaptable – indeed, the most exciting aspect of Early Years is the freedom to respond to children’s actions and adapt your planning and provision to suit. It also helps you to gain ownership of the lesson and prevents you being guided by others who do not know your children or how they work or learn. As such, you cannot plan for a Friday – how do you know how the children’s learning will develop during the week? Working in this way directs the focus on activity rather than quality learning.
There are numerous types of observation – but remember the EYFS does state: ‘Practitioners must consider the individual needs, interests, and stage of development of each child in their care, and must use this information to plan a challenging and enjoyable experience for each child in all of the areas of learning and development.’
It goes on to say: ‘Practitioners should respond to their own day-to-day observations about children’s progress and observations […] Assessment should not entail prolonged breaks from interaction with children, nor require excessive paperwork. Paperwork should be limited to that which is absolutely necessary to promote children’s successful learning and development.’
Here, the focus is on short-term observations which ensure that all children are observed on a regular basis. An observation needs to be of something that is significant to an individual – a ‘wow’ moment – not a tick list.
What is observation?
- Noticing what children are doing as a whole – their personality, behaviour, what they say, and their learning
- Noticing how they respond to your setting, to different approaches, to different people
- Noticing how they respond to new experiences, signs of how they are feeling
We gather essential information about the children:
- their individuality
- their stage of development
- their interests
- their needs and
- their learning styles
This gives us information to share with parents and an insight into the received curriculum, thereby challenging assumptions.
- An observation needs to add value and not be an end in itself.
- It’s crucial that all members of the team are involved in the observation process, as children respond differently depending on the adult, and adults pick up on different aspects of learning.
- Create a Rota system so a select number of children are the focus each day
- With your routines in place, you will have ample time to be with these children, playing, exploring and observing.
- This will ensure that, over a two-week period, your children will have been observed during self-initiated or adult initiated challenges.
- Put any observations and evidence straight into children’s records (this gets the bureaucracy out of the way quickly)
- The best models involve all practitioners and set aside 15 minutes at the end of the day to reflect and discuss what happened during the day, who was doing what and where, and how this can be developed the next day to extend learning opportunities. This is effectively short-term planning.
- It is useful and practical to keep a check list of observations to ensure that you are getting coverage and that children have access to all areas of learning. This will also allow you to look at your provision and ask questions of where the learning is happening and what areas are being covered, which less so – where do you need to intervene.