Reflections on the EYFS Assessment
Estimated Reading Time - 5 minutes
This blog is a reflection from the recent Early Years Foundation Stage update meeting where Polly Sharman was joined by Jan Dubiel. I wanted to share my thoughts around all the interesting aspects and research that Jan discussed and how I feel that this fits in with my own opinions and reflections on early years maths.
You can purchase a recording of this webinar here: EYFS Update Network Meeting - Assessment and Next Steps
I will focus on the main aspect of the webinar which was how the decisions we make as a teacher on the day-to-day basis impact the learning of the pupils.
"We have thousands of interactions daily in the early years environment"
To begin with Jan states "we have thousands of interactions daily in the early years environment". These of course are both verbal and non-verbal but the decisions on the way we deal with these are vitally important. I immediately began to think about the purpose of each of these interactions and whether as a practitioner I make the most out of these. As a specialist improvement advisor in maths, I have been encouraging schools to make clear notes of any misconceptions that they might look for during child initiated learning and generic questions and prompts that they might have generated which can deepen the learning of pupils in the particular concept that they are focussing on. I think that this is necessary as with this level of interactions and the speed in which we need to respond to the interactions, all practitioners should have this strong understanding of what to be looking for and how to support the pupils immediately.
This thought process continued when Jan discussed the work of Kahneman (2011). In "Thinking Fast and Slow" it discusses two systems of decision making:
- System One - which is fast and automatic but uses emotion and cognitive bias, and
- System Two - which is slow, effortful and uses logic.
Due to the nature of teaching and responding rapidly to pupils in our environment, we often use System One decision making. The issue with this is that we do need to be aware of that cognitive bias, where we are simplifying information to make rapid decisions. In this case we may perceive that a child's mistake, which they could have reflected upon and corrected themselves, was a misconception and so may intervene too soon. My reflection is that I would like to take the time where possible to make System Two decisions. I feel that in taking time to reflect upon an interaction we could also alleviate some of the 'Halo' effect (that because a child is 'good' in one aspect, they will be 'good' at everything) that Jan speaks about. Instead with time and logical decision making we might highlight underlying misconceptions in pupils or notice a pupil who can further deepen their understanding of a concept.
When listening to Jan speak about the work on Naturalistic Decision Making by Klein (1999) I reflected on the understanding that the decisions that we make in time-pressured environments (the classroom) are based upon our previous experiences. For this reason, Jan reflects that when we often have that gut instinct to intervene it is usually because we are drawing upon our subconscious experiences. Therefore I think it is vitally important that we have a strong knowledge of children's mathematical development. This is highlighted as the first recommendation in the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) 'Improving Mathematics in the Early Years and Key Stage' in that practitioners should develop their understanding of how children learn mathematics. This knowledge should be embedded upon developmental progressions (see National Centre for Excellence in the Teaching of Mathematics (NCETM) Six Key Areas of Early Mathematics Learning or Learning and Teaching with Learning Trajectories) which shows us how children typically learn mathematical concepts and can inform our next steps in teaching and learning. Having this secure knowledge will help support practitioners with the experiences that they need to formulate their decisions when supporting pupils. They will have a clear understanding of where the pupils learning will need to go next and what support or encouragement they will need to provide.
"Children who learn mathematics with intentional activities are more likely to engage in higher quality socio-dramatic play during free-choice play time."
This leads me to my final reflections from the webinar. Jan discusses how this understanding of decision making can help support us as practitioners in when we should interact and when we should not interact in the early years classroom. Jan speaks about when the learning is owned by an adult, we need to have a carefully selected objective that we want to gain from this task. This reminds me of when I listen to Debbie Morgan (NCETM Director for Primary Mathematics) discuss directed teaching in the early years classroom. She states that we need to make it clear what we want the children to attend to in a session and have that clear outcome of what concept and understanding we want the children to fully gain. If children try to go off task, we need to draw this back to the clear conceptual understanding that we are looking for. This necessity for directed teaching is further illustrated by Clements & Sarama (2014) who state that "children who learn mathematics with intentional activities are more likely to engage in higher quality socio-dramatic play during free-choice play time." However, I was intrigued by the points made by Jan in the webinar that our curriculum composites can be dull and lack a spark and so it is vitally important that we follow the children's naturally inquisitive nature and use their momentum to continue the learning. This is where I feel that the environment and child owned learning is vital in building the deeper understanding that underpins early years maths.
"Children's learning is complex, sophisticated, idiosyncratic and often unpredictable - adults need to understand this and develop an informed, dynamic and responsive pedagogical repertoire that facilitates this."
To finish I will use Jan Dubiels statement that "Children's learning is complex, sophisticated, idiosyncratic and often unpredictable - adults need to understand this and develop an informed, dynamic and responsive pedagogical repertoire that facilitates this." I feel that this is crucial, we do need to be well informed to make those correct decisions as well using our professional judgement about the most effective way for the children to learn. The blend needs to be found where adults should feel when necessary to pull the learning back or intervene (we do not want to sit back, and watch children rehearse misconceptions) as well as letting the learning go and watching children foster their love and deep understanding of maths.