If the above picture doesn’t sum up your school’s leadership then thank all the dieties in the world, all the lucky stars in the universe above and all the rabbit’s feet you can lay your hands on... For many, it typifies the reality: a data-based machine that needs feeding with numbers to satisfy its hunger for ‘progress’ and ‘attainment’.
How we came to this is a long and drawn-out tale, but we have arrived at a point in education where the data-heads and the school business manager are the arbiters of pedagogy or non-pedagogy as it should be called. We seem to have a system that is slowly pushing GCSE readiness further and further downwards, that is disconnecting itself from children in the pursuit of measurable outcome.
Whenever a spreadsheet appears, a child become invisible...
Yes, progress is important. Yes, attainment is important. But neither should be at the expense of child development. As soon as we make data more important than the child then we open the door to teaching that is done to, rather than with, children.
Learning should be cooperative. It should have an equal balance of ‘power’. It should be engaging and purposeful - not purposeful for the adult but for the child.
Children aren’t stupid. As they get older, they know when they are being asked to do something so the adult can tick it off. They become detached from the classroom practice rather than becoming integral to it. And this happens because as soon as data and progress become the be-all-and-end-all, adults decide that the only way to do this is control.
Control emerges from fear. Fear that children won’t ‘be on task’, won’t be challenged, won’t make observable progress within a lesson. The word ‘observable’ is at the heart of this. School leaders seem to want to identify ‘learning’ within their own parameters, their own system. Nowhere is this more keenly felt than in Early Years.
This is where we see the ‘lesson observation’come into its own. The clipboard and pen want to see a lesson because the sheet of paper has the words ‘lesson observation’ as its title. It can’t look for anything else because the pro forma that no doubt is used for the rest of the school is now walking into an Early Years environment. This in turn then leads the practitioner to produce a lesson so that it can in turn appease the box filling exercise of the observation itself.
So in this no insignificant way, we have a data-machine dictating practice. It can’t ‘judge’ the effectiveness of learning if the learning lies outside the boxes on the observation form. This then leads to Early Years forums being inundated with requests for activity ideas because an observation or interview is upcoming.
This is then turning Early Years into activity-led provision and away from the richness of open-ended, skills-driven, next steps practice. Practitioners turn their attention to Pinterest and what looks good rather than the children themselves as though our practice in that observable moment has to prove progress. The proforma is affecting the practice...
Children don’t learn in an observable way to fit a piece of paper. It’s not linear. It’s not about success or getting it right. It needs exploration, experimentation, collaboration, failure even, it needs freedom from overt structure. Yes, skills teaching is central to effective Early Years pedagogy but delivery of a 30-40 minute phonics lesson unless you are utterly brilliant, isn’t enabling children. In fact, it’s limiting them. It’s control and control does not create engagement or deeper learning.
So here’s a challenge - how can we, with great sensitivity and respect, get the messsge through to our senior leaders that whole-school paperwork isn’t necessarily the most appropriate tool to observe Early Years? What might we suggest as an alternative? How can we demonstrate that play and facilitation of children’s own ‘language’ has far more rigour and potential than an overlong carpet time?
If nothing changes, then nothing changes.
You never know you might end up changing observations further up the school at the same time!
7/9/2018 08:29:33 pm
This is not just an early years conundrum. For years I have watched secondary teachers try and find ways to 'prove' that children are all making 'better than expected' progress in lessons lasting as little as 40mins. Often there is a curious or spurious reason given for the teacher not being found capable- the semantics of a statement that was uttered in the middle of an otherwise awesome lesson, a child drawing the conversation 'off topic', a question not being asked in the 'right' way, a child using a piece of equipment incorrectly, not using literacy or ICT enough in your PE lesson!! In many cases the child just being in the room feeling like they might want to participate was them making 'better than expected' progress, because the hurdles they had overcome to get there and stay there were immense. But none of those really important issues being tackled by the teacher were ever important. It's that 'background noise' of teaching that's the really important part. That's the part that makes teachers great - they tune into that back ground noise and they make it into music. Tick-box teaching and teacher evaluation in my mind is just lunacy. If we ask teachers to teach to a tick list all we are teaching children to do is grow into adults who are restricted to fit into tick lists. Where on earth is the music in that? I know we have to find a way to measure the immeasurable, but whilst doing so there needs to be sensitivity to the bigger picture behind the outcomes. This is a huge obstacle for early years evaluation, as there is a whole raft of complex elements at play whilst the children 'play'. Of course in order to standardise observation you have to find a way to make it reliable and repeatable. What are the key features of outstanding teaching in early years? It certainly isn't 20 mins on a carpet where the children are uncomfortable- so what needs to be captured in that snapshot of brilliance to show that it is outstanding teaching occurring? Is it more important that individuals are looked at instead of the group as a whole? That the observer comes into the play with the teacher and documents a case study of 2 or 3 children ( picked at random as the deeper learning emerges at the specific zone where the teacher is situated?), looking at key features of rich learning which are pre-specified to some degree ( there needs to be some framework to hang it on but could you use specific descriptors for progress or engagement or the features of successful learning as a basis? ). Or is it better that the teacher identifies themselves key areas that they are trying to develop within each child, instead of using a formal lesson plan, and then these are what the observer looks for? It is then teamed with opportunity for the teacher to explain why and how they took that learning point further with the child in terms of what they want to help the child achieve? I don't know the answer, ( I don't teach early years though I empathise with this issue greatly) but I feel it has to start with more of the individual. A smaller-scale, child-centred, fluid observation which assess learning and how it is being facilitated as it unfolds naturally rather than through forced, tick box style planning and execution.
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Can I Go Play Now..? is committed to widening the understanding of the magic of children's play as an educational tool. Child-centred, play-based learning is where it's truly at....