How to use this resource to improve practice
This example of practice outlines the steps taken by staff of Monkton Primary School - Nursery Class in South Ayrshire to refresh their approach to planning for and assessment of children's learning. You are invited to read this reflective account and use this as a stimulus to consider in respect of your own context, individually or as a team, the following improvement questions:
How involved are children in your setting in planning their own learning? In what ways could they be more involved?
How do staff in your setting deliver their responsibilities to ensuring literacy, numeracy and health and well-being for all? How can this be improved further?
In your setting, do children have a strong voice in how their learning is shared? In what ways could your approach be strengthened further so that children are leaders in how their learning is shared?
How effectively do you plan for challenge and depth across learning? How confident are you that children's profiles document their most significant achievements? Is there a way that this could be improved further?
What was done?
The staff at Monkton Nursery Class implemented an approach to planning and assessment where children could lead their learning and begin to understand themselves as learners. The 'traditional' topic-based approach to planning for learning was replaced by a more responsive approach, which staff carried out alongside children and in response to their interests. This was achieved by spending less time on planning activities and more time interacting with children during play experiences. Through gathering rich information staff identified how to offer greater depth and challenge in the experiences on offer. They focused time on addressing literacy, numeracy and health and wellbeing across learning, as this required a more planned approach.
The approach to profiling learning was improved and better described the richer learning that children were now experiencing. The new profile, renamed to the 'learning journey', illustrated for children and for their parents, exactly how much and how well children had learned. Emphasis shifted away from describing what children did and more about what they had learned.
What brought about the change?
The main driver for this improvement was self-evaluation of children's experiences. Staff identified that children were more engaged in learning experiences over which they had more control.
Previously, themes for learning were identified by adults and not in consultation with children. While children had some responsibility for choosing resources and materials, staff identified that there was a need for children to better understand the purpose of their learning.
Staff recognised the need to think about how literacy and numeracy experiences could be more meaningfully woven through all aspects of learning as this had not been a focus previously.
What was the impact?
The improvements impacted positively on children, parents and staff.
Children are now more engaged in their learning. For example, following children's interest in outdoor play, a mud kitchen with real materials and utensils was created; and, a bug hotel for interesting insects to inhabit was built. More challenging, open-ended building materials were added and from this children created increasingly complex structures.
Children are beginning to discuss what they know and also, more importantly, can discuss next steps in learning.
Through literacy and numeracy being made more relevant, children have a greater desire to engage in early language and early mathematics. For example, they now find writing opportunities throughout the nursery and write with a greater sense of purpose.
Children are experiencing a broader range of experiences. In particular, science and technologies have been given a greater focus as children are using technologies to enhance their learning. Visits to places in the community are now far more relevant and serve to enrich learning.
Natural resources are used more routinely within the nursery, which has allowed children to learn about assessing risk. The use of natural resources has also stimulated learning and facilitated opportunities for a higher level of imaginative play.
Staff have greater motivation and are more confident about sharing ideas with others. They also recognised how to progress learning through carefully observing and listening to children's ideas.
As a result of their active contribution and ownership of the process, children are more engaged in their 'learning journey' and use this to talk confidently about their experiences. These now give a better range of evidence, which has evolved into bespoke files for each child.
Parents are far more involved with children's learning and the use of the 'learning journey' has enabled a better level of staff-parent discussions and these have replaced a more traditional 'parents' night'.
Overall, the responsive approach to planning has supported a sense of freedom and created an excitement for staff.
Read this article
This article was originally published in Early Years Matters. It describes how staff at Monkton Primary School Nursery Class changed their approach to planning and assessment.
Use Realising the Ambition – National Practice Guidance for Early Learning and Childcare to help with your considerations.