For many early years practitioners, collecting evidence of children's learning often involves Post-it notes, stickers, scraps of paper and digital cameras. However, at Rivers Primary Academy (formerly known as Green Rock Primary School), our approach not only saves time, paper and ink but also benefits our practice.
The system was pioneered at Walsall's Leamore Primary, where I completed my NQT year, and this system also won the school the Naace Impact Award in 2012, Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) Category. After using the approach successfully for a year at Leamore, I was keen to implement it at Rivers Primary, where I am early years co-ordinator.
Rivers Academy has an on-site nursery with 20 children and a Reception class of 23. The nursery has mixed N1 and N2s, so is split into family groups for directed learning time. However, nursery children do work alongside each other during their independent (adult-initiated) learning and mix with Reception children during child-initiated play as part of our daily 'plan-do-review' process.
Like other early years settings, we evidence all three kinds of learning and to gather this evidence, EYFS staff now use WordPress, a blogging platform, and an iPad Mini.
I created a blog for each child and trained staff to use the system. Now, when entering a piece of evidence on the children's learning journey, practitioners have to use a tag to indicate the relevant area of learning or Characteristic of Effective Learning.
The larger the type size of the tags, the more evidence it contains, which is really helpful when it comes to the teacher making assessments.
The tags are then divided into aspects (for example, maths into number (mN) and shape space and measure (mSSM)) and 'ages and stages', so we can identify and address any gaps.
By linking directly to the EYFS framework in this way, our collated evidence is organised and informative - and it avoids us ending up with an online photo album that serves little purpose.
The system assists us with our evidencing of the Characteristics of Effective Learning, provides corresponding observations to the seven areas of learning and gives us a real insight into how the children in our EYFS learn best. Having this awareness then allows us to plan appropriately, ensuring we are meeting the children's needs fully and keeping them engaged.
It is also improving and strengthening practitioners' knowledge of the curriculum. They are responsible for blogging their own evidence of the children, which means that they have to refer constantly to Development Matters to see which area of learning a picture, video or comment made by the child belongs to.
As part of our approach to evidencing children's learning, we aim to complete two longer observations of each child twice a term. In these observations, we evidence mainly the Characteristics of Effective Learning and to complete them we simply use the iPad to video the child for the amount of time necessary. We then post the video on the child's blog and comment on it with reference to the Characteristics of Effective Learning afterwards.
We use a website and application called Vimeo to transfer files to the computer and get an embedded code to place in the blogs. Once completed, the video is available for users to watch and access when they wish.
Using video ensures that we don't miss any critical moments or comments that the children have made. Filmed during child-initiated play, the video evidence can offer a truer reflection of the child and help staff determine whether something is NICE (Natural, Instinctive, Consistent and Embedded).
BENEFITS FOR ALL
A child's blog is password protected and can be accessed by only the principal, class teacher, teaching assistant and parents or guardian. Everyone with access is finding benefits in this new approach.
Early years staff are finding the new system compact, manageable and more comprehensive than the previous approach. Deb Peach, Reception teaching assistant, says, 'It is just so much easier to collect evidence than before. We haven't got the worry of missing vital moments because it is all on camera and video and I love that it is all in one place.'
In my role as EYFS co-ordinator, the blogs give me a clear insight into all the children's learning across the Foundation Stage. Acting principal Jane Layland likewise welcomes this easily accessible overview. She says, 'This is a new and exciting initiative for Rivers Academy and our EYFS. For myself, having the availability and link to look at what the children have been learning from my computer or iPad is just fantastic; I can really connect with the children and talk to them with regards to what they have been learning about... which is what it is all about.'
Parents too are enjoying the new approach. They have the option to comment and leave messages on their child's blog, which is fantastic as this can then be shared with the child at school.
One parent told me, 'Having the blog is a brilliant idea as you can have a look at what your child is doing at school.'
Another states, 'It's good because you can talk to your child at home about what they have been doing and refer to the blog if they have forgotten or just said they have been playing.'
Blogging is also proving an effective way to share good practice and celebrate our children's learning with other schools.
While each child has an individual blog, Reception and nursery also have a class blog. Open to anyone with internet access, this class blog contains photographs, videos, animations and comments about what the children have been learning at school. We aim to update and complete the blog weekly to show the world what we have been doing.
Often, children from my previous school and Rivers Primary children will look at each other's class blogs and comment on the learning. As teachers, we can see and comment on learning and teaching ideas, and it also makes moderating and commenting on the Characteristics of Effective Learning much easier.
The blogs raise morale among the children, as they are promoting their work - which after all, is the reason we all became teachers: for the children and to celebrate their success.
I would like to thank all at Leamore Primary (@Leamore_Primary) and Rivers Academy (@RiversPrimary) for their support during my NQT and with my position as EYFS co-ordinator.