A useful book for those new to early years observation and assessment, but I doubt if there is much here for experienced practitioners. Sectionsof use to new practitioners are:
- All About Observations, which explains the reasoning behind effective observations, why we complete them, and what we should be doing with them. I'm not sure I agree with the suggestion that all observations necessarily have to identify next steps, but I'm willing to be in the minority here! Having said that, there are useful checklists for reflecting on your observations and planning systems.
- Observation Methods: this section identifies the differences between the various types of observations we engage in, in the early years, and helpfully describes the advantages and disadvantages of each. This section includes a page identifying inappropriate and appropritate next steps following an observation, and would be extremely useful in supporting a member of staff who is having difficulty with this tricky stage in the observation/planning cycle, or it could be used in a staff meeting or inhouse training event.
- All About Planning: this covers the long, medium and short term possibilities. Some of the aspects you may disagree with, as I did, eg that the long term plan could include "Various activities within this area- eg in the sandpit area you could suggest hiding treasure", or "The role of the adult in supporting learning-including vocabulary to introduce to children". I simply don't agree that these have a place in long term plans. Planning for individual children is discussed, as are child-initiated and adult-led experiences, the current move away from topics and themes, and planning to develop skills. All useful topics to read about and develop your own opinions.
- The Planning Cycle, All About Assessment, and Reviewing your Planning and Observation Procedures: these sections contain examples of good practice and questions to help you reflect on your system, eg "Are practitioners linking observations and planning to complete the planning cycle?" and "Do practitioners have realistic and appropriate expectations of the children?"
The accompanying CD-ROM contains just 6 proformas and you might argue that this does not add value to the publication. The peer observation sheet is particularly unhelpful as it lists questions that require just a yes/no answer, such as "Is the adult interacting appropriately with the children?" Far more useful would have been open-ended questions, such as "HOW is the adult interacting with the children?"
There are a number of editorial errors and confusing statements thorughout the book which are irritating, eg on page 31, a planning sheet identifying next steps states "Adult-led experience: use a dictaphone for the children to record themselves talking and then listen back to the tape. Children shouldn't be aware that they are being recorded". This simply doesn't make sense! On page 59, the authors state "This is about knowing the difference between a creative activity and a learning activity". Surely they are not advocating that a creative activity cannot be a learning experience? I think their point is poorly expressed, and is one that an experienced practitioner would understand from the explanation that follows, but a practitioner new to early years would be very confused.
I don't mean to sound hugely critical of the book: it does have some sound advice and effective suggestions and ideas for improving your observation and planning procedures. However, it's not a publication for anyone who is a well-qualified and experienced early years practitioner. Buy this one to support colleagues new to the profession and be specific about which bits they should read.