Kindergarten teachers have altered their view on evaluation

The debate has been hard and polarized. Some has been firmly for, others strongly against. But the viewpoints might become more nuanced if the teachers in the kindergartens get the possibility to develop a practice based on professional knowledge and values.

Text: SIW ELLEN JAKOBSEN / TRANSLATION: HANNE HERRMAN

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“Kindergarten teachers want themselves to develop a conscious and justifiable practice to map and evaluate children’s well-being and development in the kindergartens,” declare the researchers Liv Torunn Eik and Gerd Sylvi Steinnes after having fulfilled a research and development project on this subject in two Norwegian kindergartens. A project that first was met with resistance.

IS EVALUATION A NEGATIVE WORD?

In the new Framework Plan for Kindergartens, the well-being and development of children are central. Head teachers and kindergarten teachers are tasked with the responsibility for evaluating the children’s well-being and development as well as the framework for an all-round development.

The aim of Eik and Steinnes’ project has been to gather kindergarten teachers and head teachers from two different kindergartens, one municipal and one private, for group discussions and seminars. The topic was evaluation.

“There was a certain reluctance to use the term evaluation in the first place. Evaluation has become a negatively loaded word to many people,” they say.

The project was initiated by Union of Education Norway. The aim was to provide knowledge about the kindergarten’s processes and working methods as well as the principles for the evaluation work related to the well-being and development of children. The project was aimed at providing knowledge about what is important in order to build an evaluation culture in the kindergartens. Union of Education Norway also nourished a hope that the professional field should obtain a stronger and better language to address evaluation.

IMPOSED LANGUAGE TESTS

The reluctance was particularly high in the public kindergarten where it increased when the staff was imposed to language test the kids with one specific tool.

“The staff felt an enormous pressure to test in one particular way. They also worried about how the schools would use their tests in the future. They were afraid of giving away information which later might be used in a stigmatizing way for the children. Our experience of the staff was that they nurtured a big respect for the kids and didn’t want to expose them to something bad.”

In the private kindergarten, the staff members could choose the method they wanted to use in their evaluation work. There the reluctance was smaller.

A WISH TO PRESENT THE NUANCES

The researches worked on this research and development project for one year and a half. On several occasions they arranged group discussions with the owners, the head teachers and the teachers in the kindergartens. They also invited other researchers who talked about evaluation from a professional point of view.

“In the debate there has been many strong utterances expressing a reluctance to mapping and evaluation. But the professional arguments haven’t been sufficiently communicated. The debate has become very polarized: for or against mapping. Our wish has been to bring forward a more nuanced perspective and also to show that the kindergarten teachers themselves wish to pursue a professional and ethical valuation practice.” tells Eik.

WHAT IS WELL-BEING?

In the Framework Plan for Kindergartens, emphasis is placed on well-being and all-round practice. The kindergarten teachers are responsible for evaluating to which degree the children are thriving in the kindergarten. They are also supposed to evaluate whether the children have a framework for an all-round development.

The researchers found that the head teachers of the kindergartens were concerned about their overall pedagogical responsibility. They were also concerned about making the work more systematic in order to increase the quality of the kindergartens. Earlier the evaluation of the children’s well-being and development had been more sporadic.

“But how actually, do we know if a child is thriving in the kindergarten? That is a tricky question,” says Steinnes.

“When we first started the seminars with the kindergarten teachers, they said that a thriving child arrives happy in the morning, clearly showing that he or she wants to be there. But eventually we also got examples of children that all though they were happy in the kindergarten, also dared to protest loudly and be angry with the grown-ups. To feel safe and dare to express your whole emotional register is also an unmistakeable sign of well-being.”

MORE CHILDREN IN THE NOTEBOOKS

During the project, the teachers kept small notebooks in their pockets, writing down observations they made from day to day.

“That is why we called the project report “Flere barn på blokka” (More children in the notebooks). Typical for our project was that more children were observed systematically during this period.”

“We were able to present experiences about teachers beginning to cooperate more systematically in order to generate more nuances and perspectives on the children.”

OWNERSHIP TO YOUR OWN EVALUATION

The researchers also discovered another interesting development:

“In the beginning we were most occupied about the child and its problems, but eventually the teachers got more aware of themselves and their own way of being. Could there be factors in the environment that eventually might foster or hinder well-being? They actually achieved a more critical perspective on their contribution for making children happy in the kindergarten.”

The researches think the kindergarten teachers got a higher degree of ownership to their own evaluation practice. They relied more on their own evaluations and their own responsibility. They also clearly recognized how useful evaluations are when working with the well-being of children.

DECRIMINALIZATION OF THE EVALUATION CONCEPT

“Working with evaluation is demanding, but also an incredibly important part of the work in kindergartens,” declare Eik and Steinnes.

It is connected with the evaluation of the employee’s own work and the responsibility for the well-being of the children. When the staff had achieved a higher competence and had become more experienced in doing the evaluation work, the work itself became more systematic.

In addition, something happened with the language. The kindergarten teachers got better in justifying their evaluations, according to the researchers.

“During one of the last gatherings, one participant declared:” ‘Now we have decriminalized the concept of evaluation’.

HEALTHY SCEPTICISM

But the kindergarten teachers also had a healthy scepticism to the outcome of their own evaluations.

Eik thinks another statement from one of the teachers concludes this in a good way: “It’s important with more names in the notebook, but the attention of the teacher cannot only be on the notebook. It must primarily be directed towards the child.”

The teachers also discovered something else when they started working more systematically with evaluation, they saved time. If they needed to look for help somewhere else, for instance from the pedagogical-psychology service, they already had a record of the development of the child in question. And they received help faster. At the same time, they saw that a systematic approach to evaluation resulted in far more children who were in need of assistance being detected.