Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Characteristics of a child's learning

Learning dispositions = children's learning styles = schemas in younger children = the ways different children learn = the characteristics of a child’s learning.

Learning dispositions / learning characteristics have always been part of observations and used in planning to make sure we offer activities and experiences we know children will enjoy - and their importance has taken on more prominence for Ofsted.

Learning dispositions are now found in the ‘characteristics of effective learning’ as part of the Development Matters guidance - I know a lot of childminders struggle with them so I thought I would look at them in a little more detail.

Learning dispositions / characteristics are NOT the same as children’s skills and knowledge. I find it useful to think of them as similar to the child’s personality - the ways the child learns. Sometimes they can be positive - the child loves playing in groups and learning from friends; sometimes they might sound a bit negative - the child gives up really quickly when faced with a puzzle or problem.

If you think about your own learning dispositions / characteristics and how you tackle challenges, you will find that you are exactly the same! Are you a leader or follower? Do you start new things with enthusiasm or worry about them? Can you explain yourself verbally or do you prefer to write it down? Do you read books or prefer to listen to spoken versions?

A child’s learning dispositions / characteristics can be used when you are planning. For example -
Child A is an auditory learner, preferring to listen to music using headphones and really enjoying books and other toys that make noises.
Your planning for Child A would be to include different types of stimulation in his environment and to also focus on his love of noise!

Another example -
Child B is learning through a rotation schema. This means that Child B is fascinated with things that go round and round - he can often be seen spinning in circles.
Your planning for Child B will cover all areas of learning and development, as you plan for every child in your provision. However, you would also add some activities for Child B using spinning tops, spinners in the wind etc to follow his particular learning interest / disposition.

I like examples -
Child C gets very upset whenever anything doesn’t go exactly to plan... if he cannot do a jigsaw or climb a wall or run as fast as his friends he has a big meltdown.
You will obviously keep planning challenges for Child C but you will also be aware of his disposition to get upset. You will be prepared to give him some extra support when you know he is in a potentially tricky situation.

One more example...
Child D is a daydreamer. She will quite happily sit and look out of the window, lost in her thoughts.
This is how Child D is learning and we must not rush to stop her from being alone or constantly call her over to join in group games. You will include opportunities for group learning in her day but you will respect her learning dispositions and enjoyment of being alone as well.

Noting learning dispositions / characteristics means watching and listening to the child (observing) and thinking about how the child is learning and interacting with the world around him.
Think about the child’s -
- Self confidence
- Curiosity
- Ability to communicate in a group
- Level of independence
- Resilience when things go wrong
- Concentration
- Level of optimism
- Ability to take risks
- Enjoyment of sensory experiences
- Ability to listen
- Level of wellbeing in the provision, at home and elsewhere - a child with low wellbeing will not use a range of learning dispositions because he will be too unhappy and disrupted internally to engage with what is going on around him.

Developing learning dispositions / characteristics
Our brains are not fixed - we are constantly learning new things - we learn through the experiences we are offered by others and by our own, self motivated learning. Children learn in the same ways and can be supported to enhance their play experiences.

For example, new learning dispositions can be taught. It you work closely with a child (over a period of time) who cannot sit and concentrate for longer than a few moments the child will learn to concentrate on tasks for longer... if you help a child to share and take turns through lots of modelled play and turn taking activities he will learn acceptable behaviour in group situations... if you praise a child for trying as well as succeeding (and don’t make a big thing about failures) he is more likely to want to keep trying...

Learning dispositions cannot be taught in one go! It takes a lot of time, effort and collaboration with home and other settings to support a child to develop the skills they will need to achieve their full potential at school.

However, some learning dispositions will stay with children throughout their lives. Some children might always have a preference for playing on their own even if they are able to tolerate a group with support... some children will always give up on challenges rather than keep trying... some children will be leaders and others will follow... some children will fail if a teacher makes them ‘copy from the board’ but will succeed if the teacher recognises their preferred learning disposition / characteristic and records the information onto a tape!

This is just like the child’s personality - the ways they deal with life. However, while it is up to us to support the child to learn in different ways and we can support dispositions and help to mould a confident, assured child - we cannot change a child’s personality!

Childminders also need to remember that we are not solely responsible for every part of the child’s learning and development experience. We can only work with them during the time available to us. Their dispositions are also shaped by their home, family, community and other setting lives, over which we have no control.

For more information about the characteristics of effective learning please see e-book 59 on my Knutsford Childminding website.

Chat soon, Sarah x

Sunday, 7 July 2013

Ofsted - getting it right first time

Ofsted - Getting it right first time: Achieving and maintaining high-quality early years provision
July 2013

The focus of this document is - getting children ready for school... using the early years to build ‘a secure foundation for future personal and academic success’ (Wilshaw, pg 3). To effectively prepare children for school, all early years providers including childminders must have -
• High expectations for every child
• Strong communication skills
• A good understanding of child development so we know how much young children are capable of doing and so we can support and challenge them
• Clear routines to support children as they develop personally, emotionally, socially, physically and as they learn to communicate with and listen to others
• An excellent understanding of how the 3 prime areas of learning - PSED, physical and communication and language - must be prioritised in the early years and how they make a positive impact on outcomes for children
• Good teaching skills using the EYFS to support children’s learning - we must see ourselves as ‘educators’ (Executive Summary, pg 4)
• Highly skilled and experienced practitioners
Note - the document does not mention the ‘prime’ or ‘specific’ areas of learning or the Development Matters guidance. This is my interpretation of the wording to help other childminders understand what it is saying, so I am using those terms because I know they make sense to my readers.

Staff - the document is not just written for childminders. There is quite a lot of information about staffing throughout the document. A lot of childminders have staff (assistants or co-childminders) so this bit will be relevant to them. Ofsted talk about -
• ‘Teams of well qualified and skilled practitioners who see themselves as educators’ (page 5)
• Rigorous performance management - regular reviews and action plans for improving future practice
• A strong focus on the quality of teaching
• Children making good progress because staff are supporting their learning and development well
• Ongoing staff professional development - induction training, ongoing training and CPD opportunities, staff reviews leading to training provision
• Team meetings focussed on improving teaching skills - are you seeing a theme going on here?
• Self reflection journals for staff
• Observations of staff at work leading to better focused training opportunities
• Formal and informal supervision opportunities
• Management who challenge poor performance and replace staff who cannot do their jobs properly!

Strong leadership - the document talks about too many children not having the ‘knowledge, skills and attitudes’ they need to do well when they start school - and then goes on to look at how high quality provision can provide children with the starting points they need so they achieve in the future.
Ofsted note that there are strong leaders in all settings where children make outstanding progress. A childminder is also a leader of their provision and strong leadership in a childminding provision might include you having -
• Passion for your job and a clear vision for the future
• High expectations for yourself - your professional development (training and CPD) and your action planning for the future
• Strong teaching skills
• High expectations for every child - clear evidence of how you support each child to make good progress in their learning and development from their starting points (the things they could do when they first start in your care)
• Inspired, qualified and motivated staff
• Strong self evaluation - including comments from and views of staff, parents and children. Ofsted talk about children being consulted on how the provision meets their needs and exit interviews when children leave to find out their thoughts about their time in the provision (pg 9)
Strong leaders welcome external support and advice to improve their provision - partnerships with other settings, visits from advisors, quality assurance schemes etc. For childminders, Ofsted acknowledge that links with networks and local support can raise outcomes...

I have written a blog recently about leadership which you might find interesting -

Focus on school readiness - to appropriately teach young children the skills they need to promote school readiness, we need to focus on -
• Prioritising the prime areas of learning for very young children
• Using all 7 areas of learning (although these are not specifically detailed the inference is that all 7 areas are important) for older children
• Ensuring high quality resources are in place to support learning across all 7 areas
• Accurate observations and assessments - to show what children already know -> leading on to focussed teaching opportunities, planned to enhance learning and ensure children do not ‘fall behind’ (pg 11)
• Using a balance of adult led and child initiated activities through the day - so ‘structured teaching opportunities’ (Pg 11) are part of a child’s experience every day
• Adult guided learning - using opportunities during children’s play to extend and guide their learning, develop their language and vocabulary, challenge them etc (pg 11)
• Developing listening skills in children

Self reflection - Ofsted have decided that only a ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ inspection grading is good enough and that every practitioner should be supported to gain at least ‘good’ in their inspection. Here are some self reflection questions to ask yourself -
• Do some of your observations focus on specific areas of learning so you can gain an accurate snapshot of what the child can do?
• Does your planning focus on what you want each child to learn? Future learning is also known as ‘learning outcomes’
• Are your questioning skills appropriate to the child’s play? Have you picked the right time to ask a question? Does the question encourage conversation and shared thinking?
• Do you visit other settings and practitioners and bring back ideas and inspiration to use with your children? Do you encourage other practitioners to visit you and do the same for them? Do you record your visits - and how they have improved your practice - in your personal self evaluation or the Ofsted SEF?
• Do you track each child’s progress regularly - and is tracking done well so you can see how children are making progress and what they need to work on next?
• Do you consult with parents regularly and agree ways to support the child to achieve more in the future?
• What do you do if a child is struggling in one or more areas of learning? How well do you support them to develop their skills and knowledge?
• How well do you involve parents in their child’s learning and development journey? How well do you share information about the EYFS, their child’s routine and experiences... and how well do you continue sharing this information?
How can you improve in the future?

More good practice guides worth reading -

My action planning
As a result of reading and reflecting on this document, I have recognised 2 gaps in my already outstanding provision that I intend working on over the coming weeks.

1. Benefitting from visits to other providers
I regularly visit other provisions including childminders and my local Children’s Centre but I do not record what I have learned from the visits and how they have supported my practice.

My thoughts for the future - I will look at how I can record this information and include it in my SEF (I use the Ofsted document). I will include a very simple form in my CPD file which notes -

Date -
Visit to - childminder / Children’s Centre / local Nursery / other...
Good practice shared -

2. Observing all areas of learning
How do I ensure every child is making good progress across each of the 7 areas of learning? Do my observations accurately reflect each child’s progress, at any one time in, for example, communication and language - listening or PSED - behaviour?

I tend to write my observations as they happen over the month and on reflection it is possible I might be missing important information about a child’s overall learning. For example, I might not have spotted that they are not making good progress in their communication development because the child has been demonstrating so many new skills in physical development recently that I have been too busy writing those down instead of looking at the bigger picture.

My thoughts for the future - one way to record this is to have a sheet for each area of learning with some observation prompts across the top. I have written some helpful observation prompts for each area of learning here -

I will set myself a challenge to note an observation from each of the areas of learning every ... say ... 3 months for a part-time child / more regularly for a full-timer.
I will use the observations when I am planning for the child’s future learning. I will think about what the observations tell me (assess) and then focus on how I can, along with parents and other settings, work together to support the child to make sure they are not lagging behind.

My personal, social and emotional development
My name is -
My date of birth -

This will be a table with 3 sections for PSED / 3 for PD (moving / handling / health and self care) and 3 for C & L eg.

Area of learning - PSED 1 - relationships PSED 2 - self confidence & awareness PSED 3 - feelings and behaviour
Obs prompts for my age / stage of L & D

PSED 1 - Being affectionate Copying games... etc
PSED 2 - Being independent Sharing ideas... etc
PSED 3 - Expressing feelings Developing patience... etc

Observations of my learning
Date -
Location - in the house / in the garden / on an outing to - / other -
With contributions from - parents / the child / other settings / other -
Observation -

My wellbeing during the activity - series of wellbeing smiley / straight line and sad faces

Ideas for planning the next steps in my learning and development -

You will find more information in mini e-book 77 'Preparing children for school' from

Chat soon, Sarah x