One, two what can we do? Exploring literacy and numeracy with young children

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With National Literacy and Numeracy Week (25-31 August) just around the corner, Rhonda Livingstone provides some insights into how we embed literacy and numeracy into early childhood education.

National Literacy and Numeracy week (August 25-31) offers an opportunity to consider the rich diversity of experiences and opportunities our early childhood and school age care environments offer to extend children’s thinking, understanding and learning about literacy and numeracy.  As part of this, we need to consider the links with the national learning frameworks and ask ourselves: How do we embed literacy and numeracy into education and practice in a way that is relevant and meaningful for children?

Building on real life experiences, as well as being creative in providing opportunities for children to expand their knowledge and skill in understanding and using literacy and numeracy concepts, is important to engage children and prompt their learning and understanding.

When discussing literacy and numeracy, what often comes to mind is the ability to read, write and solve mathematical problems. This view is potentially limiting and as educators we need to encompass the variety of ways that we communicate through non-verbal, spoken, print, visual and multimodal literacies as well as considering how mathematical thinking is used in everyday life. Technology now plays a big part in many children’s lives and has the potential to offer a wide array of numeracy and literacy experiences.

Both national learning frameworks acknowledge these important concepts, particularly Learning Outcome 5 – Children are confident communicators. The Early Years Learning Framework (p. 38) describes literacy as ‘the capacity, confidence and disposition to use language in all of its forms. Literacy incorporates a range of modes of communication including music, movement, dance, storytelling, visual arts, media and drama, as well as talking, listening, viewing, reading and writing. Contemporary texts include electronic and print based media. In an increasingly technological world, the ability to critically analyse texts is a key component of literacy’.

In addition, the Framework for School Age Care (p. 37) acknowledges that ‘In play and leisure children use their literacy and numeracy skills and understandings in practical ways. Children practice their skills and understandings and use a range of tools and media to express themselves, connect with others and extend themselves’.

Educators have provided us with examples of experiences and practices in this area. Here are a few relatively simple, but literacy and numeracy rich, examples:

  • at an outside school hours care service for children with additional needs, a teenager proudly displayed the sushi shop and cash takings he had made from paper
  • at a long day care service, an educator took a group of children into the local community to interview people about how they use numbers in their work
  • another outside school hours care educator worked with children on developing and writing the rules of a game, keeping score and keeping track, ensuring everyone had the same number of turns
  • young children attending a long day care centre wrote the book for orientation into the service
  • another service encouraged children and adults to use wooden blocks to describe and represent quantities and patterns.

There are many resources to help educators promote and extend children’s thinking and learning in this area.

Resources

Early Literacy and Numeracy Self-Guided Learning Package- Community Child Care Victoria under IPSP program

Educators’ Guide to the Early Years Learning Framework

Educators’ Guide to the Framework for School Age Care

Zimmer Twins is an online resource allowing children to create animated movies, save their work and share it. It is a great way to engage children in literacy and allow them to explore story telling through technology.

Toddlers as mathematicians? by Shiree Lee Early Childhood Australia Australian Journal of Early Childhood

Improving Mathematics Learning Outcomes for Young Aboriginal Children by Marina Papic and Judy McKay-Tempest, Gowrie Australia

Let’s Read Resources

ECA NQS Professional Learning Program – Play-based approaches to literacy and numeracy

Finding a balanced approach to early language and literacy learning and development and You can’t put forks in the toilet from Reflections Gowrie Australia Winter 2014 Issue 55

Self-authored e-books: Expanding young children’s literacy experiences and skills from Early Childhood Australia explores using self-authored e-books as a vehicle for helping early childhood professionals to engage young children in new literacy and language experiences.

Books, bytes and brains: The implications of new knowledge for children’s early literacy learning Liza Hopkins reviews contemporary literacies and infant brain development to re-examine the foundations of literacy learning in the early years.

Playing with maths: Facilitating the learning in play-based learning from the Australasian Journal of Early Childhood highlights the role of play in young children’s mathematics learning and examines the teacher’s role in facilitating and extending this.

Documentation

ACECQA’s National Education Leader, Rhonda Livingstone provides insight into National Quality Framework topics of interest.

Planning, documenting and evaluating children’s learning has long been the topic of debate and discussion, certainly in the 30 years I have been involved in education and care.

The evidence of the value of documentation is clear, however a question that is often asked is, ‘How do we document, and how much is enough?’ One of the strengths of the National Quality Framework is how it emphasises the importance of documentation in promoting and extending children’s thinking, learning and development. It does not however, go into precise detail on how it should be done.

While templates may be helpful in organising information, the risk is that templates can also be limiting or sometimes cause unnecessary administrative burden. It is important to remember there are no mandated templates or programs for documenting, and for very good reason.

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to documentation and educators are encouraged to explore a range of styles and methods to determine what works best for their children, families, service and community.

There are many ways to document children’s learning and the cycle of observing, planning, reflecting and evaluating. Some examples I have seen include reflective journals, photographs, videos, children’s work, observations, portfolios, narratives and learning stories to name a few.

It is important to review and reflect on why and what we are documenting. The Early Years Learning Framework (p. 17) and Framework for School Age Care (p. 16) identify the reasons we assess/evaluate children’s learning, development and participation. It is important to remember that it is not the amount of documentation or how colourfully it is presented, but rather how it is used to support children’s engagement, learning and development.

There are numerous resources available that explore the role of documentation and provide further insights and ideas on a diversity of ways to document. Enjoy your documentation journey and don’t forget to look back on your documentation to identify and celebrate the achievement and successes of your children, your families and your team.

Further reading and resources

ACECQA – Information sheet – Guidelines for documenting children’s learning

ACECQA – Forum panel discussion video – Incorporating cultural competence in everyday practice

What does it mean to be culturally competent?

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Photos_headshot1_editedThis week on We Hear You, Rhonda Livingstone, ACECQA’s National Education Leader, writes about cultural competence. 

Cultural competence is about our will and actions to build understanding between people, to be respectful and open to different cultural perspectives, strengthen cultural security and work towards equality in opportunity. Relationship building is fundamental to cultural competence and is based on the foundations of understanding each other’s expectations and attitudes, and subsequently building on the strength of each other’s knowledge, using a wide range of community members and resources to build on their understandings.[1]

We have known for a long time about the importance of respecting diversity and embedding a range of cultures in early childhood education and care programs.  However the term, cultural competence, is relatively new to many working in the education and care sector, having been introduced in the Early Years Learning Framework for Australia and the Framework for School Age Care.

Over the past two or three decades we have endeavoured to challenge and address injustice, racism, exclusion and inequity through legislation, awareness raising, rights education and an anti-bias curriculum. Cultural competence reinforces and builds on this work.

So what does cultural competence mean and why is it so important for children to have their culture and cultural backgrounds acknowledged, respected and valued?

Underlying cultural competence are the principles of trust, respect for diversity, equity, fairness, and social justice… Culture is the fundamental building block of identity and the development of a strong cultural identity is essential to children’s healthy sense of who they are and where they belong.[2]

It is more than being respectful of the cultures represented in the service or even the community. It is much more than awareness of cultural differences, more than knowledge of the customs and values of those different to our own.

Cultural competence is the ability to understand, communicate with and effectively interact with people across cultures. Cultural competence encompasses:

  • being aware of one’s own world view
  • developing positive attitudes towards cultural differences
  • gaining knowledge of different cultural practices and world views
  • developing skills for communication and interaction across cultures.[3]

Supporting this view, the Secretariat of National Aboriginal and Islander Child Care (SNAICC) identifies that cultural proficiency “requires more than becoming culturally aware or practising tolerance”. Rather, it is the ability to “identify and challenge one’s own cultural assumptions, values and beliefs, and to make a commitment to communicating at the cultural interface”.[4]

Links with the Learning Frameworks

Cultural competence is a key practice in the learning frameworks, and the notion of cultural competence is embedded throughout. For example, principles within the learning frameworks relevant to cultural competence include fostering secure, respectful and reciprocal relationships, partnerships, high expectations and equity and respect for diversity.

Issues of respecting and valuing diversity and culture are embedded in the Being, Belonging, Becoming themes of the Early Years Learning Framework. This framework acknowledges there are many ways of living, being and of knowing. Children are born belonging to a culture, which is not only influenced by traditional practices, heritage and ancestral knowledge, but also by the experiences, values and beliefs of individual families and communities. Respecting diversity means, within the curriculum, valuing and reflecting the practices, values and beliefs of families.

There are links to cultural competence in Learning Outcome 2 – Children are connected with and contribute to their world, including:

  • children develop a sense of belonging to groups and communities and  an understanding of the reciprocal rights and responsibilities necessary for active community participation
  • children respond to diversity with respect
  • children become aware of fairness
  • children become socially responsible and show respect for the environment.

It is also important to remember that a guiding principle of the Education and Care Services National Law is that Australia’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures are valued.

What does cultural competence look like in practice?

Educators who are culturally competent respect multiple cultural ways of knowing, seeing and living, celebrate the benefits of diversity and have an ability to understand and honour differences. Educators also seek to promote children’s cultural competence.

In practical terms, it is a never ending journey involving critical reflection, of learning to understand how people perceive the world and participating in different systems of shared knowledge.

Cultural competence is not static, and our level of cultural competence changes in response to new situations, experiences and relationships. The three elements of cultural competence are:

  • attitudes
  • skills
  • knowledge

These are important at three levels:

  1. individual level – the knowledge, skills, values, attitudes and behaviours of individuals
  2. service level – management and operational frameworks and practices, expectations, including policies, procedures, vision statements and the voices of children, families and community
  3. the broader system level – how services relate to and respect the rest of the community, agencies, Elders, local community protocols.

While there is no checklist to tick off to identify culturally competent educators, we can start to build a picture of the attitudes, skills and knowledge required. For example, educators who respect diversity and are culturally competent:

  • have an understanding of, and honour, the histories, cultures, languages, traditions, child rearing practices
  • value children’s different capacities and abilities
  • respect differences in families’ home lives
  • recognise that diversity contributes to the richness of our society and provides a valid evidence base about ways of knowing
  • demonstrate an ongoing commitment to developing their own cultural competence in a two-way process with families and communities
  • promote greater understanding of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander ways of knowing and being
  • teach, role-model and encourage cultural competence in children, recognising that this is crucial to ensuring children have a sense of strong cultural identity and belonging
  • engage in ongoing reflection relating to their cultural competence and how they build children’s cultural competence.

Ongoing reflection essential for the learning journey

A learning journey of cultural competence occurs when ongoing reflection and environmental feedback involves and supports educators to move along their culturally competent learning journey. The following diagram from the Educators’ Guide to the Early Years Learning Framework (p26) is a useful tool to share with teams, to discuss and to identify how individuals are progressing on their learning journey.

diagram

There are also many reflective questions in the Guide and Learning Frameworks to provoke discussion and reflection. For example:

  • Who is advantaged when I work in this way? Who is disadvantaged?
  • What does cultural competence mean in your practice, for children, family, community and educators?
  • What do you know about the language/s that the children bring with them?

And the case study[5] of a project undertaken by educators to develop processes that value and use the expertise of Aboriginal people in local communities may offer some suggestions for starting similar projects.

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[1]Educators’ Guide to the Early Years Learning Framework p21 Educators’ Guide to the Framework for School Age Care, p57

[2]Educators’ Guide to the Early Years Learning Framework p23

[3]Framework for School Age Care in Australia p15 Early Years Learning Framework p16

[4]SNAICC 2012 Consultation Overview on Cultural Competence in Early Childhood Education and Care Services

[5] Early Years Learning Framework in Action p 27

ACECQA helps unlock the door on documentation

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Our National Education Leader, Rhonda Livingstone, looks at documenting learning, provides some pointers for educators and helps bust some of the surrounding myths.

The issue of planning, documenting and evaluating children’s learning and the best ways of recording this cycle has been the subject of much debate and discussion during the more than two decades that I have been involved in children’s education and care.

We know from research and experience that documented plans, records of children’s assessments and evaluations can be effective strategies to promote and extend children’s thinking, learning and development.

One of the strengths of the approved learning frameworks[1], the National Quality Standard and related regulatory standards, is that while acknowledging the important role of documentation, they are not prescriptive about how it is done.

There are no mandated recipes or templates for documentation and for very good reason. Recognising the uniqueness of each service, there is no one-size-fits-all approach and educators are empowered to explore a range of styles and methods to determine what works best for their children, families, services and community.

This approach recognises the professionalism of the sector and allows educators to focus their energies on documentation that supports quality outcomes for children.

I recently visited a colleague delivering a kindergarten program in regional Victoria, and saw first-hand the professionalism, dedication and commitment to the children and their families. We spoke for many hours about the kindergarten program, the policies, the environment and the nature garden, the support for children and families provided by her team of dedicated and caring educators and committee members, among many other things.

We also discussed the challenges of balancing the need to document with our key focus of interacting and engaging with children and extending their learning. We agreed on a number of things relating to documentation that included:

  • Documentation is an important part of our work with children and families, not just because it is a requirement
  • Children’s voices and ideas should be captured in planning, documentation and evaluation
  • Even experienced educators need to try different methods to find what is realistic, achievable and relevant for the children, families, educators, the setting and establish some benchmarks that are regularly reviewed
  • We need to be selective in what we choose to document, because it is not possible to capture all of the rich experiences and learnings that occur every day
  • We need to share our documentation efforts and experiences, and continue to learn, grow and develop
  • We need to constantly review and remind ourselves why we are documenting and for whom
  • We need to be clear about what the standards, learning frameworks and, if relevant, the funding agreements are asking us to do, as there are a number of myths emerging.

We also agreed that being open, honest and critically reflective in our self-assessment process and work helps to identify strengths in this area as well as identifying areas that need focus. This helps in identifying and informing families, other educators and professionals and authorised officers, how your documentation meets requirements and promotes each child’s learning and development.

My colleague’s service has just been assessed and rated and I was not surprised to learn they had received an overall rating of Exceeding National Quality Standard. The team are highly reflective educators and the authorised officer would have no doubt observed this in the assessment process.

So let’s revisit why we need to document, look at how services are going with this quality area, unpack some of the myths, explore the place of templates and programs, think about what the authorised officers might be looking for in an assessment visit and consider what resources are available to assist.

Why do we need to document?

Gathering and analysing information about what children know, can do and understand is part of the ongoing cycle that includes planning, documenting and evaluating children’s learning. It helps educators (in partnership with children, families and other professionals) to:

  • Plan effectively for children’s current and future learning
  • Communicate about children’s learning and progress
  • Determine the extent to which all children are progressing in their learning outcomes and if not, what might be impeding their progress
  • Identify children who may need additional support in order to achieve particular learning outcomes, providing that support or assisting families to access specialist help
  • Evaluate the effectiveness of learning opportunities, environments, and experiences offered, and the approaches taken to enable children’s learning
  • Reflect on pedagogy that will suit this context and these children.[2]

How are services performing against Quality Area 1 – Educational Program and practice?

The sector is to be congratulated for embracing the National Quality Framework (NQF) and the dedication and commitment shown to promoting positive outcomes for children and families.

While recent NQF Snapshot data shows most assessed and rated services are either Meeting or Exceeding the NQS in Quality Area 1 about 30 per cent are Working Towards NQS in this quality area.

This is recognised as the area where services require most support and ACECQA’s recent regulatory burden research has shown that documenting learning, although extremely valuable, is seen as one of the more time consuming aspects of the NQF.

Unpacking the myths

There are a number of myths circulating about the expectations for documentation, and the best way to do this is to number plans and records or to colour code them. For example, it is a myth that you need to write a report on every child, every day.

Another is that links must be drawn to the quality areas in plans and documentation, and the best way to do this is to number plans and research or to colour code them.

There are a number of websites (including ACECQA and Early Childhood Australia) and newsletter articles (for example Rattler editions 108 and 109) that de-bunk or bust these myths that you may want to review.

Do I need a template or a program to follow?

There are no mandated templates or programs for documenting children’s learning or educational experiences.

While templates and programs may be a helpful way to organise information, there is a risk that they can be limiting and as Wendy Shepherd, Director of Mia Mia Child and Family Centre at Macquarie University suggests in a recent article in the Autumn 2014 edition of Rattler magazine, there are no shortcuts and the complex process of documentation should not be reduced to a simple ‘fill-in-box’.

The reality is that mandating a certain way of documenting, for example the number of observations you must take of each child, would limit your ability to be creative in documenting the richness in the program and children’s learning.

There are many ways to document children’s learning and the cycle of observing, planning, reflecting and evaluating. Some examples I have seen include reflective journals, photographs, videos, children’s work, observations, portfolios, narratives and learning stories to name a few.

The key thing to remember is that it is not the amount of documentation you have, or how immaculately or colourfully the information is presented, it is how the documentation is used to do all those things mentioned previously, such as planning effectively for children’s current and future learning and communicating about the children’s learning and progress.

What is the authorised officer looking for when they are assessing and rating?

The authorised officer will observe, discuss and sight supporting documentation to identify examples and evidence that your service is meeting the requirements. So it is important to be prepared by thinking about how you would talk about your documentation and what you particularly would like to show and discuss to demonstrate how you are meeting the requirements.

The Guide to the National Quality Standard provides examples, however, it is important to remember that the examples provided are not a checklist, but rather ‘paint a picture’ of what is expected at the Meeting National Quality Standard level.

Are there resources and examples of documentation available?

Many educators have generously shared their thoughts and ideas about documentation. For example, the Early Childhood Australia Professional Learning Program includes a number of newsletters that explore documentation and provide examples.

Another example can be found in the previously mentioned edition of Rattler where teachers from Mia Mia share examples of their documentation.

In addition, the Inclusion and Professional Support Program (IPSP) online library also includes resources, and the Professional Support Co-ordinator in each state and territory provide professional development and support in this area. Your peak organisation is also likely to have resources and professional development available to assist you.

As well as the learning frameworks the Early Years Learning Framework in Action and relevant Educator’s Guides are useful resources.

Enjoy your documentation journey and don’t forget to look back on your documentation to identify and celebrate the achievement and successes of your children, your families and your team. 

For more information on documentation please visit:

This article was originally published in the Early Learning Association Australia’s Preschool Matters magazine.

[1]The Early Years Learning Framework and the Framework for School Age Care and in Victoria, the Victorian Early Years Learning and Development Framework

[2] Early Years Learning Framework and the Framework for School Age Care (p.17)

Reviewing your Quality Improvement Plan

Photos_headshot1_editedThis week on We Hear You, Rhonda Livingstone, ACECQA’s National Education Leader, tells us about reviewing your Quality Improvement Plan.

Service providers have described how developing and implementing a QIP has been useful in identifying their strengths and where their efforts should be focused. While many services reflect on and review their plans regularly, if you have not already done so, it may be timely to review your plan, as you are required to update your QIP annually. 

The Progress Notes column in the QIP template is there to make the document dynamic and allow for evolution as goals are achieved and new priorities are identified. Remember, you don’t need to use the ACECQA QIP template. You can use any format that suits your service, however, it should address the areas identified in the template as a minimum.

You should use the National Quality Standard (NQS) and the relevant regulatory standards to reassess your service and determine where goals have been achieved and where improvements are required.

If you haven’t already used them, the reflective questions in the Guide to the National Quality Standard are a great starting point for the review and are useful discussion prompts for staff and parent meetings.

Reviewing your QIP does not need to be time consuming; sharing around the tasks then discussing, as a group, is a time efficient strategy. The insights and perceptions of others will enrich this process. As the improvements you are seeking to make are mainly to benefit children, it is particularly important to include their voices in these processes. 

The best plans are developed and reviewed collaboratively, involving, wherever possible, children, families, educators, staff members, management and other interested parties, such as those who assist children with additional needs.

It is important to remember that it is not about the length of your plan, but rather the quality. Identify the key priorities for your service and ensure the strategies and goals are achievable. Consider identifying short, medium and longer-term priorities. There is no minimum or maximum number of pages required when completing your QIP. 

While it is important to reflect on practice, policies and procedures against the seven quality areas of the NQS, there is also no expectation that all 18 standards and 58 elements will be addressed in the QIP.

If your service is doing particularly well in one quality area you may choose to include statements about how this will be maintained and focus energy on other areas for improvement.

The purpose of the QIP is to guide quality improvements to the service. Now that you have revised the plan, it is important to keep the momentum going by reviewing progress and updating the plan regularly. The Guide to Developing a Quality Improvement Plan, on the ACECQA website is a useful resource to assist in the planning and documenting stages. 

This article first appeared in Early Edition — Childcare Queensland’s magazine.