Did you like our Myth Busters article in the last edition of Rattler? In times of change, common misconceptions crop up and tend to proliferate. Rattler asks experts and educators to debunk more rumours, myths and whispers and help paint a clearer picture of early childhood education and care practice.

Myth 1: Children’s learning must be documented in aesthetically presented portfolios.

Leonie Gabriel, Children First centre manager Balmoral Street Preschool & Occasional Care, Alpha Street Preschool (Sydney):

‘Educators should spend their time guiding children’s thoughts, needs, social and emotional behaviours and individualised learning capacity, not making pretty books full of long-winded written observations, excessive photos and children’s artwork for families.

I feel the precedent has been set by services that go above and beyond and perhaps are able to employ extra staff to carry out these detailed documents. It has pressured the sector to compete based on aesthetically presented portfolios. And why? Let us consider the National Regulations and assessment and ratings criteria. Where does it state we must present aesthetically-pleasing documents?

At our service, for example, we now use an online system whereby families log in from home. We began this last year because we felt we needed to ease the burden on recording methods for our educators, allowing them to be with the children first and foremost while maintaining great communication about children for their families.

Do the Assessment and Ratings criteria ask us to present an aesthetically-presented portfolio? I’d like to know where! Educators can interpret these quite differently and while I would like to believe otherwise, from recent conversations and experiences I believe aesthetically-presented styles are viewed favourably by some Assessment Compliance Officers. I hope that this will change to focus on quality not aesthetics.’

Sandra Cheeseman, lecturer, Institute of Early Childhood, Macquarie University:

‘A quick read of both the Regulations and the Guide to the National Quality Standard will dispel this myth. In both documents the requirement for records of children’s learning and development are clear and functional. No mention of photographs, portfolios or anything at all aesthetically pleasing.

I suspect that the origins of this myth have emerged from a combination of shifts in thinking about children’s learning along with a more commercial and competitive market place. The desire to capture children’s learning in interesting and engaging ways and the ready access to digital technologies over the last few decades has inspired many to produce wonderful exposés of children’s learning and to borrow a phrase from Reggio Emilia— to make learning visible.

What can be a very useful strategy for capturing and communicating the complexity of young children’s learning has for some turned into an onerous, time-consuming and somewhat pointless task. The production of highly polished portfolios may appeal to parents and may act as a key marketing strategy for their brand, but are they really contributing to teaching decisions and do they help families and educators better understand their child’s learning?

So much rich information about children can be gained through rough notes and jottings, quick transcripts of children’s words or conversations or from a sequence of photos accompanied by some educator notes. This insightful note taking can be more useful in gaining a full picture of a child’s learning and can be much more practical in informing curriculum decisions for days ahead. Gathered together in a folder or file, these notes can be used to create more substantial summaries of against the outcomes of the EYLF throughout the year.

If you love your portfolios then keep doing them, but do ask yourself—do our portfolios contribute to our understanding of each child and how do they help us to plan? If they are not as useful as you first thought then perhaps consider other more meaningful ways to represent children’s learning.’

Myth 2: You must always include one of the five EYLF outcomes in planning and observations of children.

Luke Touhill, Early Childhood Teacher and consultant:

‘Using the EYLF outcomes as the basis for our planning and teaching is not a bad idea. In fact it is very good idea, and a central part of implementing the EYLF. But we need to be careful about how we do it.

We can’t afford for our focus on the outcomes to become overly prescriptive or simplistic, or for them to reduce our ability to respond flexibly to changing circumstances and events.

It is important to remember while the outcomes describe valuable areas of learning, they are not about the kind of learning that can be easily checked off in a single lesson or experience.

Instead, the learning that the outcomes outline is long-term and will, in most cases, be built up over many experiences.

The very nature of the outcomes therefore encourages us to look at the long-term or big picture. While individual interactions and experiences remain important we need to keep them in perspective. They need to be seen in terms of this big picture rather than in isolation. If we only focus on the individual experiences, and attempt to link them too closely to the outcomes then we risk trivialising the learning that is taking place.

Of course there will be elements of identity, connection, wellbeing, learning and communication in most experiences. But it is only through repeated experiences that children are likely to establish, maintain and progress learning in each of the outcome areas. Highlighting every potential link to the outcomes that occurs throughout the day is an exercise in overkill.

To take the example of identity, almost everything we do has a potential impact on a child’s identity. To document each of these details however would not only be time-consuming, it would also be meaningless.

The experiences and interactions that go into making up a child’s identity are important because they add up to something as a whole—not because they are necessarily meaningful in isolation. It is a little like trying to appreciate a grand panoramic view through a telescope—the means of looking actually defeats the purpose.

Of course, the telescope has a purpose, and is a valuable tool for focusing on fine detail, but it also has limitations when it comes to getting an overall sense of what it is that you are looking at.

Therefore, while the learning outcomes will have a place in our planning and documentation, they are often better suited to longer term planning and assessment when we have the opportunity to step back and consider learning in the context of the bigger picture, and to think about how all the little things that we do add up to something bigger and more important.

Liam McNicholas, ACT Manager Goodstart Early Learning and freelance writer on early childhood education:

‘The Early Years Learning Framework encourages us to plan for children’s learning with five outcomes in mind. The outcomes are broad and guide us to view children’s learning holistically. However, it is still common to hear educators say they “have to” do a certain amount of learning stories for each child, or “have to” collect five observations per month, or “have to” include at least one of the EYLF learning outcomes in all documentation.

Working as an educator or teacher in Early Childhood Education and Care is a complex job. As with any complex job, we create structures to try and reduce the complexity and find “the right way”.

It’s important to state clearly neither the EYLF or the National Quality Standard (or even the National Law) give any kind of specific direction on the amount, type or template of any documentation of our work. This is important, as any documentation we do as part of children’s learning should be purposeful and meaningful to both educator and child. Meeting an arbitrary quota is neither purposeful nor meaningful.

Documentation should reflect our knowledge of children, as well as our own professional practice as educators. It should provide evidence for the relationships we have developed with children, their families and the wider community; and show how we are planning to extend children’s learning.

The EYLF learning outcomes provide broad guidance for our teaching and analysis of children’s learning. They should be embedded in our work as professionals, and visible in our documentation in a variety of forms.

One of the aims of the EYLF is to promote a “shared language” in the Early Childhood Education and Care sector, so using the terms and themes of the document helps to advocate for the professionalism of the sector as a whole.

Using the language and themes of the EYLF—and also challenging the EYLF—is a far more meaningful way of engaging with the Framework than just linking documentation to specific outcomes. But there are no restrictions or templates for how that looks—documentation should be as varied, unique and inspiring as the children, educators, families and communities that produce it.’

Myth 3: Only teachers can document children’s development.

Leonie Gabriel:

‘As an early childhood educator of 20 years, this myth pulls at my educational heartstrings. I have managed children’s centres for 17 years and recently did an early childhood teaching degree, however, over the years, many colleagues have commented on my qualifications being ‘only’ a Diploma.

From the day I walked into my first centre as a diploma, I was required to take observational recordings and write analysis. The then-labelled ‘untrained’ educators were not required to do this. I was horrified to learn these knowledgeable educators—the ones with warm, trusting relationships with the children, who knew their strengths and achievements—were not allowed to make these recordings.

Let’s think about the three-year-old Indian boy with a strong attachment is to his Certificate III-qualified Indian-Punjabi carer. He only speaks Punjabi and is often distressed. This carer soothes his tears by communicating with him in his language. Is the non-Punjabi speaking ECT qualified educator the only one equipped to share his experiences and development because she is the most highly qualified? The focus here is surely on getting the observational recording accurate and not on who signs their name at the end.’

Emma Cullen, Director of Abbotsford Long Day Care Centre, Sydney:

‘If teachers were the only ones who could document observations then stress levels would be through the roof, the difficulties of attracting and retaining early childhood teachers magnified, and a myriad of important information about children and development missed!

Part of the beauty of early childhood education lies in how different perspectives, knowledge and experiences come together. Similarly, this idea of richness in diversity can also be applied to our work as educators. Each staff member comes with a wealth of knowledge and experience. It is when these different viewpoints come together, that our learning is enhanced, and in the case of observations and documentation, our knowledge about the children furthered.

While some staff may bring a high level of theoretical knowledge, others provide a different lens, resulting in a unique insight and valuable information that may have otherwise been missed. An educator who has spent time forging bonds with a child, and who has also taken the time to build a relationship with the child’s family, will have an unrivalled level of insight about the child’s strengths and interests, and subsequently their learning and development.’

Do these myths sound familiar?

Early childhood educators can overcome the rumours, myths and whispers by rereading the Regulations and NQS documents—go to the Community Child Care Co-operative (NSW) resources page to read up.



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