How can a preschool teacher make sure that all children in his/her class are learning? At first glance, it may seem that all pupils are engaged in the class… But by observing each of them in a systematic way, the teacher can determine who is really learning, who is not and who is at risk of not learning.
What constitute quality preschool education?
In the context of preschool education, what is “quality” has been subject to an ongoing debate. Dr. Laevers argues that quality is defined from a point of view. While a parent or a head teacher would consider that quality mostly related to the context – the educational settings and teacher’s actions –, policy makers would define it in terms of results.
Teachers work in a context (existing educational policies), to achieve results. But if the child produces good results (eg: he properly coloured a drawing), it doesn’t necessarily mean that he/she is learning. Quality education is achieved if children are learning. How can one know if they are? By observing well-being and involvement of each learner. In that sense, quality preschool education largely depends on the capacities of teachers.
Well-being refers to the degree to which the basic needs of the child are met, when the child feels at ease, is relaxed, acts spontaneously, shows vitality and self-confidence… When he/she feels like a fish in the water.
Involvement can be observed when the child is highly concentrated and focused, when he/she shows interest, curiosity and even fascination, when he/she intrinsically motivated, very absorbed in the activity and open to relevant stimuli. Involvement is led by the child’s urge to experience the world (exploratory drive). It only occurs when the child is challenged and operates at the limits of his/her capacities, in the Zone of Proximal Development. He/She can only be really involved if he/she feels comfortable and at ease. Only at that moment, he/she will learn deeply.
Measuring children’s levels of well-being and involvement
For rating the levels of well-being and involvement of a child in a class, the teacher needs to get into the child’s shoes and see things from his/her point of view. By systematically observing each child in his/her class, the teacher will be able to draw conclusions about his/her mental activity. If such an act of empathy may seem subjective, levels of well-being and involvement can actually be measured by screening the class, using scientifically developed scales. The Leuven Scales describe 5 levels of well-being and of involvement, from very low to very high. Research has shown its reliability: different observers would rate the same child with similar levels.
By measuring those levels, the teacher will identify which barriers prevent some of the children in their class from learning and participating. Those can relate to the nature of the learning environment, activities and quality of interactions. For children falling below level 4 of involvement, teachers should make further observations and analysis.
Take actions to adjust the approach
To involve all children in the class, the teacher should adjust his/her approach. This new approach should integrate actions to mitigate the barriers to learning experienced by some children in a given educational setting (in a classroom). Their levels of well-being and involvement will then increase and they will be able to develop to their full potential. 10 action points can be considered as a guide to improve those levels. Research has shown that they can be increased in less than a year, including in educational settings situated in depraved areas. Levels of well-being and involvement increased for most children throughout a 6 months Action Research in ethnically diverse districts of Vietnam.
Deep-level learning for a full development
If teachers help each child of their class to reach high levels of well-being and of involvement, the child’s brain will work to its full potential and he/she will reach a deep level of learning. Such type of learning is opposed to superficial learning and allows the child to transfer the skills he/she learned in another real life practical situation. Such a situation is favorable to the development of his/her competencies in all areas of development: cognitive, social and emotional, communication and language, fine and gross moto skills.
 (2005) Dr. Ferre Laevers, Research Center for Experiential Education. University of Leuven, Belgium.
Is Process-oriented Child Monitoring System relevant and effective in Vietnamese kindergarten?
- Vietnam is promoting active teaching and learning as a key strategy to enhance children’s learning in preschools.
- Since 2009, the Vietnamese Ministry of Education and Training increased its focus on preschool education and has established solid foundations in the provision of public preschools. According to a Ministry of Education and Training Survey (Early Development Instrument, EDI), 25% of Vietnam’s 5 year-old-children are vulnerable, while 50% are at risk of vulnerability in at least one of the developmental domains.
- Article 23 of the Vietnamese Education Law states that the main purpose for early childhood education is “to help children develop comprehensively through organizing play activities while giving special attention to example posing, encouraging and promoting”.
- The Ministry adopted new Regulations on Standards for Assessing the Education Quality of Preschools. The Ministry’s concern for quality has also resulted in a nation-wide application of Early Learning and Development Standards by 2014, as well as a “renovated preprimary education curriculum to make it more child-centered, integrated, flexible, play-based and individualized".
- A pilot research organized by VVOB from December 2015 to June 2016 in three districts (Thai Nguyen city, Vo Nhai, Nam Giang) shows that teachers reported increasing ratings for well-being and/or involvement for 71% of the 364 observed children. This result indicates that, according to teachers’ ratings, a majority of those children became more engaged to learning.
The above approach is based on Experiential Education and the system explained is called Process-Oriented Child Monitoring System. Experiential Education is an educational model for pre-school developed in Belgium in 1976. Since then, it became one of the most influential models in about 20 countries around the world, from Finland to South-Africa, from Australia to Japan. This approach proved to be useful in many sub-sectors of education, in any place where learning takes place.
The advantages of using the Process-oriented Child Monitoring System
- Easy to measure
- Immediate feedback on how you are doing as a teacher (evidence based)
- Possibility to change your approach on the spot
- Practicable and effective
- Matching the intuitions of practitioners
- Holistic approach of the child. Relevant for every developmental area.