Last semester I had the pleasure of teaching the Early Childhood Assessment Course to a class of early childhood undergraduate teacher candidates and master’s students. The course content covers the assessment of young children with disabilities ages birth to five years. A variety of assessment related topics are discussed throughout the semester. All of the teacher candidates and masters students were concurrently placed in practicum settings where they could directly communicate with families of young children with disabilities and conduct a variety of assessments. We also conducted two “labs” where the teacher candidates participated on an assessment team to plan and implement play-based assessment activities for a parent and child dyad. We are fortunate to have some wonderful parents and young children in our community who participate in the labs.
As a course instructor I have learned that embedding course assignments within practicum and even within a “lab” setting can be difficult and just plain messy. For example, young children get sick often, they might move away, families are busy and may not have time to respond to a teacher candidate’s carefully crafted questions, parent permission forms have to be translated into the appropriate home language and returned before assessment activities may begin, etc. Yet, as difficult as the logistics of completing “embedded” assignments can be, I strongly believe that the more course assignments can be completed within practicum settings the more teacher candidates directly experience the complexity of the assessment process with young children with disabilities.
When using real activity based assessment tools with young children with disabilities the teacher candidates were surprised at the amount of planning they needed to do in order to complete a curriculum-based assessment on a child they had been working with all semester. Conversations with parents and cooperating professionals also provided the teacher candidates and masters students with the understanding that assessment is done in collaboration with other significant adults who can provide critical developmental information about the child in different contexts and settings.
As a teacher educator I have learned to be much more flexible with assignment due dates. This was important in order to ensure that a teacher candidate does not panic when the child she is assessing misses two days of preschool in a row. I believe the extra effort involved in arranging assessment labs and embedding course assignments in practicum is worth it when teacher candidates describe their understanding about the assessment process and feel more confident collaborating with parents of young children with disabilities.
Bernadette Laumann, PhD is the Co-Principal Investigator for the Illinois Early Learning Project and the Illinois Families and School Success Project. She has been a teacher educator, principal of an inclusive pre-k program, and an early childhood special educator.