Formative assessment in Early Years

If in your induction year you are teaching in the early years, read here to get key tips on how to achieve Formative assessment in practice. For those of you that are teaching  in Key stage one flick to the next page!


Observation is the best tool for understanding if and how children are learning ( Hobart and Frankel: 2004).  It is a type of Formative assessment which can be achieved in all key stages as it provides evidence about where a child is at a particular point within their learning.  After the observation has taken place it is then essential that the practitioner uses the information gathered to assess and analyse and tell them about their pupils’ learning.

Observations for assessment in the early years

In my experience of working in the early years observations have played a vital role in assessing the children’s learning.  Observation in the early years is about carefully watching children engage in their play and picking out what the child knows and what they need help with to develop them further.  There are many different types of observations which take place in the early years which support assessment. These are:

Participant observations

-These observations are carried out when you are playing with the children. These tend to be more structured than spontaneous observations.

Spontaneous observations

– These are spontaneous things that you see a child doing which you feel are significant

(Smidt, 2005)


To assess the children effectively it is important that both types of observations are achieved through different strategies such as:

–          Post it notes

–          Photographs  and work samples

–          Recordings

–          Short observations

–          Long observations

By using different strategies it will allow you and your support staff to build up a ‘holistic picture’ of your key child providing evidence of what they can do and what they need to continue doing (Smidt:2005). This therefore will make it easier for you to assess the child and support them within their learning.

Examples of assessment strategies that I have used when teaching in the Early Years



Using post it notes to assess learning

Using post it notes can be a great way to record children’s observations in the early years. The advantages of using post it notes to assess children’s leaning is that it allows you to quickly record a snapshot of something significant that the child has done or said!. It’s easy, quick and simple! During my experience of working in the early years I have also seen post it notes been used effectively for learning journeys. Click here to find out more! For those of you that are teaching the older years read more on how to gain some first hand experience of how post it notes can be used  for assessment in the older years.

 My steps on how to use post it notes for assessment

1)      Observe

2)      Make a note  of what the child has said or done

3)     Assess the child’s learning with linking the observation with one of the six areas of the EYFS

4)      Identify next steps

5)      Feed into planning



 Work samples

Work samples and pictures of children plays an important role in formative assessment as it provides an opportunity  to gather first hand evidence of what the child can do.

My Steps on how to use work samples  to assess learning

1)      Choose a sample of  the child’s work

2)      Date and annotate the work sample  

3)      Write an account of what the child has done and anything the child may have said when creating their piece of work 

4)       Reflect back to what this shows about the child’s knowledge and understanding and implement this into your planning

5)      Identify next steps

6)     Feed into planning



Recordings  and Pictures

In my experience of teaching so far I have found that using ICT can be used in many ways to support assessment. When assessing children in the early years in the past I have taken pictures of something that the child has done and have also used dicta phones to record what the children say,  this may be done during free flow play or when they are taking part in a focused activity. Often in the early years children spontaneously say things which show their level of knowledge. The same applies when taking pictures. If you are teaching in the early years, read an article on how ICT can be used to promote assessment and support children’s learning .

Steps on how to use dicta phones to assess children

1)      Record  a child’s talk

2)      Create a transcript of the child’s talk ( date )

3)      Assess the child’s talk by annotating the transcript, pointing out the key learning

4)      Use assessment to feed into the planning 


Written short observations and long observations EYFS observation template


A more formal way of observing children in the early years  is by writing an account of something they have said or done. This can be done  through both short observations and long observations. After you have written an account of what the child has done or  said you then assess the learning by writing an account of what was evident about the child’s learning and then you identify the next step which is the next thing the child needs to move onto. The next step can be achieved independently or with support.

Steps on how to do a written observation which you later use for an assessment

1)      Write an account of what the child has done and said  (record date)

2)      Assess the child by highlighting the area of development that the child’s learning links with

3)      Identify the childs’ next steps

4)      Implement this into the planning


 I hope that these strategies have been useful and will support you in your induction year! Working in the early years can be extremely hard. Finding time to assess the children can be a  massive challenge , click here to read Assessment overload exhaust early years staff!



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