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Clearer Vision: Reframing Early Childhood Assessment Through a Nuanced Lens

The quest for knowledge is a never-ending adventure,

and every discovery opens up new horizons of possibility.

-Rita Levi-Montalcini-

Our brains like to take shortcuts—they see what they expect to see. When we assess children's performance, we often focus on a single aspect. We benefit when we widen our assessment perspectives to recognise every aspect of a child's development.

Each learning milestone is the amalgam of multiple related skills. And the skills aggregate from different developmental areas. Children integrate emotional, dispositional, cognitive, social and physical skills as they learn. If we focus on one area we may not see the nuanced linkages.

I was recently privileged to work with a mother and her special needs daughter grappling with a puzzle. The mother rated the completion of the puzzle as either success or failure. She was disappointed with her daughter's performance until I invited her to explore the nuances of her daughter's efforts.

Despite not completing the puzzle, the child had made notable improvements:

  • Increased Persistence: The child persisted for 35% longer, showcasing improved concentration.

  • Verbal Articulation: She verbally articulated her planning, a new skill she hadn't exhibited previously, indicating cognitive growth.

  • Positive Emotional Response: Her emotional response evolved positively; instead of frustration, she calmly retrieved pieces that had fallen off the table, demonstrating enhanced emotional regulation.

  • Comprehensive Progress: These small victories painted a clearer picture of the child's progress, emphasising the importance of recognising and celebrating incremental improvements.

When we know how complex learning is we look more broadly to gather evidence. Pedagogical efficacy depends on discerning micro-skills and incremental progress across various dimensions. Here are suggestions to cultivate a comprehensive assessment framework:

Expressive Language:

Emphasise and appreciate when students have internalised information and can articulate their understanding coherently. This means receptive and expressive language are consolidated for that concept or idea. Expressed language is more reliable evidence than if we merely surmise children have learned.


Pay attention to acquiring and using meta-cognitive skills, such as goal setting, planning, evaluation and self-reflection, which underpin lifelong learning.


Cultivate a classroom culture that values perseverance, resilience, and collaboration. Monitor shifts in students' emotional disposition, recognising the impact of socio-emotional well-being on academic engagement and achievement.

Application of Learning: 

Beyond rote memorisation, assess students' capacity to apply learned concepts in new ways. This is transferring information and is evidence of deep understanding.

Learning Habits: 

Foster a growth mindset that celebrates mistakes as opportunities for learning and growth.


Gradually scaffold students towards autonomy, empowering them to take ownership of their learning journey. Include the ability to self-evaluate. Encourage self-directed inquiry and exploration, nurturing curiosity and intellectual agency.

By embracing holistic assessment, we honour the individuality of each child, celebrating the incremental progress in different developmental areas. Enjoy recalibrating your assessment lens towards a more nuanced, empathetic perspective.

Lili-Ann Kriegler (B. A Hons, H. Dip. Ed, M.Ed.) is an education consultant and award-winning author of Edu-Chameleon for teachers and Roots and Wings for parents. Lili-Ann’s specialisations are early childhood education (Birth to 9 years), leadership and optimising human thinking and cognition. She runs her consultancy, Kriegler-Education.

Other ways Lili-Ann can support your professional work


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To purchase Lili-Ann's book: 'Edu-Chameleon: 7 Dynamic Learning Zones to Enhance Children's Concept-Based Understanding'.

To purchase Lili-Ann's book for parents: 'Roots and Wings - A Parents' Guide to Learning and Communicating with Children to Forge a Family with Mettle'.


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