Case studies

Case studies, specially selected to act as supplements in your studies and provide a greater breadth of information.


Authentic assessment 1:

Eleanor, a confident girl of 4 years and 7 months demonstrated her understanding of time, logical reasoning, determination and self-management during a normal morning session that involved child-initiated play. The teacher explained to all the children that they had 25 minutes playing time as it was half past one. She pointed out on the class clock and said to them all: ‘when the big hand on the clock moves from the 6 to the number 1, and the little hand is pointing to the 2, you have 5 minutes to tidy up. I will give two stamps (on their chart) to the person who tells me when it is 5 to 2.’ Eleanor began to choose an activity, then stopped and went over to the teacher and asked: ‘if two children saw it was 5 to 2 would they both get two stamp stamps?’ The teacher said ‘Yes’. Eleanor returned to her playing but was constantly looking up at the clock. As the time approached 10 to 2 she stopped and with great focus placed a chair below the clock and sat facing it until it was 5 to 2, then got up and walked over to the teacher and said ‘It’s time Mrs Evans. 2 stamps Eleanor’.

Authentic assessment 2:

The importance of creating a supportive and caring environment where children are enabled to demonstrate their full capabilities is captured in John’s story. He is a boy of 5 with a marked speech impediment and it is hard for those that don’t know him well to understand what he says and this can inhibit him and undermine his confidence. In his preschool setting, and at home, he feels secure enough to talk and as the people around him understand what he says, he takes great delight in sharing what he knows, such as telling the time. The teacher had told the class that they would be going into ‘singing’ at 2 o’clock. John instantly stated, ‘that’s when the big hand is at 12 and the little one points to 2’.

Authentic assessment 3:

Kieran, a 4-year-old boy, demonstrated his high level of competence in numbers and logical reasoning one cold morning while outside playing. He approached the teacher to ask how long it was before the end of play. When told ‘five minutes’, he thought for a while and then said; ‘so if I count to 60 five times that’s the end of play?’


Authentic assessment 4:

Two combined classes of nursery with reception children came together for a visit by the vet. There were 40 children altogether, which is a large number, and many of them did not know each other. The vet showed bits of equipment and asked the children closed and open questions such as, ‘When I go out to see animals I often take this. Do you know what it is and how it’s used?’

She also brought in two guinea pigs, which they were able to touch and stroke. The children were intrigued by the ‘poo’ they created. This learning opportunity was quickly seized by the vet and related to caring for animals with an explanation as to why pets need extra care compared to animals in the wild as they don’t have toilets in their cages.

Spontaneous questions burst forward from the children because they were intrigued by the context and not intimidated by the large group size. Their use of vocabulary and their sentence structure was easily observed and provided rich assessment opportunities for the staff. The teacher and two teacher assistants used ‘sticky notes’ to capture significant moments that showed significant evidence of learning, which included noticing which children were willing to hold the guinea pigs and which shied away. These observations were then used to adapt future sessions or care plans as appropriate.

Extensive section on the role of the observation

Using a simple system of ‘sticky notes’, it is possible to capture the voice of child and parent as well as noticing significant moments in a more time efficient and effective manner than specially prepared assessment tasks or activities. These descriptions can then be ‘posted’ into a plastic box or folder for that child’s key worker to review on a weekly basis. The key workers can then easily review this information to inform the planning of future activities as well as add to their summative judgment about the child, towards meeting their learning goals. This continuous process of teacher assessment helps to achieve an accurate picture of what the child is able to do as well as identify learning needs which are not yet being met, so that opportunities can be crafted to support this aspect of their development. This process of recording achievement is most effective when the adults in the child’s life work collaboratively to achieve the desired outcomes and is why developing a good relationship with the family is important (Siraj-Blatchford et al. 2002).

There are various simple processes being used to identify possible lines of development (PLOD) for specific children and these demonstrate how assessment observations can be used in a formative way. The initial hook of interest might be from home or within the setting and its purpose is to build on what interests the child and might motivate them to further develop a skill or area of interest:


Observation/ Interest

Possible lines of development



Parents say he is really interested in watching the builders next door build the new garage.

Bring in a selection of large cardboard boxes, masking tape and chubby felt pens so he can construct something of his own choice. Help might be required with cutting holes for doors or windows.



Every day this week she has headed straight for the corner with the sunflower seeds to check them.

Provide her with a hand-held magnifying glass and an assortment of paper, crayons and felt-tip pens so she can draw or recreate what she sees.



He shows great interest in the dressing-up box but not yet tried anything on.


Bring in the box of assorted hats and the free-standing safety mirror. Persuade his buddy Sam to join him in exploring the hats. Encourage them to take some photographs of each other using the class camera.


Opportunistic assessment is often achieved ‘on the fly’ or ‘on the spot’, especially by experienced qualified practitioners as they are attuned to what is significant. These authentic assessments can be documented using a simple system of ‘sticky notes’ written by the observer and placed in the child’s individual folder or ‘box’ or for consideration by the key worker. By having a realistic period of time elapse before reviewing the evidence, the key worker is also able to select the best evidence for record keeping purposes. These assessment approaches do not interfere with the learning but run seamlessly within the normal routine of the setting and capitalise on the moment as described in the following case studies:


Authentic assessment 5:

Previously an individual activity had taken place with the volunteer ‘granny’ who was a regular visitor to the setting and knew the children well. With her guidance, each child had carefully planted bulbs for mother’s day and watered them. On a subsequent day the children were left to their own devices to plant sunflower seeds to grow in school, before taking them home. This was part of their topic on ‘pets and plants’.

It was noticed by the teacher that a small group of children decided they were going to water the seedlings by themselves. One four-year-old girl found using the small watering can difficult to manipulate. This was noticed by a young four-year-old boy who was engaged in a different task nearby. Unexpectedly, he got up and carefully helped to tip the watering can from the base, ensuring the young girl was still ‘in charge’ of the watering process. 

The teacher who noticed this recognised it as demonstrating a high level of problem solving, and care and consideration for others. This forms part of the English learning goals for ‘personal, social and emotional development’ and was considered significant as the teacher recognised that for most children of this age they would have taken over and watered the seed for her, instead of scaffolding her success as he had.

Learning stories: Making assessment meaningful and relevant

In one preschool setting the experienced practitioner and her colleagues create a ‘memory book’ with each child where they can select from a range of evidence gathered over time, and decide on a few examples the child is most proud of. The opportunity to discuss learning and their interests with the child helps the teacher to really know and understand things through the child’s perspective and this information can then ‘feed-forward’ into adjusting the learning experiences to meet their needs within the group. This 1:1 opportunity provides an insight into their home environment as the child is able to chat about things that interest them and it provides the opportunity for the child to share particular worries they might be harbouring.

Together the child and teacher cut and stick in a sample of memories and leave some room for the parent to add their voice using the ‘proud cloud’ system. This is a communication tool to supplement casual conversations when the parent or carer collects the child. An A4 sheet with a cloud drawn on with the prompt ‘I am proud of my child …’ is sent home every few weeks and the parent is asked to reflect on their child’s progress (and let them know), while at the same time capturing this specific praise in a form that can contribute to the termly ‘memory book’. These memories might include photographs or pieces of work created in the setting or at home and also include the child’s voice through teacher annotation. 

While these books take time to construct, they are about the child and require them to use scissors and glue and justify their choices for selection in the book. It provides an opportunity to share their learning journey with them and their family as a celebration of achievement rather than focus on the assessment as a product.

Here the parent has made a contribution through the ‘proud cloud’ stating:

I am proud of my child ….

  • He can count to 20
  • He recognizes some 3-D shapes (cylinder, cube and sphere)
  • He knows all of his letter sounds

I am proud of my child ….

  • He helps his sister look after their guinea pigs
  • He tries hard in swimming and karate
  • He helps with the cleaning at home, especially the dusting
  • He helps to make cakes
  • He helps me in my office and also in the garden

The role of teacher observation, planning and assessment, coupled with the parents’ perspectives, is central to quality early years provision. Through this method, social skills, motor skills and cognitive skills can be developed in an enjoyable and effective way that recognises that developmental growth and learning are inexplicably linked, yet not the same.


Chris, a qualified teacher in a preschool nursery setting and reception class, draws on her observation skills to assess and create a ‘memory book’ as a means to asses and as a record of attainment.

Originally I trained as a drama specialist during my initial teacher training. I was trained to observe and develop my understanding of character in a variety of situations to enhance my own dramatic interpretation. This observational training has since been a crucial part of my teaching career as observing children enables me to decipher their learning strategies and styles and this helps me to know when to give input which encourages their mental growth and ongoing development, and when to stand back.

I draw on my finely attuned observation skills to gather evidence of learning, no matter how small, and this contributes to the way I assess learning and development and create a record that can be shared with the child and family, as well as adapt the planning of activities and topics. It’s all too easy to get sucked into the tick-box mentality but I realised that, knowing your children and understanding what the EYFS is looking for, there is no need to over-record what is going on.

The child does it (the assessment) for you; if you let them loose they will copy what they have seen and expand on it and do peer teaching. I don’t see the point of doing specific tests when the child is already showing you! You do need to put in the stimulus; you show them the rudiments of things but then they must make their own mistakes; that’s how they learn.

Learning to record what actually matters rather than every nitty-bitty bit is about understanding and seeing the next steps in the children. Children take time to come out with things so watching and observing over time is crucial to the assessment process. The right circumstances enable a child to say or do or think, so I give them the opportunity and they will come out with more ideas than you will ever come up with!

When Learning Journeys were first instigated, I developed a ‘scrapbook’ approach for each child which had photographs and examples of monitored tasks to show their progression. Parents, careers and the child were involved in this process. The ‘scrapbook’ idea has been enhanced over the years and has now become the ‘memory book’. It follows the child through their school year capturing moments in their development across the seven areas of learning as well as their own view of things. This assessment approach uses ‘snapshots’, ‘magic moments’ and ‘set observations’, so a good, rounded view is captured and celebrated.

Our half-termly topics enable my team and me to build on the children’s interests and incorporate the seven areas of learning in an authentic way. While it is second nature to me to observe young children at play and gauge their interests and attainment through their activities, this is something that I actively promote and develop with all the adults supporting the children and I help them to notice significant things when the children are playing by themselves, in a group, or as part of the larger class.