06 – Keynote 6 – Innovations in early childhood: Understanding and responding to children’s needs through effective assessment

Presentation - ECV2022-Keynote 6

Innovations in early childhood: Understanding and responding to children’s needs through effective assessment

Cathrine Neilsen-Hewett, University of Wollongong, Australia (cnhewett@uow.edu.au )

Biography: Associate Professor Cathrine Neilsen-Hewett is the Academic Director of the Early Years, University of Wollongong. She has demonstrated leadership and scholarship in translational research with a strong track record in supporting professional development initiatives across the early childhood education sector. She has co-led six large-scale transformational Early Start research projects across three Australian states, in over 450 early childhood education and care (ECEC) services, with more than 3,500 children. Her current research projects focus on quality early childhood environments and workforce development, integrated early childhood service platforms, approaches to assessment, along with children’s self-regulation and wellbeing.

Background: Educators’ ability to respond to the inherent differences in children’s abilities plays a crucial role in supporting learning and development. Intentional and differentiated teaching models demand a deeper awareness of children’s current capabilities, yet few tools exist that provide a comprehensive and rich picture of each child’s early learning. The ability to shift children’s early developmental trajectories therefore depends on educators’ ability to develop a rich and comprehensive picture of children’s abilities, capabilities, and dispositions for learning.

The presentation introduces the audience to the Early Years Toolbox, a set of playful tools (activities and games) that provide early childhood educators with actionable information about children’s progress in key areas of learning and development. Together we explore the value of early childhood assessment and the role it plays in empowering educators to meet children where they are at as well as create rich and responsive learning environments that enrich and extend children’s learning and development. 

This presentation begins with an overview of the Toolbox and the practice framework (i.e., activities and pedagogical practices) that supports it. In the second part, practitioners from the University of Wollongong’s Early Start Engagement Centre network will share real-life examples, highlighting both the efficacy of the tools and the complementary work of a professional development model. The practitioners will discuss how they have used the Early Years Toolbox with children, the support gained through coaching and mentoring, and the impact it has had on their practice with children and families.  

Implications for practitioners: The more we understand children, the better placed we are to support their development. The power of early childhood assessment lies not in the data per se but in its ability to strengthen educators’ pedagogy and practice. In this presentation, we discuss how early childhood assessment can empower you to create rich learning environments that respond to and enrich children’s engagement and learning. 

Key words: professional voices, innovations, early childhood education quality, assessment, child development 

This presentation relates to the following United Nations Sustainable Development Goals: 

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