Am working on some training for Blackpool LA on how to identify good practice in FS and ensuring that there is sufficient challenge for children in the FS environment - which is not easy, but not impossible.
Some people think that this is only an issue if you have mixed age classes but that is a misconception. Any class has a range of abilities from Nursery upwards so the same rules apply.
I have already talked on the blog about how the content of your continuous provision ie what is actually on the shelves, should be dictated by assessment.
You can carry out the ' Why ' test and go to each area and look at each item and ask ' why is that there ' if you can't find an answer, remove or change it!
Also remember that this is the same for your outdoor provision.
All of your areas should show provision that allows for development of skills and reflect children's interests that you have identified - especially in areas like small world, construction and role play.
I have mentioned before about one of my children who has inspired ' baby ' play in the deconstructed role play, well, we have introduced a baby enhancement basket - this includes all of the usual baby items plus some books and other bits and pieces.
On Thursday last week one of the morning children brought a builders tool set that they had been given for their birthday and this inspired some great play. He forgot to take it home and it was found by an afternoon child who also inspired some brilliant ' fix it ' play with the other children.
So alongside our baby basket we will also have a builder's tub.
So, how can you ensure challenge in continuous provision? Well , it is a huge subject, but here are a few pointers...
1) Continuous Provision Audit
Carry out your audit of your continuous provision and then link it to recent assessment. Reference that assessment on your environment audit or action plan (DO NOT re-write it just tell the reader where they can find it).
2) The Continuous Provision Map
These are the things that you stick to the end of the shelves that you probably downloaded from somewhere else because you thought you had to have them!
First bit of advice - read them! They are making statements about what you have in your area and sometimes why. Are they accurate? Do you have evidence?
Second bit of advice - ask yourself the ' why? ' question. Why are they there? Who are they for? Who reads them?
It does not say much about your practice if you need to reference them, equally for any TA you have got working with you. Do parent helpers really spend time studying them before they do an activity? Would a ' helpers prompt sheet ' be more useful?
If they are just there for show then bin them! If you are not comfortable with that put them away in a book for reference!
JUST REMEMBER...they should change at LEAST 3 times a year to reflect a change in resources to meet the developing needs of your children.
3) Reducing the risk
You CANNOT guarantee what a child is doing when you are not with them to lead their learning. In the good old days you might have had a teaching time together and then sent off your groups. One to work with you and the other 4 to complete a themed worksheet. You were never sure exactly what the children who were not with you would do with their worksheet, but you had differentiated it to meet their assessed need.
You need to do the same within your CP - I don't mean give a work sheet!! I mean differentiate with some sort of challenge in the area - I will explain what I mean in a bit!
What you are doing is reducing the risk of children going into CP and reverting to familiar and non challenging tasks. Yes, lots of children need to consolidate skills - but not for a year!
How does challenge in continuous provision work?
Well, you can get as creative as you like... I have had great success with ' Challenge Cards ' that have both words and pictures. The idea is that you have 3 cards in an area , each with a differentiated challenge on it. You might direct particular children to a particular card - but again, you can't guarantee that they will do the challenge or interpret it in the way you intended them to, but...you are reducing the risk. You are also showing that you understand the children's current levels of attainment and that you are doing everything that you can to inspire them.
You are also giving them scope to surprise you -you might set them one challenge and they do a higher level one.
As with anything, you have to ' sell ' your idea to the children. If you just stick some cards into the CP they will never do it!
When I was last setting this up in a Reception class we had a ' Challenge Target Board '. It had 3 concentric circles in different colours.The colours corresponded to easy, okay and hard. At the end of the session with great excitement, the teacher would ask the children who had done their challenge today and then get them to share how they had found it. They self assessed: hard, okay or easy. Their photograph was then stuck onto that colour on the board.
Of course their assessment was often inaccurate but in the discussion about how they had completed the challenge there was lots of peer tutoring/direct teaching taking place.
NB: The colours of the challenge cards DO NOT match the colours of difficulty on the board as this would have an impact on self esteem if you could only ever do the ' easy ' challenges. My challenge cards change colour all of the time so that there is no pattern at all.
I know it is Sunday and this feels like a bit of a sermon, but we need to ensure that in Foundation Stage we take every opportunity to ensure we are maximising opportunities for attainment.
Of all of the stages of education I believe Foundation Stage offers the greatest potential for achievement - we should be making children feel that they ' can do ' every day. It also offers huge potential for lack of attainment as the environment is so free and given over to the preferences of the children. A skillful practitioner needs to guide and enhance those preferences to make the most of every opportunity to learn!
On Friday my TA was working with a group of children looking at different every day fruit and vegetables, working on their recognition.
When she produced an onion (with leaves) there were a number of blank faces. So, she decided to give them some ' clues ' to help them.
On the spot the best she could come up with was ' If I chop it it will make your eyes water '
' If I chop it, it will make your eyes water...what could it be? '
Still no response....
One again... ' If I chop it, it will make your eyes water...come on...what could it be....?'
Boy: ' My willy? '
It took us at least half an hour to recover from our hysteria - I will never look at an onion in the same way again!!