Assessment is the process of gathering and interpreting information that accurately reflects the child's demonstration of learning in relation to the knowledge and skills outlined in the overall expectations of The Kindergarten Program. The primary purpose of assessment is to improve learning and to help children become self-regulating, autonomous learners. (Growing Success – The Kindergarten Addendum, 2016, p. 6)

Assessment is the key to children's learning in Kindergarten. It takes place concurrently with instruction and is an integral part of learning.

Young children reveal their understanding in what they say, what they do, and what they depict, or represent. Educators observe, listen, and ask probing questions in order to document and interpret the children's thinking and learning and, in their interactions with the children, to develop a shared understanding of what they are learning and what the next steps in their learning should be.

Pedagogical documentation: What are we learning from research?

Documenting the evidence of learning is the most important aspect of assessment in Kindergarten and is, indeed, an integral part of all assessment approaches. (Growing Success – The Kindergarten Addendum, 2016, p. 8)

The term "pedagogical documentation" is currently used to refer to the process of gathering and analysing a wide range of evidence of a child's thinking and learning over time and using the insights gained to make the child's thinking and learning visible to the child and the child's family. The process enables educators to support further learning for each child in the most effective way possible.

Information about children's learning is gathered from observations, notes, photos, videos, voice recordings, work samples, and interactions with children.footnote 1 That information, or evidence of learning, is analysed and interpreted by the educators in collaboration with the children and their parents or other family members to gain insights into the children's learning paths and processes. The insights gained are the basis for determining next steps in the child's learning.

The monograph "Pedagogical Documentation", in the ministry's Capacity Building Series, cites educational research in describing the benefits of reviewing and analysing evidence of learning:

One of the greatest predictors of new learning is prior knowledge and understanding. William (2011) outlines how educators can harness this predictive power by eliciting and interpreting evidence of students' thinking. He suggests that assessing student learning [to support] instruction has proven to have "unprecedented power to increase student engagement and to improve learning outcomes" [p. 13]. Other researchers support this claim. Earl and Hannay (2011) suggest that through the rigorous use of evidence of student learning... educators are becoming "knowledge leaders", pushing our understanding of teaching and learning to the frontiers of innovation [p. 191]. (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2012, p. 1)

These findings are relevant for students from Kindergarten to Grade 12. Gathering and analysing evidence of children's learning supports pedagogical decision making about a variety of questions, including what approaches and materials are most likely to help the child learn, what contexts for learning will suit the child best, which groupings of children will allow for individual learning needs to be addressed effectively, and what level of support to offer as the child engages in new learning.

Rinaldi (2006) refers to documentation as the "pedagogy of listening" and "visible listening" (pp. 65, 68). Pedagogical documentation is not a form of summative assessment and should not be reserved for the end of a given period of time. Instead, it is done on an ongoing basis, and it may involve revisiting and rethinking evidence, as part of a cyclical process that promotes children's growth and learning.

Educator team reflections

At first we thought we had to document everything. With two educators in the room, it was possible to capture an overwhelming quantity of photos, recordings, and transcripts. We had to begin there. Now we are becoming more discerning in what we document. We are trying to slow down and think, "Was that really noteworthy?" We are starting to ask reflective questions about the documentation. We notice which children are there and, sometimes more importantly, which ones are not. We are also seeing ourselves in the process – we notice what we are saying and doing and how we are interacting. It is like putting a complex puzzle together.

The evidence we collected allowed us to see many more possibilities for making children's thinking and learning visible. Using various forms of documentation challenged us to see the children differently, and to value each child's unique process of development. What was made visible was the learning process of children, their multiple languages, and the particular strategies that each child used.

Later on, after practising pedagogical documentation for a few months, we realized that we'd moved from capturing "stories of learning" to engaging in the "study of learning".

Capturing and deeply analysing diverse representations of student thinking and learning can be very challenging. That's why the value of collaborative inquiry – that is, of team members working together to study and record student learning and thinking – cannot be underestimated. While documentation provides rich descriptions of what students say, do, and represent, it is the educator team's collective reflection on and analysis of the evidence that deepens understanding. The first step, therefore, is to have a team that is committed to placing documentation at the heart of learning.

Read: "Pedagogical Documentation Revisited", Capacity Building Series, K-12 (January 2015)

Using pedagogical documentation to best effect

Helm, Beneke, and Stenheimer (2007) argue that documentation is of limited value if it is not used to gain further insights into children's thinking and learning and to determine where to go next in learning. "As long as teachers remember that documentation is a tool meant to inform their teaching, their time learning these new skills will have been well spent" (p. 40).

Only after considerable analysis of what the documentation reveals, in terms of children's theories, understandings, and misunderstandings, will teachers be in a position to formulate hypotheses, predictions, and projections about future learning experiences that have continuity with children's current thinking, and that will challenge and engage a particular group of learners at a particular time and place. (Brenda Fyfe in Gandini and Kaminsky, 2004, p. 7, citing the ideas of John Dewey, 1938)

When a piece of documentation seems puzzling, educators gain important insights into the child's thinking and learning by taking the time for deep analysis and interpretation from multiple perspectives – the child's, the parents', and that of other educators – and by going back to obtain additional evidence. Recognizing that learning is a complex process, educators understand the importance of "slowing down" – of taking the time to listen and observe, in an "inquiry stance" (see Chapter 1.2, "Play-Based Learning in a Culture of Inquiry"). They ask questions and reflect on the impact that their pedagogical decisions and approaches are having on a child's learning. In this way, educators deepen their understanding and adapt practice to respond more precisely to the child's needs and readiness to learn, as part of "assessment for learning" and "assessment as learning" (see the section "Co-constructing Learning with the Children: Assessment for Learning and Assessment as Learning", below).

From traditional note taking to pedagogical documentation

Traditionally, early primary educators used what was known as an observation note or anecdotal note. For example:

  • January 15: Bradley built a tower using floor blocks today. He worked with Siri and Navid.

Pedagogical documentation differs from the observation note in that it includes the thinking – both the child's and the educator's – that accompanied the action. For example:

  • January 15, 9:30 a.m.: Bradley said he felt tired this morning, but when he noticed that Siri and Navid were starting to build a tower using the floor blocks, he perked up and joined them. We notice that he is often more engaged when constructing things. Let's use that knowledge to see if we can spark his interest in reading.

While educators are gathering evidence of children's thinking, it is important for them to have a method in place for organizing it and for identifying trends, patterns, and next steps. Many educators emphasize the value of technology in collecting information, both to analyse the children's thinking and learning and to assess their own approaches. "Technology allowed us to go back and examine our use of prompts... We were able to reflect on the type of questions we were asking students" (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2012, p. 7).

The importance of educator self-awareness in pedagogical documentation

According to Rinaldi (2006, p. 196), an educator's documentation of a child's learning is deeply influenced by his or her own ideas, concepts, and knowledge, as well as by the quality of the educator's relationship with, and perception of, the child.

The choices educators make about what to document reveal their values and what they deem important to notice about children. As educators document children's learning, they must be aware of their own subjectivity and biases – that is, they must recognize that they are capturing and representing children's learning through the lens of their particular perspective on children and on how children learn.

When educators view the child through an "asset lens" – that is, with a focus on what the child brings to the learning (strengths, interests, previous learning and experience) rather than on what the child does not know or cannot do – they are able to capture the child's unique learning processes. Seeing all children as competent and capable of complex thinking and learning promotes effective documentation.

In their observations and interpretations, educators must also be "particularly careful not to assume that children see situations, problems, or solutions as adults do. Instead, good teachers interpret what the child is doing and thinking and attempt to see the situation from the child's point of view" (Clements & Sarama, 2009, p. 4).

In all aspects of pedagogical documentation, educators must also recognize their responsibility to represent others in ways that are ethical and respectful.

Educator team reflection

We reflected on a comment we heard at a workshop on pedagogical documentation – that, in order to reflect children's learning accurately, without bias, educators had to take the "role of the observer" into account.

We thought about the role we'd been playing as we observed the children, and the lens through which we viewed them. We realized that we had been using documentation only to identify what a child could or could not do. We were using a "checklist lens" to determine whether an expectation had been achieved or not, and we collected data about which expectations still needed to be covered. That was our "bias", our "agenda". Our questions to the children tended to focus on discrete skills – for example, "How many blocks did you use?" and "What colours did you pick for your painting?" As we went forward, our role as active listeners improved. We began to try to capture the thinking and learning that was taking place rather than simply checking items off a list. We began to ask more open-ended questions, such as, "Tell me more about your building" and "What were you imagining when you were painting this picture?" This approach allowed us to see what the children were already capable of and how we could support them in developing further or thinking more deeply. Our role changed – we continued to collect data, but we also entered into a relationship with each child – a relationship focused on learning.

Questions for reflection: Pedagogical documentation

  • What are we choosing to document? Why?
  • What form of documentation will best illustrate what we're witnessing? How will we share this documentation?
  • What are the child's ideas about this piece of documentation?
  • How does the use of documentation influence the child's experiences and responses?
  • How can we involve family members in the documentation process?

  • What ideas and questions is the child exploring? What questions does the child appear to be exploring?
  • How is the child using the materials? Is the child making adjustments and refining his or her actions? In what ways?
  • How is the child using the physical space? How does the child react to different levels of sensory stimulation?
  • How is the child using his or her time?
  • What is the child saying about what he or she is doing and thinking? What does the child's body language tell us?
  • How is the child responding emotionally to the environment, experiences, and other children and adults?
  • What does the child do in the context of others in the group? How does the child adjust his or her actions or behaviour in relation to others? How does the child demonstrate understanding of another person's perspective?

Co-constructing learning with the children: Assessment for learning and assessment as learning

Through pedagogical documentation, educators connect learning and teaching as they share, review, and interpret evidence of the children's learning with the children. The children reflect on the documentation with the educators, and the educators provide descriptive feedback that helps the children understand what they are learning and provides guidance about where they can go next in their learning. Working in an inquiry stance, educators engage in questioning and dialogue with the children to understand what they are thinking and wondering, and consider possible adaptations in their practice to meet the child's learning needs. The educators and children arrive at a shared understanding of what has been learned and negotiate next steps in learning – that is, they co-construct the children's learning.

Assessment for learning

As educators analyse and interpret the information that they have collected, they are able to assess children's developmental progress and use the insights gained to inform instruction – that is, to design contexts for new learning that are appropriate to each child's observed strengths and that occur at the "edge" of the child's learning. This process is part of assessment for learning, providing insights and information about the children's current thinking and learning. Ongoing observation, documentation, and assessment then reveal new learning – a shift in the child's thinking that demonstrates that learning has occurred. Assessment for learning is ongoing and drives instruction. It occurs in all contexts of children's play and inquiry.

The interpretation and analysis of the evidence gathered, based on an understanding of the child's development and of what is within the range of things the child can do, with and without guidance (that is, of what is within the child's zone of proximal development), is the starting point for making thinking and learning visible.

Making connections between previous and new experiences

In order for learning to take place, the brain must be able to make connections and find patterns. As children make connections between the things they already know and new information, their brain creates patterns that help them understand the world around them. It is therefore critical that children have multiple and varied opportunities to make connections between previous experiences and the new experiences that they are having every day. When educators see, document, and analyse evidence that these connections are being made, they are able to co-construct and negotiate with the children experiences that support and extend the children's learning.

As the documentation accumulates over time and educators and children reflect on it daily, children begin to internalize the learning and apply it in other contexts. Educator teams analyse the documentation to determine the growth of the child's learning in relation to the knowledge and skills identified in the overall expectations set out in The Kindergarten Program.

They focus their observations on concepts, skills, applications, and characteristics that are described in the Kindergarten program expectations.

Educator team reflection

We are seeing how competent and capable young learners are as they talk about their thinking. Children are becoming better communicators, and it's partly because they feel that their voice matters. They are valued in the co-construction of their learning. Educators are letting the children initiate and finding the fit for the program expectations in their authentic experience, rather than beginning with the expectation. The evidence is in the children's enriched talk.

See Chapter 1.2, "Play-Based Learning in a Culture of Inquiry" for more information about co-constructing learning.

Sustained shared thinking

As part of assessment for learning, educators engage children in sustained shared thinking through ongoing conversation focused, for example, on solving a problem, evaluating a situation, or extending a narrative (ADEEWR, 2009, p. 15). In the process, the children's thinking is extended, and the educators and children gain insight into the children's learning.

Sustained shared thinking involves the use of strategies such as the following during interactions with children:

  • acknowledging, noticing, and naming what the child is doing or saying (e.g., "I watched you push the counters to one side as you counted them")
  • clarifying (e.g., "Did you mean that the animals might like to be in the pasture?")
  • prompting the child towards further thinking and learning ("How will I know how to drive safely in the town you've built?")

Educators offer descriptive feedback as they notice and name the learning and guide children towards appropriate next steps.

Assessment as learning

Educators engage in assessment as learning when they support children in setting individual goals, monitoring their own progress, determining next steps, and reflecting on their thinking and learning, to help them become confident, autonomous learners. (Growing Success – The Kindergarten Addendum, 2016, p. 6)

Assessment as learning – the process that involves children in thinking about and understanding their own learning and that helps them become autonomous learners – is part of making thinking and learning visible. In the past, metacognition was not considered to be within young children's capacity. However, children show evidence of such thinking often and in various contexts. Children contribute to their own assessments through their reflections on the documentation. As children reflect on and analyse evidence of their own learning with the educators, they learn to identify for themselves what they need to do to further their own learning. The children also engage in peer assessment – building on one another's views, perspectives, ideas, and wonderings – and learn more about their own learning in the process.

Educator team reflection

We asked the children as they played if they found what they were doing challenging. One child said, "Yes, I was doing pictures and words. Words are tricky, but I sounded it out and looked with my eyes so I could do it, and look, I did it." Another child said "No, 'cause I worked hard and I found the numbers. Next time I will go past forty to a hundred – that is an even bigger number." A third child responded, "Yes, it was a challenge because I made it so big and now I made a plan to work on it some more another day." The children are insightful about their own and each other's learning. They go to each other for ideas all the time. At first we thought they would not be able to think about their own learning, let alone describe and discuss it, but we were amazed at the depth of their insights! We learned so much from them – as they did – about who they are as learners and what they had actually learned.

Noticing and naming the learning: The link to learning goals and success criteria

As educators and children interact during play, the educators make the children's thinking and learning visible to them by "noticing and naming" what they are learning. As the educators provide descriptive feedback, they create a picture for children of what and how they are learning – for example, "I see you've put down two blue blocks and one green block, then two blue ones and one green one again. We call that a pattern." They share the language that enables children to identify and understand what they are doing.

Noticing and naming the learning serves as a vehicle for sharing learning goals and success criteria with the children. Educators articulate broad learning goals – representing subsets or clusters of the knowledge and skills outlined in the expectations – and share them in conversation with the children in terms and language that the children will understand. They also "notice and name" the success criteria – the accomplishments that relate to the learning goals.

The following examples illustrate what educators and children in Kindergarten might say as they describe learning goals and success criteria connected with the program's overall expectations (OEs) and conceptual understandings. Children grasp learning goals readily when they think of themselves as taking on a new role or identity – and as being competent to do so:

  • I am learning about patterns. [Relates to OE18, OE20]
    • I can identify a pattern.
    • I can describe a pattern.
  • I am a communicator. I can express my thoughts and ideas and feelings to others in lots of different ways. [Relates to OE1, OE22]
    • I showed how I was feeling in this painting.
    • I can talk about how I built my tower.
  • I am a member of our class community. [Relates to OE3]
    • I share and take turns.
    • I can listen when other children say what they are thinking.
  • I am a problem solver. [Relates to OE4, OE23, and OE24]
    • I identified what the problem was first.
    • I thought about whether our solution worked or whether we needed to solve the problem another way.

Learning goals articulated in this way enable children to think about and to begin to direct their own learning. Together, learning goals and success criteria help children focus their learning efforts, understand what comes next, and begin to make decisions about their learning. With the educators' scaffolded support, they can identify how their learning aligns with the learning goals. The strategy of noticing and naming can be used to support children as they move forward, regardless of their developmental level. "As the children participate in and reflect on a variety of learning experiences, they develop and deepen their understanding of what their learning looks like and what their next steps in learning might be" (Growing Success – The Kindergarten Addendum, 2016, p. 8).

Questions for reflection: Learning goals and success criteria

  • How do we know when a child is learning? What happens and what do we observe when a child is learning?
  • How will we know what helps a child to learn, and what inhibits or limits the child's learning?
  • How will children know when and what they are learning?
  • Do the learning goals reflect our view of the children as competent and capable?
  • Are we making appropriate and timely adaptations in the learning goals of all children, including children with special education needs, and providing the accommodations that enable each child to learn?
  • Are we mindful that learning goals should support the knowledge and skills described in the overall expectations and conceptual understandings? Are we careful to avoid using learning goals to define specific learning too narrowly and so inadvertently restrict the children's exploration? Are we careful to make the distinction between learning goals and success criteria (e.g., the accomplishments along the way)?
  • What do we notice about the children's learning when we help them understand their learning goals and success criteria and consciously involve them in making decisions related to their learning?

Misconceptions about learning goals and success criteria in Kindergarten

  • That posting learning goals and success criteria on the walls is sufficient to make children understand them and to help children learn
  • That goals should be narrow in scope (e.g., "I know all the letters of the alphabet" or "I can sort objects")
  • That learning goals and success criteria are incompatible with play-based learning
  • That goals should be created by the educators, without involving the child or without taking into account the child's expressed needs and interests
  • That children can work towards only one learning goal at a time
  • That all children have to focus on the same learning goal at the same time
  • That meeting a learning goal means meeting a defined set of success criteria

Considerations in assessment of learning: Children's demonstration of learning

Assessment of learning involves summarizing a child's key learning and growth in learning in relation to the overall expectations at a given point in time, and outlining next steps in learning. As educators assess children's learning, they must bear in mind that children enter the Kindergarten program at different stages of development and with diverse backgrounds and experiences – and that they will leave it at different stages and at different points in their growth in relation to the program expectations.

Educators must also take into consideration that the period of adjustment to school is longer for some children than for others. Children should therefore be given ample time to demonstrate their learning through varied learning opportunities that are appropriate for their stage of development and within their zone of proximal development.

Young children will demonstrate their learning in many different ways. Factors that influence whether and how children will demonstrate what they know and are able to do include the following:

  • the time of day
  • the situation
  • the kinds of questions that are asked
  • the child's previous experience and familiarity with the content
  • the child's facility with the language of instruction
  • differences in cultural norms, values, and practices regarding learning and ways of demonstrating learning
  • the child's capacity for social interaction

To allow for and come to understand the range of influences that may affect a child's learning at any given time, educators should observe and document the child's learning on an ongoing basis in the context of everyday experiences, using a variety of strategies and tools.

Questions for reflection: Determining influences on children's demonstration of learning

  • Whose perspectives on and interpretations of our documentation of the child's learning have we considered (e.g., those of parents and other family members, other children, school staff)?
  • How did our words or actions influence the child's experience?
  • What other factors may have influenced the child's thinking and learning or the child's demonstration of learning (e.g., environmental or cultural factors, time of day, previous experiences, particular types of accommodations)?
  • What changes have we noticed over time? Have we noticed differences in the child's demonstration of learning in different contexts?
  • How will we use what we've learned from our analysis of the documentation?

Collaborating with parents to make thinking and learning visible

Parents contribute to the documentation by sharing their understanding of learning that happens at home. (Pascal, 2009a, p. 13)

Ongoing, reciprocal communication with children and their families throughout the processes of assessment for, as, and of learning is essential to support children's learning. Educators provide parents and families with information to assist them in understanding the assessment process, including the ways in which assessment helps to identify a child's strengths and how best to proceed with the child's learning. Parents should be invited to participate and observe their child in the classroom setting as often as they can, to review documentation of the child's learning with the educators and the child, and to discuss their observations with the team. Involving parents in the review of documentation will enrich the educators' analysis and understanding of the child's learning, provide insights about the child's background and behaviour at home, and contribute profoundly to the child's learning.

Growing Success – The Kindergarten Addendum (2016) provides details about communicating the child's learning to parents formally, at three points during the school year, using the provincial Kindergarten Communication of Learning templates.

View: Video clips

  • "Engaging families in observation, documentation and making learning
  • "One parent's reflection on how learning is made visible through documentation"

See "Parents and Families" in Chapter 3.2.


  • footnote[1] Back to paragraph Educators should be aware of any school board policy or guidelines related to storing, sharing, or disseminating print or digital images or recordings of children. Educators are expected to comply with any such policies.