Assessing young children's thinking: Moving beyond adult-based models to a co-construction approach

Year: 2012

Author: Lee, Scott

Type of paper: Abstract refereed


This paper reports on the development of a model for assessing young children's thinking competence based on insights offered by children on their thinking processes. The interest in developing competencies such as problem-solving and thinking skills to meet 21st century challenges in developed economies have engendered different approaches to teaching and assessing these skills among learners, including young children. The comparison of novice to expert or model performance is one useful approach that has been adopted in instructional and assessment design. In particular, models of strategies that adults use when engaged in cognitive task performances have been utilised to assess young children's thinking competence and cognitive task performance. Models of task performance have been based, for example, on adults' conception of what constitutes effective problem-solving and decision processes. Socio-cultural researchers and educators argue for a more balanced pedagogical approach between the adult and child that takes into account the situated nature of learning and children's emergent competence. The cognitive model of task performance co-constructed between the researcher and the children in the study reported here is a direct response to this challenge.

The qualitative study involved 28 seven to eight year-olds in a primary classroom in New Zealand and examined a total of 25 observed cases of children's task performances over a period of three months. Information gathered through classroom observations and informal conversations were used to develop a cognitive model of the children's task performance in the process of conceiving and developing a product for their class assignments. Case examples are discussed in this paper to demonstrate how the cognitive model can be used to analyse and assess children's thinking competence.

The co-construction approach offers three advantages in assessing young children's thinking competence. First, it is contextualised because it draws from the actual knowledge and processing skills employed by the children in their naturalistic task performance. Second, it is evidence-based because it relies on data derived from observed behaviour and dialogue with the children. Third, it is constructive in nature and therefore allows for examination of children's task performances in situations where processes commonly identified in theoretical literature do not adequately describe the process that children are engaged in.