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6.4: Assessment Strategies and Tools

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    illustration of a branch
    Branch icon © Lucy La Croix is licensed under a CC BY-SA (Attribution ShareAlike) license

    Children possess a wealth of knowledge and curiosity that educators leverage intentionally to enrich, extend, and enhance the knowledge and skills children demonstrate. Assessment data guides educators’ differentiation practices and supports their efforts to provide meaningful and relevant learning experiences for individual learner’s literacy needs (Ivernizzi et al., 2010; Rosko, 2004). When considering how to embed effective assessment practices into daily instructional routines it is helpful to think of assessment as a series of ongoing evaluations that help educators’ notice and note young children’s literacy expressions. Intentional noticings influence how educators reshape the environment and curricular opportunities to continue to nurture and challenge a child’s emerging literacies. To fully document a child’s literacy understandings, educators need to feel comfortable using multiple assessment tools.

    The following section describes a number of assessment tools educators use to capture children’s literacy expressions. The assessment tools are flexible and can be used in a variety of ways to focus educators’ intentional noticings. To fully represent a child’s emergent literacy knowledge, educators frequently need to use a combination of assessment tools. Learning how to manipulate a core set of assessment tools eases educators’ efforts embracing ongoing assessment practices. Anecdotal notes, observational running records, checklists, frequency counts, artifact sampling, documentation panels, and portfolios provide educators with a variety of options for capturing children’s literacy expressions. These assessment tools can be used informally or to provide evidence as part of a formal assessment process (e.g., AEPSi, GOLD®, and Transdisciplinary-Based Play). The flexible nature of these assessment tools allows educators to capture children’s literacy expressions throughout the day. Moreover, these assessment practices can become a regular part of children’s and educators’ daily routines.

    This video will serve as an introduction to documentation.

    According to this video, why is documentation a critical component of assessment in early childhood?

    What are some of the various ways the preschool and toddler teachers documented the progress of the children shown?

    6.4a Anecdotal Notes

    Anecdotal notes are brief and descriptive notes made after a specific behavior or interaction occurs (Mindes & Jung, 2015). In the classroom, teachers write anecdotal notes to record student behaviors, skills, and performance and compile the anecdotal notes on students as a document system. The cumulative information can be used to track progress and changes in a child’s behavior and performance as well as plan for activities and strategies to use in the classroom. Once environments are established, educators can use anecdotal notes to document children’s literacy performances as they play with their peers in literacy enriched contexts.

    Figure 6.5 provides an example of an anecdotal note captured by Jinah’s teacher while she was writing a grocery list in the dramatic play center. As the teacher paused to watch and listen to Jinah and Emma, she focused in on Jinah’s emergent writing process. Jinah’s focused effort illustrates an emerging knowledge of the alphabetic principle and her ability to identify initial, and some ending, phonemes.

    Figure 6.5 Example of an Anecdotal Note
    Context Anecdotal Note
    Grocery Store themes in dramatic play centers encourage children to explore a number of literacy concepts. Inventory sheets encourage grocery workers to tally and count supplies to stock the shelves. Notepads prompt children to create lists to help them remember what they want to buy when they are the customer. Labels with pictures on the shelves and at the checkout support children’s “reading” of the play environment. Date: Sept 7, 2021

    Jinah chose dramatic play during the center time. She and Emma decided to make fruit salad for their lunch and started to write a grocery list. They talked about which fruit they wanted to add in their salad. In a grocery list, Jinah mouthed the word apple and wrote AL with a red marker. Saying A and L as she wrote. She continued… WN (watermelon), GS (grapes). Jinah identified the uppercase letters A, L, G, S, W, N. Her grocery list shows she also understands the sounds of those letters.

    6.4b Observational Running Records

    Observational running records are detailed and comprehensive notes written while an event is happening. Running records capture an individual child’s (or a group of children’s) language and literacy behaviors in a short period of time, generally between 5 and 10 minutes. The extended nature of a running record requires planning to ensure the educator has enough additional instructor support to allow for a focused observation with minimal interruptions. When planning to conduct a running record it is a good idea to identify the child, the context, and the duration of the observation before scripting the observational data. Once a running record is complete, educators typically rejoin the learning environment or shift to observing another child. Evaluations of the running records are completed at a later time, when the educator has the time to intentionally analyze the child’s performances against relevant milestones, trajectories, or benchmarks. Educators use running records throughout the year and the collection of records reveals a child’s growth overtime.

    Figure 6.6 provides an example of a running record focused on a child’s language patterns, physical performances, and emergent reading skills. During this observational assessment moment, Ms. Everston planned to observe Danielle during outdoor recess to document who she decided to play with and the storyline she decided to enact. During the observation block, Ms. Everston worked to write down everything she directly observed regarding the child’s actions including body movements and gestures, verbal exchanges, and facial expressions. Notice that she is not involved in Danielle’s play while writing notes, and in her written notations she refrains from making judgements or assumptions about the child’s intentions or literacy performances.

    Date: 10-26-2020

    Time: 2:15-2:22

    Child: Danielle (age 2 ½ – 30 months)

    Place: Playground

    Setting: Transportation Track

    Others involved: Miss Haskins (preschool teacher -MH)

    Observer: Ms. Everston

    Objective for this observation:

    To assess how Danielle spent her time at the playground and how she used language to communicate with her peers and adults while interacting with them.

    Time Observation
    2:15 Danielle walks up to a tricycle and points at it. She looked at the teacher who was assisting another child. Miss Haskins (MH)- “Sure, you can ride the tricycle, Danielle.” Danielle holds the right handlebar with her right hand and tries to lift her left leg to sit on the saddle. She repeats, “Ride bike.” (MH) says, “Yes, Danielle go ahead. You can do it.”
    2:17 She lifts her left leg over and sits down on the seat and shakes her hand for the teacher to come. Again, she says, “Ride bike.” MH “Where would you like to go?” D- “Go round” D gestures to the roundabout in the transportation track where two other children are going around and around the traffic circle.
    2:19 MH – “Okay, so how do you want to get there?” (At the start of the transportation track she can choose to go around on a blue or green path.) D – “Go blue” D points to a path and points the front handlebars and tire to the blue path. D – motor noises begin “Broom, -oom” humming and buzzing of lips as D begins pedaling on the blue arrows.
    2:21 D pedals and “brooms” with head leaning forward toward the handle bars and eyes focused slightly up. D’s eyes go big and her voice gets louder …“I see stop.” D stops pedaling at the red stop sign on the track. “I go.” D continues pedaling to the roundabout. (end-2:22)
    Analysis date/time: 10/26/20 at 3:30

    Assessment: Transdisciplinary-Based Play II (Linder, 2008)

    Danielle’s interactions with the teacher align with communication development milestones for a child of 30 months. She names one color, uses two- and three-word combinations to communicate her ideas. Danielle’s command of the pedals on the tricycle is also developmentally appropriate. Danielle shows some evidence of problem-solving skill by selecting a color path to travel around. Danielle also demonstrated memory skills in her response to the stop sign by recognizing the sign and then performing the corresponding action. Danielle’s reading of the stop sign also demonstrates that she is recognizing some familiar signs/symbols, an important emergent literacy skill.

    A child rides a tricycle down concrete that has white arrows showing which direction to ride on each side of a double yellow line. A stop sign stands at the end of one side of the pretend road.
    Children learn familiar symbols, such as stop signs, even before they are connecting letters to sounds. Child and Tricycle © Flickr is licensed under a CC0 (Creative Commons Zero) license

    6.4c Checklists

    Checklists are useful tools for documenting some emergent literacy skills and behaviors (Mindes & Jung, 2015). Intentionally designed checklists can help an educator attend to specific literacy performances in the moment. Checklists are particularly useful when an educator is learning to notice particular literacy expressions or capturing a child’s expressions during play. Educators can use checklists to quickly document specific literacy skills and use the list to determine subsequent instructional opportunities. Checklists do not indicate how well a child performs, they document moments when a child did or did not perform a particular literacy skill. In the opening vignette at the beginning of this chapter, Mr. Costello used a checklist to document the letter names Isabella readily identifies as she plays with letters at the water table. Figure 6.7 provides an example of a letter identification checklist designed to document children’s letter play across a variety of contexts. Notice how this checklist is enhanced with a spot for anecdotal notations. Adding a space for anecdotal notes helps mediate the fact that a checklist alone provides limited insight into a child’s literacy performances.

    Figure 6.7 Observational Checklist

    Observation Checklist

    Alphabet Play

    Location: Water Table

    Context: Chicka Chicka Boom Boom Letter Island

    Letter Focus: 26 lower case letters

    Child’s Name: Isabella Date: Nov 10



    Anecdotal Notes: Isabella flipped the lower case b around singing, “Look, I’m a B… Look, I’m a P…Look, I’m a B…” in a sing-songy voice as she danced the letter across the water. Note: Play ended before she interacted with any additional letters.

    6.4d Artifacts

    Collecting artifacts as evidence of children’s literacy expressions is an essential authentic assessment practice for early childhood educators. Artifacts provide evidence of children’s literacy expressions and learning at a particular moment in time. Photographs, videos, work samples, child generated products, and audio recordings of children engaging in literacy explorations are some examples of artifacts educators collect over time to understand children’s emergent literacy performances. Deciding what artifacts to hold onto and what artifacts or archival moments to pass by can be overwhelming as educators first begin collecting documentation of a child’s performances. To begin the process, consider collecting at least one type of literacy-focused artifact (e.g. a photograph, a short video, a writing sample, etc.) from each child every week. As each artifact is collected, use the developmental reading, writing, and language progressions the school uses to notice what can be readily observed about a child’s literacy knowledge. With practice, recognizing when an artifact yields important insight about a child’s literacy knowledge and how to analyze different artifacts becomes easier. Over time, these authentic assessments are joyful reminders for educators and families of how much a child learns over the course of a year.

    6.4e Frequency Counts

    As the name suggests, frequency counts are used to document how often a particular event occurs. Educators create frequency count charts to capture how many times a child performs or engages in a particular literacy event. For example, an educator might use a frequency count to monitor how often a child self-selects reading a book in the class library or uses the puppet theater to tell a story. The information provided by such frequency counts provides some insight into where a child spends their time, but the information is limited. A frequency count does not capture how the child is interacting with the literacy rich materials and might not capture other play spaces where the child is using their literacy skills (e.g., when the child uses cookbooks and recipe cards in the kitchen). Therefore, frequency counts should not be used in isolation to draw conclusions about the child’s overall literacy enactments.

    On the other hand, literacy focused frequency counts may be most impactful when educators use them to determine how frequently particular learning centers and literacy-rich materials are utilized by the children over a period of time. This type of data could help an educator notice trends in the children’s literacy play routines to make intentional changes to the children’s instructional environment. A frequency count could lead an educator to enhance particular spaces by adding writing or supplemental text materials or prompt the educator to model the use of specific literacy tools to support children’s literacy-based play (e.g., felt boards, dry erase boards, graph paper).

    6.4f Event Sampling

    Event sampling is used to document a child’s performances during a specific event. Charts can be used to quickly capture when a child engages in particular literacy events. Figure 6.8 provides an example of an event sampling chart designed to strategically focus on children’s explorations of fiction and non-fiction texts in the class library. Collected over an extended period of time, the basic event sampling chart information yields some insight into children’s text preferences and what the child attends to when reading or retelling a text. When more information about a child’s behavior is desired, event sampling may be combined with an antecedent, behavior, and consequence (ABC) assessment frame to support an educators’ sequencing of a particular event. Figure 6.8 provides an example of how the teacher, Mr. Thompson, uses the ABC assessment frame to analyze a video he captured of Jonathan in the library corner. Mr. Thompson uses the ABC lens to focus on Jonathan’s emergent literacy practices while he retells a story to his friend and some stuffed animals in the library. The analysis space summarizes the child’s interactions and articulates the specific knowledge, skills, and dispositions observed throughout the event.

    Figure 6.8 Event Sampling

    Reading Event Sampling


    Self-selects narrative text

    Self-selects informational text

    Uses pictures to orally retell the narrative story

    Uses pictures to explain informational text

















    *Event sampling with video and ABC notations.


    10/3 (Video recording)







    Jonathan says, “Let’s play storytime.”

    He takes Anya’s hand and they go to the library center.

    After reaching the library center, Jonathan arranges the small rocker in the corner to create an open area on the carpet for his class. Anya begins putting stuffed animals in a semicircle facing the rocking chair.


    Jonathan says, “I will read first.”

    He goes to the library shelf and begins looking for a book to read.

    Anya sits down on her knees behind the circle of animals.


    Anya says, “Let’s read the penguin book with the lollipop.”

    Jonathan, laughing says, “Okay” and picks up The Penguin and the Lollipop. He opens the book on his lap with appropriate directionality to support his reading.

    Anya folds her hands in her lap after repositioning a bear that flopped over, getting everyone ready to listen to Johnathan read the story.


    Jonathan holds up the book with the cover facing Anya.

    Jonathan says, “Today we are going to read, little penguin eats a lollipop.”

    Anya and the animals wait.

    10: 16

    Jonathan puts the book back down on his lap and says, “This is Little Penguin. He made a mistake and ate the little bird’s lollipop.”

    Jonathan pauses to turn the book around so the animals and Anya can see the pictures.

    Anya says, “Oh no, little bird looks mad.”

    Analysis: Jonathan demonstrated a sense of directionality while reading the book. He paused in the beginning to state the title and mimic the way we begin storytime. He began retelling the story on the first page of the book where the story begins. Jonathan’s retelling demonstrates comprehension of the storyline elements, including the main characters and the problem.

    6.4g Time Sampling

    Time sampling is another observational strategy used by educators to capture how a child engages with their environment over a period of time. Time sampling is particularly beneficial when an educator is seeking to determine how long a child sustains their engagement in a literacy-rich play center. To conduct a time sampling, an educator selects a focus child, determines which behaviors will be observed, establishes the duration for the time sampling period, and sets the time intervals they will use to monitor the child’s engagement. In Figure 6.9, Ms. Haskins captures Aleksandra’s block center play. Notice how the child draws on her emerging literacy skills as she strategically constructs her farm. What materials and practices in the classroom are in place to support her literacy skills? How does the educator support her creative efforts?

    Figure 6.9 Time Sampling

    Time Sampling

    Date : April 3, 2021

    Observer: Ms. Haskins

    Child’s Name: Aleksandra

    Time interval: 5 minutes

    Time of Day: Center Exploration Time (10:30 – 11:30)


    Aleksandra (A) heads to the block area.


    A – is using a construction blueprint photo to build a tower following the image – she is working by herself


    A – is selecting a new blueprint photo


    A – is sorting through blocks to find the size she needs for her second tower


    A – is building her second tower about 12 inches from her first tower


    A – is still working on her second tower


    A – is sorting through the blueprint photo file to find another tower

    her second tower is complete


    A – is working on a third tower

    Enrique and Emily pull the train tracks out next to A. A says, “Please make the train over there. By my garage.” E and E move over a bit to make room. Looking at her towers, Enrique says, “Where are the trucks?”


    A – places the last block on the tower and stands looking around the room

    -she moves to the writing center and collects a clipboard, small index cards, and a crayon

    – she goes back to her towers


    A – is writing on one of the index cards

    Another index card is in front of the first tower she built.

    In blue crayon she wrote “HS” on the index card.


    A – has three index cards placed in front of her towers “HS” “B” and “G”


    A – is pulling cows and horses from the animal basket and putting them around the tower with a B

    cars are placed under the G tower


    A – asks to take a picture of her farm so that she can make it again tomorrow

    Ms. Hamilton takes a photo and suggests putting a big fence around her farm so she can continue making her farm the next day.

    Analysis: Aleksandra worked with intentionality to create her farm today. She mentioned to Ms. Hamilton that she wanted to keep it so that she could play “farm” with her friend Sara tomorrow, who was not here today. Ms. Hamilton asked her to tell her about her farm, and Aleksandra showed her the house, the garage, and the barn. The initial consonants are reflected in the signs she made, as well as an ending consonant sound in house. This demonstrates her emerging writing skills and developing phonological awareness. Using the blueprints for the towers also provides insight into how she is reading images to create and interpret her world.

    6.4h Assessment Practices for Communicating with Families

    Early childhood is an exciting time for capturing young learners’ emerging literacy performances and for sharing children’s growth with family members and other relevant stakeholders (e.g., special educators, psychologists, other educators, and program administrators). Children continually acquire new insights about how language works, how text conveys meaning, and how their drawings, scribbles, and letters work to communicate their ideas to others. Young children’s literacy expressions are numerous and rapidly evolving. Therefore, educators need to develop systematic ways for gathering children’s literacy performances and sharing their efforts with others. Strong assessment practices inform conversations with parents, colleagues, and other professionals as they consider how to best support children in their development. Documentation panels and portfolio assessments are two holistic assessment practices educators can use to illuminate children’s emergent literacy performances. These assessment tools encourage educators to use strengths-based assessment practices, invite children to actively reflect on their own learning, and celebrate children’s growth by making children’s literacy understandings visible to themselves and others.

    Documentation Panels

    Children and educators use documentation panels to explore numerous topics and ideas that frequently emerge from children’s own wonderings or interests. For example, the Time Sampling assessment detailed in Figure 6.4g ended with Aleksandra asking the educator to take a photo of the “farm” she created. Aleksandra’s sustained focus on building the farm offered a possible starting place for engaging in an extended exploration of life on a farm. By pausing to preserve Aleksandra’s work and photograph it for later reference, Ms. Hamilton and Aleksandra have started documenting the experience. Together they can brainstorm how to invite other children into their exploration and begin adding to her tower work.

    Over time, the documentation panels accumulate collections of children’s artifacts honoring children’s investigative work. Artifacts such as children’s drawings, responses to shared books, lists of books explored, photographs of block cities or sidewalk chalk art, educator’s annotations, children’s dictations, question boards, and more illustrate children’s literacy performances and document their learning journey. In this way, the power of children’s emergent literacy performances become a central assessment tool for driving curricular explorations and empowering children as learners. To promote the dynamic power of documentation panels, educators encourage children to share what they are wondering and invite children to identify what they want to learn more about. Then, in collaboration with children, educators use documentation panels to set learning goals and support children’s interests by intentionally embedding literacy-rich exploration opportunities.

    Documentation panels describe children’s curricular experiences, such as color explorations during wheel painting. Wheel painting © Leslie La Croix is licensed under a CC BY-NC-SA (Attribution NonCommercial ShareAlike) license


    Digital portfolio platforms linked to assessment systems like Learning Systems GOLD® or AEPSi are becoming more common in early care and education centers. Commercially available portfolio systems ease educators’ efforts organizing diverse assessment artifacts and support educators’ analysis of children’s development through defined learning progressions. When early care and education programs use a common digital portfolio assessment system, it is easier to share children’s learning with relevant stakeholders including families, other educators and early care professionals, and state agencies. Digital portfolios also expand educators’ efforts engaging in program evaluations. Moreover, portfolio assessment systems establish a common assessment language for reflecting on children’s growth and allow educators across age levels to collaboratively analyze assessment data to make strategic decisions regarding curricular practices.

    Digital Portfolio Assessment Platforms are Appealing

    Digital Portfolios are

    • Easily shared with relevant stakeholders
    • Demand minimal classroom storage space
    • Allow children and educators to preserve numerous artifacts and assessment records
    • Offer meaningful assessment artifacts for families focused on understanding their child’s growth
    Pause and Reflect: Examining Assessment Tools

    This chapter examined a number of assessment tools educators use to inform their understandings of children’s emergent literacy progression. The chapter’s opening vignette introduced you to Mr. Costello and his use of observational notes. The following vignette extends the narrative with Mr. Costello. As you read, identify the portfolio artifacts Mr. Costello will share with Isabella’s parents to show how Isabella uses her emerging literacy skills in diverse and personally relevant ways throughout her school day.

    Mr. Costello is preparing for a conference with Isabella’s parents. He turns to review a set of artifacts he has collected over the first part of the year. The artifacts include the following items:

    1) photographs of Isabella painting in the art center,

    2) a video of Isabella retelling her favorite book to a friend,

    3) a menu she created as a prop for the new restaurant the children created in the kitchen area after he read aloud Dim Sum for Everyone, by Grace Lin (2001), and

    4) focused, anecdotal notes and checklists he maintained when working with children in small groups or individual teaching moments. One of his anecdotal notes reveals Isabella demonstrated confidence generating rhyming words as part of a hopscotch game on the playground (bat and cat, see and bee, duck and truck).

    Before reading on, consider what each assessment you noticed reveals about Isabella’s emergent literacy development?

    Now consider the following assessment possibilities. The photograph and the menu provide insight into Isabella’s emergent writing practices. The photograph reveals insight regarding Isabella’s fine motor development, including handedness, grip, and control with diverse writing instruments. The menu demonstrates Isabella knows that writing is used to reach a particular audience, has purpose, and can take on a variety of forms. Isabella’s printed text also shows her emerging skills with the alphabetic principle, phonological awareness, fine motor control, and automaticity with letter formation. The video of Isabella retelling Dim Sum for Everyone provides evidence of Isabella’s comprehension of storylines, integrations of new vocabulary words, and perhaps how she relates personally to the text.

    Collectively, the assessment strategies described across this chapter offer educators a variety of ways to intentionally notice and attend to children’s emergent literacy practices. To effectively integrate ongoing assessment practices, educators begin with one tool and systematically add new assessment tools to their repertoires. Over time, educators build their confidence using, analyzing, and discussing children’s performances by becoming assessment literate.

    This page titled 6.4: Assessment Strategies and Tools is shared under a CC BY-NC 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Sandra Carrie Garvey (Remixing Open Textbooks with an Equity Lens (ROTEL)) via source content that was edited to the style and standards of the LibreTexts platform; a detailed edit history is available upon request.