Enabling kids: Ability not disability

A new assessment tool is shifting the focus to what special needs children can do, not what they can’t

Holly Bennett, University of Melbourne

Published 16 May 2016

The first years of life are crucial to lifelong learning, wellbeing and success. Yet even in a country as prosperous as Australia, one in five children are developmentally at risk by the time they start school.

Every child has the right to learn, but the process to support the learning and development of young children with disabilities is not always clear.

Launched by the Victorian Government on March 17, the Early Abilities Based Learning and Education Support (Early ABLES) resources have been developed to help early childhood educators working with children, aged 2-5, with a disability or developmental delay.

Victorian Families Minister Jenny Mikakos officially launching Early ABLES at the Harbour Child and Family Centre in Docklands. Picture: MGSE

Bernadette Coles-Janess, from the Melbourne Graduate School of Education’s Assessment Research Centre, is one of a team of researchers involved in this ongoing research and the development of Early ABLES.

“Early ABLES is an integrated suite of materials that supports educators to readily assess, plan for, monitor and report on the learning of atypically developing children, something that many educators currently struggle to do,” says Ms Coles-Janess.

“It’s the result of a shared vision and almost a decade-long research partnership between the Melbourne Graduate School of Education and the Victorian Department of Education and Training.”

Early ABLES is an adapted version of the ABLES tool, an assessment and reporting program which has been used in over 670 schools across Australia since 2011.

Improving early education quality

With the recent OECD report calling for Australia to improve all levels of education, particularly early childhood education, the launch of Early ABLES is timely, says Ms Coles-Janess.

“Early ABLES will enable educators to develop learning opportunities for all the children that they work with, not just those typically developing, and support children with additional learning needs to reach their full potential,” she says.

“By using Early ABLES to better understand where children are in their learning journeys, educators are able to create teaching and learning programs tailored to each child’s learning needs.”

Victorian teachers can complete Early ABLES online to contribute up to five hours to their annual professional learning requirements. Video: Victorian Department of Education and Training

Ms Coles-Janess says the program’s assessments, which are linked to the Victorian Early Years Learning Development Framework and the Victorian Curriculum, help educators determine what a child can do and where they are likely to go next in their learning. “Early ABLES provides a wonderful aid to planning. Educators are supported to see a child’s behaviour as a beginning strength that can be built on, and they are particularly excited by the aligned teaching strategies that are also supplied in the reports.”

Early ables in practice

Cerri May is an educational leader at the Harbour Child and Family Centre Docklands. She was one of the hundreds of early childhood professionals who helped construct and test the Early ABLES materials to ensure they are contextually relevant for educators in the early education and care sector. “The Early ABLES is a simple tool that is very user-friendly and quickly identifies strategies to assist educators and families to support children’s learning,” she says.

“We’ve been trialling Early ABLES for over a year now and it’s really made our lives easier when it comes to assessing, planning and developing tailored learning programs for each child.”

Early ABLES will also assist in the transition process to school for children with disabilities, as well as improve how information is shared.

Ensuring better communication between early childhood professionals, families and school professionals can lead to more consistency and less duplication of process.

“Transitioning to school can be a particularly difficult time for families and children. Having information that bridges the educational sectors will help smooth this process for all involved,” says Ms Coles-Janess. “Parents can be reassured that their child will be seen and understood, and foundation teachers will be able to draw on information and resources to support their practice. This means that provisions to aid the learning of young children with disabilities can be in place from day one.”

Why use early ables?

TO determine a child’s current progress in learning;

TO assist in the development of appropriate learning goals linked to the Victorian Early Years Learning Development Framework;

TO assist in the development of individual learning plans with a focus on what a child is ready to learn;

TO monitor a child’s learning progress;

TO improve the information shared as a child transitions between educators and especially as they transition to school.

Banner Image: Colourful hand prints, John Morgan/Flickr

Find out more about research in this faculty


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