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Te āhua o te aromatawai i te reo ā-waha me te whakawhitiwhiti

Assessment in oral language and communication

Kaiako use formative assessment (assessment that strengthens learning) to find out:

  • what children already know and can do (across their languages)
  • what interests children
  • how children's languages and a language rich environment is currently supported by kaiako, including the integration of te reo Māori
    how children's learning is progressing
  • what might be the next step
  • areas in which children may need additional support.

Māori ways of knowing, being, and doing in formative assessment take account of:

  • educational aspirations of whānau for mokopuna
  • the inherent strengths, traditions, history, whānau, and whakapapa of mokopuna.
  • te mita o te reo Māori, the sounds, words, and use of te reo Maōri that are distinctive for each hapū and iwi.

Two kaiako discuss data on a laptop computer.

Assessment information should inform conversations on learning with families and whānau.

Formative assessment may be in the moment or documented. In the moment assessments inform our ability to tailor responses and interactions for the benefit of children’s thinking and learning. They are at the heart of intentional teaching.

Documented assessments can take a variety of forms including narratives (learning stories), running records, time sampling, anecdotal observations, and audio and video recordings.

From time to time, assessments may inform expert advice. For example, specialist services may make use of your assessment of a child’s language development and communication skills.

Effective use of assessment data

Kaiako making effective use of assessment to foster oral language growth will regularly:

  • consider children’s capabilities in languages across all their environments, for example, in English, home languages, and community languages
  • engage with whānau as experts on their child’s interests and their language capabilities at home and in other settings
  • use assessment information to help select effective teaching strategies that match the needs and interests of a child, group of children, or the service as a whole
  • use assessment for informing conversations about language learning with children, whānau and families, other kaiako, and external support agencies
  • consider what assessments tell you about progression over time and how you can support children to get to the next step.

Observing oral language and communication

In Stepping stones in oral language you will find lists of the broad progressions seen in the development of language and communication for infants, toddlers, and young children in English. Use the descriptors within each of these to inform your observations and gather evidence about progression over time. Descriptors are grouped under the following topics:

  • sounds – order of speech sound development and developing phonemic awareness
  • words – expected word bank and types of words used at different stages
  • sentences – word order, word endings, and sentence structure
  • stories – enjoyment and participation through to creating their own stories
  • social interaction – attention, responses, and conversational strategies.

Receptive or expressive language?

All language and communication relies on skill development in:

  • receptive language – the ability to hear, process, and understand information
  • expressive language – the ability to respond and express meaning with sounds, words, gestures, or signing.

Children’s receptive language is usually ahead of their ability to express and respond. This is the reason why it is important to address both aspects within assessments. For example, a child described as "having no English" may not speak but still have a good understanding of the language.

When observing language and communication progressions consider:

  • How well do they understand what is being expressed to them? How do you know that?
  • Does a bilingual or multilingual child demonstrate receptive language capabilities in their home language/s?
  • Can they follow one or two simple directions – an indication of their receptive language capabilities?
  • If they are not using words, do they use gestures to respond and express themselves?
  • In what situations and with which people do they use or not use expressive language?


  • Useful resources

    Useful resources Useful resources

    The links in this section go to useful frameworks for narrative assessment that are consistent with the vision of Te Whāriki.

    The Education Hub

    Examples of practical ways to document and respond to children’s progress in communication capabilities.

    Kei Tua o te Pae, books 1–20

    Book 17 reflective questions

    These best practice guides provide reflective questions on assessment practices in dual literacy, te reo Māori, and English.

    Much More Than Words

    This PDF provides information about children's communication development so you can think how a child is talking and support them, using their skills and interests.

    Te Whatu Pōkeka

    Philosophies and practices related to assessment based on kaupapa Māori.

    Learning stories

    Carr, M., & Lee, W. (2012). Learning stories: Constructing learner identities in early education. London, England: Sage Publications Ltd.

    Research article: Bilingual considerations for learning te reo Māori in the context of English

    Reese, E., Keegan, P., McNaughton, S., Kingi, T. K., Atatoa Carr, P., Schmidt, J., Mohal, J., Grant, C., and Morton, S. (2017). Te Reo Māori: indigenous language acquisition in the context of New Zealand English. Journal of Child Language, 1-28. Oxford University Press.

    Useful resources