Leuven Scale: A teacher's guide

Paul Main

Leuven Scale: A teacher's guide to making deeper, actionable assessments on children to improve focused learning.

What is the Leuven Scale?

The Leuven Scale is a form of assessment created by Ferre Laevers and his team at Leuven University. The Leuven Scale is a five-point scale that allows teachers, child care experts, and nursery practitioners to measure children's emotional well-being and involvement sweetspot – two critical components of learning, progress and development in children.

The main advantage of the Leuven Scale is that it is based on meaningful observations, and puts the children at the centre of learning. Research suggests that observation based instructions serve as the most effective early years teaching resources.

Ferre Leavers believed that when children are at high levels of well-being, they act like fish in water. Wellbeing refers to being spontaneous, feeling at ease, and free of emotional uncertainties and is crucial to boosting mental health. Well-being is correlated to self-confidence, a higher level of resilience and self-esteem. Comfortable children are eager and confident to explore and experiment. On the other hand, those with lower levels of well-being mostly appear anxious, dependent and frightened, making it difficult for them to unleash their potential and show deep level learning in a sustainable way.

Also, high levels of involvement show 'deep-level' meaningful learning, which is characterised by fascination, curiosity, deep satisfaction and profound interest in whatever children are doing. Involvement generally refers to being intensely engrossed in activities and is considered to be crucial for a deeper level of learning and development. These indications of a child's 'involvement’ are also directly connected to the elements of effective learning and teaching as laid out by the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS).

Assessments on children have been advanced using the Learning Skills Framework
Building on the Leuven Scale: The Learning Skills Framework

How to use Leuven Scale for the assessment of involvement in children

A lack of involvement and wellbeing may indicate that a child’s development will be threatened. Therefore, Ferre Laevers created a 5 point scale to measure both involvement and wellbeing of the children. The higher the degrees of involvement and wellbeing we can achieve for the children, the more we can increase the child’s development. Higher levels of involvement and wellbeing indicate that the child is experiencing a deeper level learning.

The individual child assessments begin with evaluating the wellbeing and involvement level using the tables.

The method is easy and can be compared to ‘scanning.’ The instructor would carry out a 2-minute observation to demonstrate the general levels of involvement and wellbeing using the Leuven scale. The observation can be performed on individual children or groups of children. Learning is thought to be limited if a child is operating at moderate, low or extremely low levels of  Leuven Scales. But, children may not be able to remain at high or extremely high levels all the time. Their levels of involvement and wellbeing may fluctuate all through the day.

Below is an example of the useful observation sheet, used for individual child assessments against the Leuven Scales for Wellbeing and Involvement in a 2-minute observation. These sheets provide the individual recording methods to document the child's scales in wellbeing and involvement and make notes about the hour of observation time.

The Leuven scale for well-being
The Leuven scale for well-being

The Leuven Scale for emotional well-being

The Leuven scale divides a child's emotional wellbeing into 5 levels:

  1. Extremely low: The child displays strong signs of discomfort such as screaming or crying. Children belonging to this group may seem frightened, aloof or withdrawn, show aggression, hurting others or themselves.
  2. Low: The child may display a slumped posture and appear uneasy. But, the sense of discomfort is not noticeable all the time and is not as strong as in Level 1.
  3. Moderate: The child holds a neutral demeanour and facial expression. Their expression and posture neither show obvious signs of discomfort, pleasure, comfort or sadness.
  4. High: The child shows signs of satisfaction, cheerfulness, and happiness. However, these signs do not always have the same intensity
  5. Extremely high: The child is confident, cheerful and lively, and exhibits no signs of tension or stress. These children may sing, hum, talk to themselves, and appear at ease with themselves. Their acts are expressive and spontaneous.

Leuven scales help educators make judgements
Developing a deep understanding of the child

The Leuven Scale for Levels of Involvement

The Leuven scale divides a child's level of involvement into 5 categories:

  1. Extremely low: The child may exhibit absent-mindedness and shows a lack of strength. These children may look around to see what others are doing or they may go around staring aimlessly. Their behaviour may seem passive and redundant.
  2. Low: The child gets easily distracted. These children might pay attention to a task while being observed, then they fall into absent-mindedness phases – looking blankly in their surroundings.
  3. Moderate: The child may look involved in doing something but in a casual way. They might look like progressing but barely show much concentration or energy.
  4. High: The child is not easily distracted and appear entirely engaged in what he/ she is doing.
  5. Extremely high: The child performs intense activity constantly and shows complete involvement. Nearly, all through the time, these children are being observed they seem creative, persistent, focused and lively.

Leuven scale: Engaged children in an activity
Children highly engaged in their learning

Children's wellness and involvement improvement action plan

After making observations, it is critical to use the assessments to prepare a practical action plan. Children's Wellness and Involvement Improvement Action Plans provide an easy and practical way to help children improve their wellness and involvement levels. Below are the ten action points formulated at Ferre Laevers-Directed Research Centre.

  1. Educational setting activity centres must be rearranged to more appealing corners or parts.
  2. Making books/ toys/ content in the activity centres more challenging for the children.
  3. Introducing children with the most advanced and non-traditional activities and materials that stimulate their curiosity.
  4. Identify the children’s interests and engage them with their preferred activities.
  5. Providing encouraging and stimulating inputs to the children.
  6. Supporting children to build positive relations amongst children and with the instructors.
  7. Encouraging children to take the initiative.
  8. Allowing children to explore the world of emotions, values and feelings by bringing in new activities.
  9. Identifying children with signs of stress and those with involvement and emotional problems and establishing a plan with sustaining interventions.
  10. Identifying children with problematic child development features and creating interventions that encourage high involvement levels.

The process-oriented strategy can be readily used by the practitioners as highly useful observation tools to maximise the quality of learning for each child. Wellness and Involvement Scales are ideal to ensure to provide the right physical, emotional and learning environment to each child. This class record form enables teachers, child care experts, and nursery practitioners to record meaningful observations, for children's wellbeing and involvement. This scale of involvement and wellness provide the most important approaches to recording one-off observation for each child, making it easy to refer back to and make action plans to improve children's wellbeing and involvement.

Leuven scale for engagement
Observing classroom activities for strong signs of engagement


Developing new assessments on children

If you are interested in developing a new approach to observe children in your school you may be interested in the learning skills framework. This observational toolkit aims to monitor the wider progress of children beyond pure academic attainment. It includes everything from examining child interactions to monitoring the mental activity of a pupil. The brightly coloured stickers are used to give pupils feedback when they have progressed in any given area. The domains of the framework were chosen as they all contribute to developing a deeper understanding for the student. They can be regarded as both the outcome and mechanism of a successful education.