Classroom and Playground Observation
There are books and chapters in books and no doubt countless pages on the internet describing various techniques for undertaking this part of a child’s assessment. Over the years I have practiced, I must have looked at hundreds of examples. For a parent or teacher seeking information on observation techniques it must seem very confusing. The following techniques are the methods I have settled on and used successfully for years; both are very simple. I always use both techniques sometimes in sequence but more often in tandem. If you are new to observation I would suggest doing them in sequence, you will naturally begin to use them in tandem as you gain experience. All you need is a note pad a pen and a watch.
Minute by minute observation:
I tend to do a 20-minute observation using this technique. You need to establish some codes for yourself. Some codes you will use for every observation, other codes you will need to generate as the child presents particular behaviors. For instance >T means child approaches teacher, whilst T> means teacher approaches child. I tend to embellish this with a note as to the reason for the approach, teach, help, reprimand for example. If the child makes animal noises, I might code this as AN – Dog. If the activity changes note this down and carry on with the observation
Here are some of my regular codes:
· >T help = Child approaches teacher you can note why if you wish.
· T> teach = Teacher approaches child to teach task individually
· W 20 sec sharpen pencil = The child wandered the classroom for 20 seconds and sharpened pencil
· OT 30 sec. = On task for 30 seconds
· Off T 60 sec. = Off task 60 seconds
· LA 20 sec = look around 20 sec.
These are just to give you some idea; it may be best if you figure out your own codes. You use codes to increase your head up observing time, the observation sheet does not have to be lovely and neat. Mine are only really decipherable by me, but I get a lot of head up observing time. Here is a fun example to give you an idea of what part of an observation note might look like.
Bill Clinton observation 2.2.99
Pencil and paper task, write news
10.00 fiddle with pencil case 30 sec. LA 10 sec. Talk 20 sec.
10.01 Talk 30 sec. W 30 sec, talk to blonde girl
10.02 W 40 sec talk to blonde girl T> sit down, to seat
10.03 LA 10 sec, talk 30 sec T> stern look. OT 20 sec
10.04 W 40 sec girl red jumper T> warn, OT 10 sec
10.05 OT 20 sec, talk40 sec
10.06 T> final warn, argue 60 sec.
Here we can see that Bill either can’t write his news or would prefer to talk to the girls. His teacher can bring him to heel but this only lasts a short time.
This observation technique will allow you to be very scientific. You will for instance be able to say that when a child is offered a pencil and paper task they will be off task for so many minutes in a 20 minute observation. You will be able to include in your report the noises the child made or the number and amount of time they spent wandering around the classroom. You will be able to baseline the most used off task behavior and use this as the data to measure any improvements against. When you look at the observation as a whole in a quiet moment you may see patterns.
Observation technique two
This technique is quite the opposite of the above technique. Here you simply clear your mind and watch the child in the learning context. I tend to note down what the set task is and if it changes note this, thus the set task note breaks up my notes. I tend to watch in five-minute blocks then write down anything I feel is relevant. I am looking for patterns of behaviour, friendships, alliances, evidence of relationships both individual and group. You are observing as a human not as a psychologist, parent or teacher. No matter how odd your perception of what is happening note it down.
An example may look like this
A. Child Observation, Science. 2.2.99
Task: to watch teacher demonstrate an experiment to the whole class.
Seems keen and interested. Puts hand up to assist. No negative interaction between target child and peers or teacher. 15 min
Task: to copy notes about the experiment from the board.
Appears to look up at the board more frequently that the other children. Poor visual memory?
Gets on with task, no negative behaviors. 8 min.
Task: teacher does question and answer session to round off lesson.
Off task, pays little attention to teacher. Rarely makes eye contact with teacher, but seems to be trying to gain the attention of peers by engaging in various acts of silliness. He is not disruptive because the other children choose to ignore him. If they were bored or badly taught they may use him as a catalyst to disrupt the lesson. 5 min
Task, sit and listen to teacher rounding off the lesson. (Telling them what he has told them)
Much better but not looking at the teacher and not really on task but not seeking to be disruptive. 3 min
This is a real example. Subsequent assessment suggested this child did have a weak visual memory. However, this was not the problem. When I asked what the lesson was about, just as the teacher had done in the Q and A session the child shrugged shoulders and told me "don’t know". I had noted down some of the vocabulary used in various parts of the lesson and the child could offer good or fair definitions of the words related to the content of the lesson. The child therefore understood the lesson in its parts but not as a whole. We hypothesized that the child was not able to "chunk" information. We implemented a simple intervention using mind mapping and much improvement was made. At the time of my observation this child was at serious risk of being permanently excluded (expelled). This is no longer the case.