Primary education: listening and observing
Primary education: listening and observing

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1 Why observe in the primary school?

Observation involves looking and listening closely. The aim is to understand better. Observations in schools can take place within day-to-day routines, as children do normal activities inside or outside the classroom. This can tell you more about children as learners than observations of them in one-off or contrived situations. Observation and listening can tell you what children know and what they can do – not just what they don’t know, and what they can’t do.

There are many aspects of children’s learning that you could observe in a busy primary school. A single moment may be filled with a dozen incidents of behaviour, learning and interaction. Primary school teachers and teaching support staff make ‘in the moment’ observations of children, individuals and groups, throughout the school day.

Primary school staff will observe what children say and do, and children’s expressions and body language. They observe children’s behaviour in the classroom, in the playground and in the dinner hall. They may ask children to talk about a particular topic, their likes and dislikes, their friendships, their learning at school and at home, and their thoughts about the curriculum. In this process, adults try to identify children’s understandings and their misunderstandings.

Observations can be of a single child, or a group of children to see how they communicate and work or play together. Child observations often include more than one perspective, for example, the views of parents or grandparents, and sometimes the views of other professionals such as social workers or paediatricians.

In the next section, you’ll meet a primary school headteacher. You will find out what he looks for in the adults who work and volunteer in his school, and how adults should observe and listen to children.

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