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

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7.2 Case study: a teacher interviews parents and children

Denise is a Year 2 teacher (ages 6–7). She wants to find out more about two children and their reading, because in her observations of them in the classroom they seem to dislike reading and avoid having to do it.

Denise plans to do very informal interviews with the two children, and with their parents. As you read the case study, notice how Denise follows BERA guideline for openness, disclosure and privacy.

Activity 5 How a teacher follows BERA guidelines

Timing: Allow about 25 minutes

Jot down where you think Denise refers to these guidelines – not by naming them, but in her descriptions of what she does. Denise wants to carry out these interviews to improve her professional understanding, and specifically to help two children get more pleasure from reading.

I want to find out what J (a boy) and S (a girl) like to read, so I can suggest books which they will enjoy. I want to do this because these two children often tell me they ‘hate’ reading and I see them trying to avoid reading when I observe them in ‘free reading’ time in class and in literacy lessons.

J and S are chatty and confident about talking to me. Also, I want to invite their parents to give me some insights into what the children read at home. I hope this process can widen my own knowledge about children’s books and help me to recommend different kinds of reading for J and S, and for other children who are ‘reluctant readers’.

I made two sets of questions, one for the parents and one for the children. I tried to make the questions informal and conversational, for example, for the parents:

  • Tell me about what S/J likes to read at home.
  • Does he/she have a favourite book or story at the moment?
  • I’ve noticed that in school she/he doesn’t care to read much, but I wonder if at home she/he likes different kinds of reading (computer, comics, lyrics, catalogues, magazines, games).
  • What words would you use to describe J/S as a reader?
  • Why would you describe him/her that way?

And for the children:

  • Tell me about what you’re reading at home just now.
  • I noticed you brought your football magazine into school the other day. Can you tell me about that? I don’t know much about footie magazines. What do you like about them?
  • I saw you doing the word search puzzle at playtime. I find them so tricky! What do you like about doing them?
  • What do you like to do on the computer at home?
  • Which face shows how you feel about reading? (Smiley face, indifferent face, unhappy face?)
  • Tell me why you chose this face.

I explained to each of them why I wanted to talk with them, and I also let them know that they didn’t have to do this if they didn’t want to. I said that I wouldn’t need to audio record anything, and that the information was just to help me as a teacher, and I wouldn’t share it with anyone else.

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Denise has made an informal, semi-structured interview schedule which is appropriate for parents and children. She explains the purpose of the interviews to parents and children so she can have their informed consent for the process. She also tells children how she will record the interviews, and lets them know that they do not have to participate if they don’t want to. Although Denise does not refer to privacy, she is clear that the interviews are for her professional understanding and not for wider publication.

Denise tries to ask about experiences and behaviours before she asks questions about opinions or feelings. She makes sure she is asking ‘open’ questions that do not have a single ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer. This helps children or adults to express themselves, and children and parents can respond in their own words. She includes a way for children to answer a question visually, using illustrations. Denise also starts from her own observations, using phrases such as ‘I noticed…’ and ‘I saw…’. This allows the interview to feel more informal and conversational, and balanced between the participants.

The phrase ‘tell me’ is always a useful beginning for a question that will help children and adults to speak freely. Her lists of questions are not long, giving time for children and parents to respond thoughtfully and without pressure. Over the course of a semi-structured, informal, conversational interview, Denise might find out other things that could help her teach the children more effectively.

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