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

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2.1 Observing dispositions for learning

Many teachers and teaching assistants record observations using post-it slips or their own personal form of shorthand. There is no particular format required to make classroom observations, but many professionals use a form to remind them of what they are looking for.

The image below is an example of a flexible observation form that a teacher created. It could be used to observe any activity in a classroom, or in the playground. The teacher will write notes in the large box and will use the words in the smaller box to remember the aim of the form: to observe dispositions for learning.

Next, you’ll try out using this observation framework.

Activity 2 Observing ‘Kevin’

Timing: Allow about 25 minutes

Now watch the video of a boy in a classroom lesson. ‘Kevin’ (not his real name) is 11 years old. In line with BERA guidance, which you learned about in Session 1, real names of children are not used.

This is an edited sequence of an art lesson that lasted one hour. In the lesson, children are observing a live snake (safely in a terrarium). A camera in the terrarium is projecting a magnified, highly detailed image of the snake’s skin. The teacher has asked the children to draw the patterns, shapes and shades that they can see on the snake’s scales.

As you watch, use the descriptions in the observation form above to identify the child’s dispositions for learning. You may see other dispositions that are not listed on the form – so make a note of these too.

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What you have done is sometimes called ‘naturalistic’ observation. You looked carefully and jotted down your impressions of the child’s attitudes, actions and behaviours. You used some criteria to guide your observation – you weren’t looking at everything, but at the child’s dispositions for learning. Your notes may have been words or phrases, or even drawings, to record what you saw.

The video you watched is an interesting observation of a child who has been identified as gifted and talented. He shows concentration, focus and perseverance in the drawing task, looking carefully and for long periods of time. He seldom speaks. When he does talk it is either to the teacher or to the child sitting next to him. By way of context, other children in the classroom (who you do not see in the video) chat and laugh quietly with each other as they do the drawing activity.

Kevin appears to be a confident and independent learner, and he shows considerable stamina in sustaining the drawing task. But he also shows some insecurity, and perhaps even some anxiety, checking with the teacher to make sure he has understood what to do and that he is doing it correctly. The teacher asks him if he feels confident and reassures him. He is cautious and careful in his drawing, working silently. He looks intently at the image of the snake’s skin, projected onto a screen, and asks the teacher to clarify the instructions for making the drawing. At one point, he shows a great deal of patience, keeping his hand raised for over two minutes, waiting for the teacher to respond, and he asks the teacher what the drawing is meant to look like. He draws with very small, precise movements, using a tiny corner of his art sketchbook. He looks at the projection of the live snake, the teacher’s drawing on the whiteboard, and at his own sketchbook, making connections between these three sources. The teacher encourages him to make some of his drawing larger, and comments that he is very methodical. Towards the end of the lesson, he looks at his friend’s drawing and chats with the friend about it. When he is allowed to hold the snake in his hands, he smiles with pleasure.

Next you will look at a different way to observe, using codes.

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