Understanding research with children and young people
Understanding research with children and young people

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Understanding research with children and young people

1 How do we listen?

We all think we listen, but if we are to listen effectively to children and young people, we may need to adapt or hone our skills in particular ways.

In Session 1, you watched the video clip of the Headteacher talking about the Listening Project at her nursery school. The teachers involved said that as a result of the project they found they had an even deeper understanding of how to listen than they had before. They talked not only of listening, but of ‘attuning’ to the children. What does this mean? How can we adapt our listening skills to maximise our understanding of what is being conveyed?

In this section of the film, you will see the Headteacher, a school governor and teachers talking about their experiences with the Listening Project. As you watch, consider the challenges they faced and how they ‘attuned’ to the voices of the children. Then try the activities that follow which will show you that the listening skills described here are not restricted to communicating with very young children; no matter the age of the child or young person, ‘attuning’ is an essential skill.

Download this video clip.Video player: Video 1
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Transcript: Video 1


Fiona Kemp
At Robert Owen, that’s where my work was in terms of the Listening Project initially – we were a small nursery school that became a much bigger setting. One of the things that’s so important, if you’re trying to work with others, is to listen to them and how you could be with them and take them with you and learn together.
So it was started at the school, at Robert Owen, with a whole Inset day, introducing the ideas of children’s participation, looking at the work of Alison Clark and the National Children’s Bureau, and was supported with the local authority, looking at equal opportunities so that providing everybody and the children with an equal opportunity through listening to everybody and sometimes, of course, making adaptations to the way you can listen.
And I have to say, it wasn’t just a matter of standing up and saying, this is a brilliant idea. It took time for everybody to buy into the idea of listening. And that includes thinking about, what does listening mean?
I know here at Rachel McMillan they talk a lot about attunement. And it’s a similar way of sort of being with the children and with the adults and up close with the parents or people that come into your school.
Theresa Lane
We got the word ‘attunement’ while we were doing the Listening Project in 2008. The Listening Project wasn’t about just listening. It was about watching body language, just stepping back a bit and trying to understand what was really going on.
Rachel Hogarth Smith
We were doing a lot of work about attachment and talking about the importance of attachment and relationship-building when you’re settling children into nursery. And attunement was a very strong part of that. So that just seemed to kind of marry up the attachment and relationship-building is about attunement.
At the time we were doing the Listening Project, there was a listening network in Greenwich, which a number of settings were sort of meeting and sharing practice in. And that definition of listening was first introduced in one of those sessions and saying that if you use listening, it can be misunderstood.
Theresa Lane
We looked at attunement as being a much broader thing than just listening. And after the year that we did, where we were trying to improve the way we were listening to the children, we decided we needed to broaden it out. So the next year, our research question was, how can we improve the way we listen to the parents? It was a really significant piece of CPD for our staff, actually, and changed a lot of how we worked.
The second year, when we looked at how can we listen better to the parents, has been about things, for example, when the parents were all coming in in the shelter in the morning, when it’s all very crowded, don’t just look at the people that are right up against you. Look over their shoulders to the people that might be hovering in the doorway, because they might be the ones that really need you but it’s too difficult for them to come forward.
So that’s about attunement, because it’s about looking at body language and understanding how people feel. It’s empathy, I suppose.
Amor Pagaduan
Can I use this? What shall I do with this?
Amor Pagaduan
I have to bang?
Like this.
Amor Pagaduan


We use quite a lot of listening as attunement in the setting. And we use a lot of body language to show that child that we’re listening to them – very open body language and, again, going back to copying their movements and incorporating language into that, so the child knows that we’re listening to them. And we repeat what they’re saying.
What happened now? What happened?
This one broke it.
Fiona Kemp
It’s that tuning in to somebody else – in particular, if you’re working with young children – so that you’ll be able to be with them on their wavelength and support them in a way that made sense to them and not just making sense to you. You tune in to them. You listen to them.
You interact with them. You have an environment that enables them to follow their passions. It is an interesting thought about the difference that could be between attunement and listening. What I would say is, they’re extremely similar, because if you tune in to somebody – and in particular, a young child – you are giving them your attention. You are listening.
What are you doing? Do you want to help? So tell Luca.
Frankie there –
End transcript: Video 1
Video 1
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Activity 2

Timing: Allow approximately 15 minutes.

Here is a summary of what you have just been watching about the Listening Project and ‘attunement.’ Some of the words have been missed out: can you select the missing word, and drag it to the appropriate space?

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The concept of ‘attunement’ developed while the teachers were involved in the Listening Project. It means more than just listening; it means being aware of [body language], and stepping back rather than taking a lead. It’s a way of showing [empathy] for the child you are talking to, and giving them the [opportunity] to express themselves. You [tune in] to their interests and passions and give them an [environment] that makes them feel comfortable. Attunement is a [vital] element in building a relationship and it extends beyond talking with young children; you can [practise] the same [empathetic] approach with the parents and carers too.

The research project you are planning may not involve such young children, but you can still be a skilful listener. What are the key elements of ‘attuning’ that you can employ with children or young people of any age?

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watch body language; empathise; get onto their wavelength; support them in a way that makes sense to them; use language they understand; open body language; look beyond the confident ones.


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