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

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Primary education: listening and observing

3 Listen to an early childhood educator and observe children

In the previous section, Mark Millinson said that every child is different and unique. In the lecture you are about to hear, Priscilla Alderson, Professor of Childhood Studies at the University of London Institute of Education, makes a strong argument that when we observe and listen to children, we must see them as individual people.

In this audio, Priscilla Alderson talks about how we should treat children as people, not ‘puppets’. This is an important idea when you think about observing and listening to children so you can understand their learning and their needs. People are complex and interesting, and sometimes unpredictable. It takes time to know and understand a person well, and it’s important not to make assumptions.

Activity 1 The focus of observations

Timing: Allow about 15 minutes

Listen to the extract from Alderson’s inaugural lecture.

In the lecture, Alderson argues for an end to ‘compulsory’ schooling. As you listen, think about her reasons for this. Make some notes in the box below.

Download this audio clip.Audio player: Audio 1
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Transcript: Audio 1

I want to say that the main message of this lecture is can we shut away the idea that children are puppets? They’re not. They are people. As the great Italian educationalist said, ‘They have one hundred languages, a hundred thoughts, a hundred ways of listening, marvelling, loving, singing and understanding,’ and he added, ‘School and culture steal 99 of these and tell the child to listen and not speak, to understand without joy. But, despite this,’ he added, ‘young children are strong and powerful.’ So why do we treat these remarkable people as if they’re puppets who must be forced to go to school and forced to learn? I would like to argue that we’ve got to rethink compulsory schooling. After all, most young people would go to school willingly. They work very hard and creatively. In one school, we gave cameras to the children and said will you take pictures of the things that you most value in your school and the way you think your rights are most respected, and one of the subjects they created were pictures to express their affection for their teachers. Adults, we assume, work and learn better voluntarily; not when they’re forced to. Are children and young people so very different? So, in conclusion, I hope you will agree that in some ways adulthood and childhood overlap; that many of the differences result much more from the way we misperceive, mistreat children than from children’s actual incapacities; that a rigid double standard of respect and rights for adults and compulsion and control for children is not principled or productive. And so, how can children be responsible agents within enforced helpless dependence; and an eight-year-old succinctly told me, summing up how rights in school tend to be either trivialised or made very remote and distant, “It’s so boring when they keep telling you that making the world a better place means picking up litter and not killing whales.” Where does children’s rights come in there? This is called an inaugural lecture and I suppose the idea came from a youngish professor inaugurating or instituting a program of work over the next 20 years or so. Well, I haven’t got that long time ahead of me, so instead I hope that the Institute will inaugurate a program for the next 100 years. I hope it will be led by Marion Richardson faith in sincere free relationships; and the nineteenth-century working people’s views that learners go first and the master would follow, as is already practiced in many earlier centres and schools and colleges around the world. I hope the programme will explore the problems and the creative solutions and the many advantages of non-compulsory schooling. It would cut layers of management. That would release resources for much better student–teacher ratios and relationships. Then, learners and teachers could be far more co-creators of education. This would be based on valuing the intrinsic rewards of learning, rather than having to have forcing or bribing people, but it would involve rethinking the meaning and relevance of childhood, children’s competencies and rights, and it would change society’s attitudes towards children. Schools can’t do it on their own as little islands in society, and the programme will be informed by the UN convention principle that respecting the inherent worth and dignity and the inalienable rights of all members of the human family promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedoms, and lays foundations for justice and peace in the world that we so desperately need. Thank you.
End transcript: Audio 1
Audio 1
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When children are at school, Alderson says, they are immersed in an adult-controlled world. She refers to the Italian educationalist Loris Malaguzzi (1920–1994) who said that children have ‘one hundred languages, a hundred thoughts, a hundred ways of listening, marvelling, loving, singing and understanding’. Alderson argues that, too often, schools take away children’s joy and their innate abilities to wonder and to explore. Alderson points out that, as learners, children and adults are the same because, whether we are young or old, we prefer to learn voluntarily rather than being forced to learn.

Alderson talks about how much children value their teachers, and how children and teachers can ‘co-create’ learning when teachers treat children as people rather than ‘puppets’. Co-creation involves collaboration, with children having more input and decision-making in the learning process. Adults who listen to children can find out what children understand and feel, what they already know and what they want to learn.

It is unlikely that school will become non-compulsory for children, but Alderson is arguing for greater awareness of how children experience school. Observation and listening can help you to become more aware.

Next, you will read two case studies of observing and listening to children.


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