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

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Primary education: listening and observing

1.1 A teacher on observing children

Sarah Johnson has been a primary school teacher for 15 years. She currently teaches the youngest children in the primary school, ages 4 and 5. She explains how she uses observation and listening to evaluate what children know and plan the next steps for their learning. She says that by observing children, you can think about how to move their learning forward.

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SARAH JOHNSON
Observing the child takes on different forms. So you may decide that you want to observe a child by standing back, and giving them space, and just watching and seeing what kind of learning comes out of that. There are times where you will ask to play alongside your child, as well, and you will ask to be invited into their play. And if you're invited into their play, it's important to be sensitive to their play and go alongside it, as well. And not try and force what you have-- your take on that play and how you want that play to-- what direction you want that play to go into. So you have to be quite sensitive to the play. So I would say it's about standing back, observing children, but also playing alongside a child, as well. I think observing the child tells you again, about their interests and about friendships, as well. You may have a child who is maybe struggling to interact with other children, and you may have concerns over a couple of children. So actually just taking a step back and watching how a child solves problems or deals with problems is a very good method. And above all else, I always look for characteristics of effective learning. So I look for active learning. Is a child engaged? Are they motivated? I look for, is a child thinking and-- thinking critically? Are they problem solving? And have they got that creativity within their play, also? Observing children can make me a better teacher, and it does make me a better teacher because above all else, it feeds into my assessment and my planning cycle. If I observe a child and I see that the engagement is not there within the classroom, that the classroom is not set up in the correct way and it allows me to reflect on that. And it allows me to make changes so that the children are engaged. Because if the child is engaged, that's when you get the best learning. And if a child is not engaged, you're not going to get any effective learning whatsoever.
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Sarah says that observing a child can tell you many things – about a child’s interests and abilities, whether there are gaps in their learning, and above all it informs her planning and assessment.

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