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

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Primary education: listening and observing

3 Systematic observation

You can make more systematic observations using ‘codes’. Codes are pre-assigned numbers (or letters, or symbols) that represent specific actions, behaviours or words. When you observe using codes, for example, you log a number each time the child shows a specific behaviour.

For example, you could use these codes to describe a child’s behaviour in a classroom lesson:

  • 1 = on task (listening, speaking, reading or writing)
  • 2 = not concentrating, looking around
  • 3 = out of seat, moving around
  • 4 = behaving inappropriately, physically or verbally

Then, as you watch the child carefully for 10 to 15 minutes in the classroom, logging each time the child shows each behaviour, you might create a picture of the child like this in Figure 3.

Looking at the example codes, you can see that the child is on task just as often as she is off task, and there seems to be one incident of on task behaviour which is not rewarded by the teacher: the child raises her hand but is not called on to answer.

With this kind of systematic minute-by-minute observation, you can identify when and how a child begins to go ‘off task’ and to use this information to help prevent this from happening in lessons.

This type of observation can yield very specific information. Teachers and teaching assistants can use this information to develop action plans for children who find classrooms challenging.

But this type of observation can be more difficult to do than ‘naturalistic’ observation. You need to pay attention to the child’s behaviour, your codes, and the time.

In the next activity, you will observe a child who sometimes presents challenging behaviour in the classroom. His teacher has learned how to help him, by allowing him to move around the classroom and learn in a way that suits him.

Activity 3 Observing ‘Jack’

Timing: Allow about 20 minutes

‘Jack’ (not his real name) is 4 years old. Watch the video of Jack and his teacher in the classroom. Observe how Jack behaves as he goes about his work in school. Pay attention to his body language and his facial expressions, the way he moves around the classroom, and how he interacts with his teacher and with other children.

As you watch, try to apply the following codes to Jack’s behaviour, using the time code on the video:

  1. interacts with teacher
  2. works alone
  3. interacts with other children
  4. works alongside other children but does not interact with them.

It is recognised that the video is edited and not continuous, but it gives you an opportunity to try out using codes for a short observation. There is a short interview with Jack’s teacher towards the end of the video.

Download this video clip.Video player: Video 3
Skip transcript: Video 3

Transcript: Video 3

[CHILDREN TALKING]

TEACHER
Where's 10, Jack?
JACK
There.
TEACHER
And where is three, Jack? Good boy. What number is this, Jack?
JACK
Six.
TEACHER
Six, so how many stamps will you put there?
JACK
Six.
TEACHER
Good boy. What number is this?
JACK
Four.
TEACHER
How old are you, Jack?
JACK
Four.
TEACHER
You're still four. When will you be five?
JACK
On my birthday.
TEACHER
When is your birthday?
JACK
May.
TEACHER
In May, and you'll be five in May? Jack is a wonderful child. He's very much an individual. All children are individuals, but Jack very much stands out on his own.
JACK
Five. That's like quarrelsome crane.
TEACHER
That is a bit like quarrelsome queen. What does she need to make her into quarrelsome queen?
JACK
Flick.
TEACHER
A little kick bag isn't it?
JACK
[INAUDIBLE]
TEACHER
Where would you put the kick bag? Just there. Good boy.

[CHILDREN TALKING]

JACK
One, you've got one.
STUDENT
No.
JACK
This is where his antenna-- that looks like bouncy bear.
TEACHER
If you have six, you put six counters down, yes?
JACK
Like that one?
TEACHER
Why is four your favourite number?
JACK
Because I like fours.
TEACHER
Because you're four?
JACK
Yeah.
TEACHER
Is it because you're four?
JACK
Yeah.
TEACHER
OK. So you're going to do your work now, Jack? Yes? Jack has very fixed ideas. And if he wants to do something, he's going to do it his way. And it doesn't matter what I say or what anyone else does. He's going to do it his own way. With this curriculum, Jack is encouraged to work in the way that suits him. If I tried to make Jack sit down and complete a worksheet that meant nothing to him, he would absolutely rebel. And he would be a very unhappy child. He wouldn't want to come to school. And he wouldn't-- if they're not happy, they're not going to learn at all. He carries out the task in the end, but in his own way. Jack is a highly intelligent boy, but he has an awful lot of problems with fine motor skills. He really isn't interested in writing at the moment. And he's still very much at the scribbling stage. But because we have allowed him to work and develop at his own pace, we can say that there has been a good improvement. This was Jack in September. And here, he was supposed to be practising the letter C. And as you can see, we have a lovely colourful scribble. He was not interested in that at all. But he could tell me what the letter C, who it was in letter land, the sound the letter made. And he knows lots of things that start with that letter. Four months later when we were covering the letter T, Jack had been asked to produce some lowercase ts on this sheet of paper. But Jack had it in his head that he was going to produce capital Ts. And this is a very definite capital T. And for Jack, that is a big improvement. It really was a breakthrough. And I was very pleased with that. I think this shows that given encouragement and time, children will produce the goods in the end.
End transcript: Video 3
Video 3
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Discussion

  • 4 (00:00 – 00:08)
  • 1 (00:08 – 00:53)
  • 2 (00:53 – 00:58)
  • 3 (00:58 – 01:12)
  • 1 (01:12 – 01:25)
  • 2 (01:27 – 02:23)

The codes present Jack as working mainly on his own, or in one-to-one interaction with his teacher. These two codes cover the majority of the time in the video. Jack appears persistent and focused on the number activity, moving between the numbers on the board to his worksheet. His teacher describes him as independent and wanting to do things his own way.

Although Jack interacts with his teacher, he does not always look directly at her when he listens and answers her questions. This could mean that he is easily distracted, or that he is not interested in what she is saying. He answers her questions quickly and briefly.

There is one instance in the video where Jack makes his own, unprompted comment in conversation with his teacher. He notices similarities between the number 9 and the letter q (‘quarrelsome queen’ – from a commercial phonics (letters and sounds) scheme). You can also see Jack make this type of comparison when he sits next to another child and notices where an insect’s antenna should go and says a letter card looks like ‘bouncy bear’ (from the alphabet scheme).

Jack as an individual

The comments that Jack’s teacher makes about him echo the views of Professor Alderson that you heard in Session 1, about children as people. Jack’s teacher sees him as an individual with his own preferences about how and what to learn. She says that Jack can be a very unhappy child if he doesn’t see the point of what he is learning. Jack seems focused and persistent in the number activity we see in the video, but he seems sometimes distracted when talking to his teacher. He seems to like to move around the classroom, and you see him moving between the number line and his worksheet.

In some ways, Jack’s behaviour (given his young age of 4 years) is well within expectations for a lower primary or reception classroom. Jack tries to find his own personal way to learn, and this can be a positive disposition. His teacher has found ways to help him make progress in the classroom. The curriculum the teacher refers to is Northern Ireland’s Enriched Curriculum (Northern Ireland Council for Curriculum, Examinations and Assessment, 2007). This helps Jack because it is play-based and, to some extent, flexible in terms of what children must do and when they must do it in school.

In the next section, you’ll observe a whole classroom, the teacher and the children.

PDP_1

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