At the recent Celebrate the Young Child Conference held in Mesa, AZ, AMI Primary Trainers-in-Training, Meg Trezise and Tiffany Liddell facilitated a professional development workshop about using observation as part of daily practice in all early childhood settings. It is important to bring to conscious awareness that observation can be formal as well as informal and it’s a practice that should be prepared for with intention. Dr. Montessori’s approach was developed from her keen ability to observe the children. The materials found in traditional Montessori classrooms today were determined because of the interests and preferences children demonstrated toward them.
Observation is a method that scientists use to determine precise and scientific outcomes and results for subjects that require periods of time to monitor. As teachers and caregivers of young children, we are the scientists-we have the responsibility to observe children’s needs, progresses, challenges, and successes to determine their best outcome. Observation has been used for centuries and is still just as relevant today, because children have a diverse array of needs. Observation is a skill that is learned and refined over time; it is a skill of practice that should be utilized not only for final assessment outcomes, but repeated along the child’s journey through development.
Observation of children is appropriate for all learning environments as the adult observes the children’s responses to and behaviors in the environment to determine how to best meet the needs of each child. It is through skilled, objective observations that educators gain clearer understandings of their learners. Observation is often overlooked as a valid method of data collection. However, when observations are elevated to the next level by evaluating and analyzing the gathered information, those observations now become usable information that educators can utilize to improve outcomes for children. Observation allows us to not only evaluate the children, but also can guide us in our own self-reflection. Through observations and self-reflection we can modify and adjust our teaching strategies to best respond to the needs of each child in our care.
The objective of the workshop was to offer tools for the teachers, administration, support staff, and community leaders present from the Arizona early childhood community.The session began by discussing what observation is and how the participants currently engaged in observation in various early childhood setting. The group discovered that they held very similar views on how and why observation should be part of daily classroom practice. Following this discussion, the participants engaged in an observation exercise, which is one we offer in the Primary training course to help trainees become aware of the subjective and/or objective nature of our observations. This observation exercise facilitated a discussion about the importance of remaining objective in our observations of children, to be aware that preconceived judgements and prior experiences with children can influence our interpretations of the child and his/her behaviors. This discussion further lead the group through a process of becoming more self-aware as they proceed with their observational work and how our health, mood, and state of mind can have a real influence on what we perceive. This kind of self-awareness allows the adult to engage in her work more objectively.
As we engage in observation it can be helpful to use a framework to guide and bring clear focus to our work. The attendants were guided through the steps of identifying what they needed to know more about, to be able to see beyond child behavior at the surface to seek out the root of the issue, developing an action plan that responded to the child’s needs, and finally putting the plan consistently into action.
Observation can take various forms, but can be conducted using both informal and formal methods of recording for further evaluation. It is essential that regardless of the method we use such as anecdotal notes, checklists, time-stamped notes, or work curves that records are kept and analyzed to determine the child’s needs. Our observations can help us determine various aspects of the child’s development such as milestones, sensitive periods, behavior challenges or changes, or simply the child’s interest. Through the analysis of these observations we can modify our teaching strategies to best serve the needs of the child.