CD 354 is a course about the art and skill of observing, the tools we use, the interpretations that we make and how we use what we learn to build relationships with children and families and provide a foundation for learning and growing.
Observation is at the heart of all we do; “…observation creates an attitude of openness and wonder that allows you to know and understand…” (Jablon, Dombro and Dichtelmiller, 2007, p. 7).
Listening and looking are one thing; hearing and observing are another. Truly hearing and observing requires focused attention, being fully present in the moment and open to what is being received. It takes practice. It takes attention to detail. It means learning to record what is perceived in objective ways and it means learning to be accountable and responsible for the fact that you will never be completely objective. But to truly bear witness to a child’s explorations, triumphs, frustrations and mastery is wonderful in the true meaning of the word – it is an experience filled with wonder. Truly hearing and observing children gives us an opportunity to really learn from and about the children, and it also deepens our opportunity to learn about the world and our selves in it.
Observation skills are not something you learn once and have for life. Being a good observer is an “art and skill” that is always emerging, coming into being in the moment in a particular context, something we all work on continually. Practice increases the depth of your perception and your skills, and there are always new techniques and circumstances to be explored. Once you have basic observational skills down, there are specialized ways of observing for different purposes to be explored. Observation is a key part of many processes: basic inquiry, relationship building, curriculum planning, guidance, problem-solving, documentation and assessment, referral considerations and family and professional communication. Observation is the foundation for the thousands of decisions, small and large, that adults make everyday as they live with children. The quality of our observations will have a direct impact on the quality of the decisions that we make.
In this class we will engage in studying and using several different observation strategies including anecdotes, running records, check lists, time and event samples and portfolios. We will explore observational concepts like frequency, intensity and duration. We will examine both locally developed and standardized assessment tools. Each student will develop observations of an individual child and ultimately write a case report based on those observations. In this process we will discuss how to record, summarize and interpret observations. Our work will be grounded in our knowledge of the typical characteristics of child growth and development, and I highly recommend that you have a growth and development text available for easy reference. We will also talk about the practical implications of what we observe, and examine the ethical practices that are critical to the creation, interpretation and use of observational information – confidentiality, anti-bias and people-first language and objective description.
This class will require time and attention from every member. The time and attention that you put in can richly reward you because the class provides a unique opportunity to put your knowledge of children’s development to work. The skills you develop will be applicable in many ways and in many places throughout your future work. Have fun!