Study Session: Learning to See 31
Using these observation skills when we watch children reminds us to look
conscientiously for the details of what we are seeing. The details also help us
see their competence. They help us to support children’s initiative and devel-
opment of confidence. Below is a list of the components of observing, along
with a definition of each, and finally an example of how to apply them in
studying the photos of the boy with scissors.
Objectivity: Observe without judging. It is very difficult to be objective,
because even if you attempt to suspend your judgment, you are still choosing
what to notice when you observe. The best way to be objective is to look for
the details then notice your own subjectivity. This can help you put on hold
your worry about the safety of the boy with scissors. It allows you to see the
details of his competence and the value of his point of view. You may move in
closer to him to respond quickly if need be, but try for an instant to see the
details that may lead you to more useful perspectives.
The boy is holding two pairs of scissors while looking closely at them as he
moves them with his hands and fingers.
Specificity: Look for specific details, such as the number of children and
adults involved, the kinds and amount of materials, and the time span of an
activity. It’s free choice time in the classroom, and the boy has chosen to work with the
scissors and the bright-colored cellophane paper on the table.
Directness: Record direct quotes as much as possible. Still photos obviously
don’t offer sound, but observers can hear and record what children say.
The boy is smiling as he calls out to those around him, “I can do two at one time.”
Mood: Describe the social and emotional details of a situation. These include
voice intonation, body language, facial expressions, hand gestures, and other
nonverbal information. Mood clues can be difficult to decipher, because we
have an automatic, unconscious response to them. We have learned to read
mood clues from infancy, and our memories of those early years don’t have
language associated with them. It takes considerable practice to learn to use
mood cues for descriptive details rather than interpretations.
The boy has a focused look on his face as he examines the scissors. He watches
his hands as he skillfully opens and closes the scissors. With excitement in his
voice, he calls out, “I can do two together.”
Completeness: Describe incidents as having a beginning, middle, and end. A
complete recording describes the setting, who was involved, the actions in the
order they occurred, the responses, interactions, and the ending.