Observation Is at the Heart of Best Early Childhood Practices
by Gaye Gronlund
author of the Focused series
Why observe children? Because observation provides a fuller, richer picture of each child, so that your curriculum
planning can address the specific capabilities of the children in your care. When you observe, the activities you plan will
be more successful. You will be aware of the children's strengths, weaknesses, interests, and passions. You will choose
materials and projects that engage the children for longer periods. Then you will be able to observe them even more because
they will stay with an activity longer.
Observation is at the heart of best early childhood practices in both assessment and curriculum planning. You watch
children in order to assess their development, but at the same time, you make adjustments in the activities, routine, and
amount of adult support and interaction you provide. These two processes, assessment and curriculum planning, are completely
integrated; you can't separate the two. You observe and assess and then make spontaneous curricular decisions in response to
what you see.
It's easy to feel overwhelmed by the observation process. You may have many questions: How will you remember everything
you see the children do? What should you write down? What are the best ways to document? How will you make sure to observe
every child and notice what each one is doing in all areas of development? When will you fit into your already busy schedule
the tasks of watching, writing, filing, taking photos, or collecting work samples? And how will you use what you learn about
children through your observations?
When you focus your observations, the assessment and curriculum processes become easier to implement. If you focus on
specific children or specific activities or areas, you sort through the information you are taking in as you work with the
children. If you and your colleagues decide to observe for particular skills and capabilities, such as fine motor or
language skills, you make the assessment process more efficient and feasible. If you incorporate observation into your curriculum planning, you make sure no child is missed and all areas of development are addressed in your activities and environment.
Each of the three books in the Redleaf Press Focused series. Focused Early Learning, Focused Portfolios, and Focused Observations, provides practical suggestions to make the observation process work effectively in early childhood settings.
All three books have common themes and recommended approaches that help early childhood educators get focused:
on meeting children's needs
on being responsive to children's interests and personalities
on the processes of observation and documentation
on curriculum planning in order to integrate observations into classroom activities.
In Focused Observations: How to Observe Children for Assessment and Curriculum Planning, my coauthor, Marlyn James, and I
provide two important tools, a book and a video, to help early childhood educators learn more about using observation
effectively. Without the video, the book stands alone as an exploration of ways to observe and document children in action.
It contains many practical suggestions for:
writing factual, descriptive and brief anecdotal notes
fitting the observation and documentation process into a busy and demanding day with children
evaluating what has been observed to assess children's development
using observations to plan curriculum that is individualized and responsive to what is learned through assessment.
The book contains many examples of observations as well as teachers' comments about their experiences in learning to
observe more effectively. In addition, each chapter ends with reflection activities and assignments to help teachers apply
the information to their own early childhood setting.
The second tool in the Focused Observations Set is a video of children in action. Sixteen video vignettes of toddlers and
preschoolers were carefully selected to provide opportunities for early educators to practice and improve their observation
and documentation skills. The vignettes are tied to activities at the end of each chapter of the book. In this way,
instructors, staff development specialists, and center directors can easily lead students and staff members through practice
sessions to help reinforce the information included in the book. Both the Focused Observations book and video give a broad
look at the importance of observation in assessment and curriculum.
Focused Portfolios: A Complete Assessment for the Young Child, cowritten with Bev Engel, provides a specific assessment
tool that provides a format for recording observations and relating them to developmental milestones or standards. Collection
forms are ready to be copied and used to build a portfolio of observations, photos, and work samples that give a picture of
a child's development and growth. Practical and easy to implement, the book includes teacher suggestions, many examples,
and two complete portfolios. Developmental milestone charts are provided for infants, toddlers, and preschoolers. In
addition, ways to tie a Focused Portfolio to other developmental checklists are included. Because we recommend that this
assessment process is evaluated and shared with family members twice a year, the book also includes helpful suggestions for
writing evaluation reports and conferencing with families effectively.
Focused Early Learning: A Planning Framework for Young Children is oriented to curriculum planning. Planning and
reflection frameworks with forms that can be copied are provided, and they capture what many early educators are doing with
children every day. The planning forms are designed to document:
goals for learning areas such as blocks, art, sensory table, dramatic play, manipulatives, library, and writing center
the ways academic learning are addressed in exploration and play
the work teachers do to build strong relationships with children and make individual adjustments as needed
physical energy outlets both indoors and outside
observations so that children are not missed and all areas of development are addressed
goals and activities for teacher-led large and small groups.
The reflection frameworks help early childhood educators look back at the week's plans, evaluate what worked well and
what did not, and plan more effectively in the future. Throughout the book, sample plans are included along with teacher
comments. Practical suggestions and guidance help early educators integrate emergent curriculum and project planning with
the most effective use of the environment while keeping a play-based focus.
Early educators across the country report that the books in the Focused series are easy to read, practical in nature, and
helpful in making best practices come alive. All three make excellent textbooks or staff development references, as well as
fine additions to any early childhood educator's personal library. I sincerely hope that you find these materials helpful
to you in your work with young children and their families!
Free shipping on all Focused Series titles for web orders placed by November 15, 2005.
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To purchase books or videos, visit www.redleafpress.org.