How do we ‘hear’ our children ‘voices’?

Research practitioner:

Senior practitioner:

Project summary:

A study to audit how we ‘hear’ our children’s ‘voice’. Taking a critical look at how we ‘listen’, observe and use the findings especially in the under 3’s.

 

 

Introduction

The key focus of this project was to determine if all staff have a deep understanding of how to provide a   observation for all children. We wish to support staff in critically evaluating their own work to ensure individualised, focussed and specific observations that are meaningful and personal to each child’s learning and development. Staff would audit their own observations, supported by Froebel’s principles and values and key messages from current literature. Additionally, being critical of how we record and use our observations on a digital platform, discovering how well each key worker listens and responds to, the many voices of children.

Observation is more than watching, it means listening carefully, being open and wanting to know more.” Tovey (2017: 112) in Louis (2022: 6)

 

 

Context

The Froebel in Childhood Practice certificate allowed us to gain a deeper knowledge and understating of Froebel and what his principles and values mean to practice and pedagogy.  Particular to our setting was block play and outdoor play in natural spaces. We began to wonder about how good we were at recording these new experiences. Quality interactions require knowledgeable, nurturing educators, which we are in no doubt we have, but how do we know if our observations are of high quality and provide the “necessary detail and insights to allow us to make informed decisions” (Louis, p5) There are so many aspects of Froebel’s approach which we wished to implement but we kept coming back to ‘starting where the child is’ (Froebel in Tovey, 2020) , and the holistic, inter-related learning being made visible in our spaces and interactions, linking to Froebel’s Key Principles. As we use an online digital platform where it has become easy to group together observations/ experiences, have we lost the child’s individuality? Are our parents/carers, especially after the pandemic where we relied more on digital learning, now truly seeing their child being represented as an individual? Additionally, how, all play, including non-verbal was valued and noticed especially with our under 3’s.

Methodology

Originally we wanted to look at how we observe children outdoors, but having given it more thought, we decided that a good, well informed and meaningful observation could lend itself to any area or aspect of the child’s learning and development. We had to consider how we communicated this with our staff team and particularly the practitioner that will take part in this enquiry. We had to ensure that it was clear we were participating in this action research to make changes to our practice with looking inwards and critically examining our own practice as part of the action research cycle. One practitioner and her own group would be the focus for this enquiry to ensure children were not chosen for any particular reason and all permissions put in place.

Through constant dialogue and research we re-evaluated our intended goal to ensure the best possible outcome. We hoped this would ensure our own learning around this area was visible through our questions and that this would be cascaded to the practitioner. The questions were broken down to create an audit tool and questionnaire, linked to Froebelian values and principles as a guide to stimulate critical reflection.

“In Froebel’s view the educator needs to develop observational expertise rooted in the understanding and knowledge of how children develop, which become a resource from which the educator can draw” Bruce (2021) in Louis (2022:24)

Findings

On reflection, the reading and re-evaluating, mind mapping and considering what the possible implications could be, indicated a much bigger project than first anticipated. We had to realise that we would not be able to do everything in the short space of time .

Using the audit tool to analyse her own observations with a different perspective, brought a fresh viewpoint and findings were surprising to the Practitioner. She found it helpful to be encouraged to be critical about her own work whilst linking it to Froebel. She noticed that she was not always consistent in extending the learning from the observation (66%) and she realised that there were more group observations (digital) than she had thought. When examining further, she indicated there were also less observations of children who were part time, who were quieter or less verbal. The practitioner in her questionnaire, showed an understanding of children’s perspectives and the different ways in which we can ‘listen’ to our children. However, this was not evident in all of the findings (audit). Moving forward this has impacted on how this practitioner views her own observations and how she will individualise them more. Findings form the audit have shown that we need to, as a staff team, open discussions around how we ensure our quieter and younger children, verbal and non-verbal are “being heard”.

As discussed by Louis (pg4: ’22) we know observations are “more than just describing what a child does” but recognising what “interests, motivates and engages them and registering them as important, significant and knowing how to use them to extend learning.”

We have found also in collating the data that moving forward we will need to develop some of the questions to ensure absolute clarity in future findings.

Furthermore, we as the practitioner and leader of the project have realised we have been on a Froebelian journey of learning and assimilating information, adding new thoughts to the principles and values that we already have developed in our own pedagogy. This project is a massive undertaking that will have an impact on many areas of practice, knowledge and understanding. We should ensure we have a deep impact on practice going forward and that we work on embedding knowledge and understanding of Froebel in all aspects of our pedagogy as Early Years Educators. We influence the futures of our children and how their holistic education influences how they will live their lives as adults.

Conclusion

The impact of this action research will continue to be included in our Improvement Plan and we will evaluate how we ensure a wider impact on the setting. Moving forward, we will seek permission for further participants and carry out an establishment wide audit (2 buildings), providing staff with the autonomy of critically examining their own work to stimulate thinking and begin to work towards professional change. We will collate all of the data and take it back to the team opening discussions, introducing guided reading opportunities and creating a view of a holistic approach to the whole child and their learning and development.

Research implications

Undertaking Froebel training along with my colleague, has afforded many conversations about how we ‘Froebelise’ different areas of our practice. We have developed our own thinking by carrying out research, reading up to date literature, and attending webinars and having discussions with other like-minded learners. This triangulation of information has encouraged me to think about how myself and the rest of the Management Team, can further support staff to bring about Professional change in our setting whilst embedding Froebelian Principles to our practice.

When the audit is carried out on a larger scale it will broaden and deepen our understanding.  We will interpret the data to look for any patterns in order to help us plan the next step in the action research cycle.

Early indications showed the Practitioner examined the observations from a different perspective, using the audit tool to encourage a shift in thinking, highlighting the need for observations to centre more on ‘where the child is’. The final analysis of the findings and the sharing of data with staff will bring discussions about how we move forward, depending on what we discover. Additionally, discussions about evidence based professional change, focussing on child-centred play pedagogy. This will in turn direct our focus to answering our Question “How do we hear our children’s voices?” We plan to use our findings to evaluate the validity of our digital journals, investigate additional ways to record the observations of the exciting learning opportunities we provide and there next steps, and ensure we are ‘listening’ to the many ways our children are telling us what they need in order to learn, grow and develop. Ensuring all practitioners understand the perspectives of children.

 

Louis (2022:5) states “play always has a reason, purpose or goal in the child’s mind and in their feelings. The challenge is to figure out what it is and to act accordingly.”

 

 

As is inevitable, our team grows, develops and changes, has varying levels of understanding and knowledge, ultimately we will look to have embedded in to our practice a shared understanding and deeper knowledge to ensure a holistic view of each child’s learning and development. We will look to ensure as a setting, we use this opportunity to develop an ethos where all Practitioners are skilled at interpreting and recording what they observe in order to facilitate the learning opportunities in an enabling environment. As we discovered that this project is a much larger piece of work than first anticipated, it will lead to us evaluate the links we make from observations to planning and recording learning. What is best for us? From the many ways to carry out observations, we need a balance of “acted on immediately”, informal and formal.

Furthermore, this collaborative, critical reflection will allow us the opportunity to customise a procedure that suits our setting but is in line with current guidance and forms as part of moderation between Practitioners and Management. Planned changes in practice will be reflected throughout our Improvement Plan and opportunities will be sought to share /learn from other settings and professionals in how they have found their best way forward.

My hope for the outcome of this project is that we identify our strengths and weaknesses and move forward together, developing a pedagogical approach to being attuned to all our children.

 

Practitioner enquiry

Having carried out an action research project before, I have seen the impact on my practice, the setting, the staff and the children’s learning. As Practitioners, we already place high importance on reflection of our practice, our service and our provision. Some Practitioners are capable of critical reflection without prompting, others find this more difficult, but we are all familiar with the improvement process. Encouraging practitioners to take the lead, build confidence in having the autonomy of identifying areas for improvement and beginning the process of changing thinking, adding to your knowledge and sparking an interest, are all important in your own professional journey. In our setting, sewing the Froebel seeds has been taking place for a little while, providing an over-arching focus but through a Froebel lens. This has enabled some practitioners to take forward areas for development themselves, still being supported and guided and supported by Froebels principles in practice. Investigating for themselves why, what they are doing is important. Practitioners should be empowered to bring about change, follow “the niggle”, present the points for action and the reasons why change is needed. As is with our children, practitioners need to follow their interests in order to be motivated to investigate, challenge, change and implement new ideas.

Leadership learning

During this project, I have found that it was necessary to have regular meetings to discuss where we were at in the process and keep us on track. This piece of research brought about many discussions between myself and the practitioner. We both read, reflected and evaluated many different points for action and at our meetings, my role was at times, bringing focus back to the question or the current point we were at in the process. This was challenging for both of us as there were so many possibilities that this could evolve in to. I also had to take a step back to ensure the practitioner felt autonomy over her work, but being there at any time to support and provide a different viewpoint or another piece of literature. I found that we worked really well together, respected each other’s ideas and roles in this process while having the same focus for the end result and what that means for the setting as a whole.

Author and role

Julie Johnston, Early Years Team Leader

Comments from other network members

What did you appreciate about this research? What forward-looking questions did it raise for you?

  1. Caroline Easton
    Caroline Easton
    26 May 2022 at 7:17 am

    I really like the way, you were continually reflecting on your practice during your project. In addition, how you have used this research to inform your planning for continual improvement. Great that you are taking your research back to your wider team, a shared understanding is so important. Well done.


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