Rethinking Observation: Promoting Reflective Practice

Using Froebelian principles to galvanise practitioners' approach to child observation

Project author:

Project summary:

A study which asked practitioners to use the Froebelian principles to adapt their approach to observation. Participants contemplated previously published observations and were asked to engage in reflective practice and consider the implications of this on their professional practice. 

Hands using a laptop

Introduction

Child observation is a fundamental aspect of EY practice. Observations are typically used to track children’s progress in alignment with national curriculum standards and Scottish legislation. Whilst this is a useful tool, I believe inspiration could be taken from Froebelian principles and, through taking a reflective approach, practitioners’ may be able to harvest additional benefits from the practice of observation. Through a series of staggered conversations and semi-structured interviews, practitioners engaged in a research process where they discussed the effects of using reflective practice to contemplate their previously published observations and the potential implications of this for future practice. 

Context

At my institution, child observations are regularly completed using the electronic platform ‘famly’. Due to the nature of our setting, practitioners typically record these observations using a smartphone. Practitioners work towards targets to ensure every child receives a certain quota of observations per month There are several benefits to this approach, including the fact that the camera on the phone allows practitioners to capture learning and experiences in pictures and videos in real time. This in turn facilitates parents and carers having a very present insight into their child’s development. 

Whilst I have outlined the positives of observations being so instantaneous, I was curious to consider whether this current approach may have inadvertently caused some additional potential benefits of observation to become lost. Practitioners were focused on ensuring observations were consistently published to ensure carers remained informed and targets were met. However, there was less emphasis on how practitioners engaged with observations after they were published. I asked practitioners to employ the Froebelian principle of reflective practice to consider past observations and discussed the potential implications of this for their practice. 

As I am also employed as a practitioner at this setting, it is essential I considered my positionality, I therefore engaged in reflective practice in the context of observations and made sure to have a reciprocal discussions with my participants during interviews. 

My primary methodology was semi-structured interviews. I was conscious of my participants feeling they were able to speak freely and were not under pressure to answer in a certain way. I was aware my own researcher positionality may  make the project susceptible to bias and was therefore keen to minimise any further bias that may arise from closed, leading or structured questions. Moreover, it is acknowledged that semi-structured interviews are a useful methodology when researchers wish to uncover themes they have not previously considered. As I was committed to gleaning as much information as possible (and did not wish to premeditate participant answers), this seemed like the most appropriate methodology to employ. 

I recruited 6 participants by issuing an open invitation at a monthly staff meeting where I explained my intentions and the nature of the research process. I then had a series of informal discussions with participants where I explained the concept of reflective practice and asked practitioners to apply it to their observations. The effects of this where then discussed at interview. 

Ethics

 My research had the intention of developing practitioners’ practice by encouraging them to utilize the way they use and implement observations in order to increase their effectiveness and enhance their relationships with individual children, thus building on their professional practice. Therefore, I believed the propensity for the project to have negative repercussions for participants was minimal  

Having said this, I made it clear within the written consent form that a participant was within their rights to disengage from the research project at any point. I will also have on hand details of the counselling facilities that are offered to all practitioners by our managing directors. 

Anonymity was ensured to all practitioners, unless an issue of safeguarding arose which could lead to this being compromised, this was explained to all participants. If during the course of the project, a practitioner disclosed something that could be perceived as a safeguarding concern, I vowed to ensure that this would be dealt with in line with our institutions safeguarding and child protection policy, where it could be escalated to authorities if appropriate. Fortunately, no such issues arose. 

"Observation is more than watching, it means listening carefully, being open and wanting to know more"

Findings

 Through feedback and semi-structured interviews, there was a unanimous consensus that employing reflective practice, to consider previously published observations, had a beneficial impact on both practice and relationships. However, there were some concerns raised from 2 participants that time constraints inhibited their ability to regularly engage in this type of reflective practice. 

Thematic analysis and open coding were employed to consider interview responses and feedback and, through this, 2 prominent themes relating to reflective practice (in the context of child observation) arose. 

Firstly, three participants acknowledged that by revisiting observations, they were able to gain an augmented understanding of a child’s specific interests. One participant noted that, through looking back on a series of observations, pertaining to one individual, they were able to identify which activities and resources a child would favour and regularly return to. The participant argued this insight was helpful as it did not only allow them to ensure there was easy access to the types of activities and resources that the child favoured (thus making them feel comfortable in our setting), but it further permitted the practitioner to employ a scaffolding technique to gradually adapt these preferred activities in order to challenge the child, moving them out of their comfort zone and broadening their experiences. 

The second major theme that arose was the belief that employing reflective practice, in relation to observation, granted participants a better understanding of where children are developmentally. Participants felt they gained an increased knowledge of what trackers children had previously met. This led to practitioners having an increased awareness of the progress the children were making when they were interacting with and observing them in our setting. One participant commented on how they believed it improved their writing of ‘next steps’ when planning; as they now had a fuller picture of what milestones children had already reached and could now set more accurate and tailored goals. 

Conclusion

This project acknowledged how child observation is a fundamental aspect of EY practice. It further highlighted how a single institution was implementing observation in a way that achieved positive outcomes. The project then considered whether these positive outcomes could be expanded upon by using the Froebelian principle of reflective practice to consider previously published observations and potentially alter professional practice accordingly. Through semi-structured interviews and thematic analysis, it was found that practitioners believed this practice enabled them to gain an augmented understanding of children’s interests and developmental stage. This facilitated a more tailored approach when it came to activity planning and goal setting. 

Research implications

To be completed

Practitioner enquiry

To be completed

Leadership learning

To be completed

Author and role

To be completed

Comments from other network members

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

  1. Editor
    Site Editor
    24 May 2023 at 9:41 am

    Thanks for sharing your project with us Emma, you’ve shown how introducing a Froebelian principle – slow reflexivity in relation to our observations – can enable practitioners to “look again”, to go deeper and see the richer meanings and symbolisms in children’s experiences at nursery. You mention time as a challenge in doing this work, but I do hope you are able to find ways with your colleagues to build on this practice and perhaps adjust ways of working to make sure it can happen more routinely, built in to your systems and rhythms. Your methodology here is strong and your openness to colleagues a great strength.


    Report comment

  2. Amanda Letarte
    Amanda Letarte
    11 Jun 2023 at 8:46 pm

    I was very interested in your project topic and found I could relate to the issues you raised particularly in relation to time. Using reflective practice as a tool for improving the meaningfulness of observations has proved to be a positive step and I would like to learn more about your approach to this. Thank you for sharing.


    Report comment

Add a comment