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Julian Grenier talks about effective observation

Julian Grenier, head of Sheringham Nursery, talks about how they use observation at their setting and how being able to do something about the observation is key to using them to inform effective practice.

Good for looking at

  • Observation skills
  • Effective practice
  • Keen observation

T Level Tech Qual in Education and Childcare:

  • Performance outcome 3
  • Sessions 1-5
  • K3.2 Understand the purpose of observation, assessment and planning to support children’s progress
  • S3.10 The student must be able to use formal and informal monitoring and observation techniques
  • S3.11 The student must be able apply assessment techniques within the current Early Education Curriculum Framework
  • S3.12 The student must be able to carry out and record observational assessments and conclusions
  • S3.13 The student must be able to assess babies and young children’s development against the expected milestones
  • S3.14 The student must be able to make use of formative and summative assessment to inform next step and educational opportunities

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Julian Grenier, head of Sheringham Nursery, talks about how they use observation at their setting and how being able to do something about the observation is key to using them to inform effective practice. Use this clip to gain further understanding on how keen observation skills support effective practice.

00:06
It can sort of feel like observations
00:09
are this thing you have to do.
00:11
Like if you get your level three,
00:12
you have to do your observations.
00:14
And then people start calling it the paperwork.
00:17
Whereas for me it's like,
00:18
what are you noticing about the children?
00:21
What's interesting or surprising?
00:24
What are those moments where you see children really,
00:29
at the edge of what they can do,
00:31
so you know they're struggling
00:32
because they're trying and trying again.
00:34
Or you see them biting their lip
00:36
or needing to bring a friend in to help them.
00:39
Where is it that they're really, really struggling
00:42
and pushing forward their development?
00:47
Where is it that you see them really stuck
00:49
and they really can't overcome a barrier to their learning.
00:52
I guess the first thing is
00:54
that you've gotta be good at noticing things,
00:60
and you're only writing down the things you notice
01:02
that feel really, really important for that child.
01:05
You're not thinking, Tuesday mornings,
01:08
I've gotta do some more observations
01:10
'cause my folders are looking a bit empty.
01:12
And I like the New Zealand term from Carmen Dali
01:15
where she talks about keen observation.
01:17
So we talk a lot here about keen observation.
01:20
I think the second thing we've found
01:22
from a lot of the reflection
01:24
and the work we've done with other settings and schools
01:26
is that the danger is sometimes
01:29
that just as a child has started something interesting,
01:33
the practitioner looks down and writes it on a Post-it note.
01:37
Whereas actually what that child needs at that moment
01:39
is for the practitioner to be,
01:44
either in dialogue with them,
01:46
or really noticing and tuning in to what they're doing,
01:51
not looking down at a Post-it or an iPad.
01:54
And I think that we can often interrupt really good things
01:57
by lifting up an iPad, lifting up a camera,
02:00
putting our heads down and writing a note.
02:03
So we try and use the model that it's better
02:05
to get involved, help the child really think
02:09
about what they're doing, support what they're doing,
02:13
let them have the complete experience,
02:15
and then jot it down at the end.
02:18
Don't be too quick to start writing things down
02:22
and kind of interrupt the ordinary flow
02:24
of being good early years practitioner.
02:28
Probably some, right?
02:29
We thought quite hard about how to make sure
02:33
that things that we write down give a sense
02:35
of what sort of progress a child is making,
02:38
or equally as important, not making,
02:40
where children seem to be stuck.
02:42
So we've put a lot of emphasis on the precision of things
02:45
like how long, what exactly were they doing?
02:50
And what that means for the child's learning.
02:53
So it's getting away from the kind of,
02:56
you know Fatima loves to play in the water,
02:58
and there's a picture of Fatima in the water tray,
03:00
and much more into Fatima's now beginning
03:04
to spend long periods of time in the water.
03:07
Today she spent 15 minutes pouring
03:10
from bigger into smaller containers
03:12
and back into the bigger ones.
03:15
So you're really trying to be precise
03:17
about what you're noticing.
03:19
And by doing things like talking about the precision
03:22
of her movements, and how long she's doing it,
03:25
and what she says to you.
03:27
It would be quite easy, say to flick a few pages back
03:30
and look at Fatima when she was just settling in
03:33
and think, oh yeah then it was just a minute or two
03:36
and she was just exploring everything.
03:38
Whereas now she's got a plan for what she wants to do,
03:41
it's taking longer.
03:43
So making sure that observations are written
03:45
in such a way that they give us a feel
03:48
for the child's progress, or give us a feel
03:50
for where the child is stuck.
03:53
That's really important to us as well.
03:55
A parent reading an observation like that
03:59
should be able to get a sense
04:00
of why that was important for that child
04:02
and possibly make links
04:04
to what their child is doing at home.
04:06
Possibly tell us what they're noticing
04:08
that we're not seeing.
04:09
So all of those things I think around precision,
04:12
being a good observer, only capturing what's important,
04:16
putting your main priority on playing
04:19
and helping the children
04:21
rather than writing things down about them.
04:23
No child's learning was ever helped
04:25
because somebody wrote something down about them.
04:28
It's only if you turn that
04:30
into some sort of action for the child like,
04:33
you talk to the parent about how significant that was.
04:36
Or you use it at a planning meeting,
04:38
or you use it to make a change to the provision.
04:41
Otherwise there's absolutely no point
04:43
writing things down about children
04:45
unless you actually do something about them.
04:49
And in the conversations we've had as a teaching school
04:51
about that, sometimes people said things like,
04:54
"But I've got hundreds of observations.
04:56
"I couldn't possibly do something about all of them."
04:58
It's sort of like the penny's dropping then,
05:00
you've got too many, you've gotta have fewer
05:03
and do something with that information.
05:06
You're almost interpreting and seeing the problem
05:09
in the act of saying, I couldn't possibly do that.
05:12
Have less, but use it more.
05:17
I think we're sometimes slightly reluctant
05:19
to capture the things that kids find difficult
05:22
or when they get upset.
05:24
But actually we need to see that full spectrum of the child.
05:29
We don't just want the lovely sustained play
05:33
and conversation when it's all going well.
05:35
Sometimes it's really insightful to get a picture
05:38
of where a child's having a difficulty
05:40
where they're getting upset.
05:42
Because those are the things, again,
05:43
that we can talk about with parents,
05:46
we can talk about as a team.
05:48
We can reflect that maybe we're not getting it right.
05:51
So we do encourage people
05:52
not just to note down what's positive,
05:55
but also pick up where things are difficult for children.
05:59
Or when a child is showing a particular interest
06:03
or expertise in something, then unless
06:07
you can make that richer or more challenging for the child,
06:12
they're gonna run out of things to do.
06:15
So in both ways it's important to act on what you notice.
06:19
And I think again, all too often,
06:21
we have situations where, for example,
06:25
say a child is really struggling,
06:27
just with the very basics, say counting, one to five.
06:31
And the danger is that we just repeat endless counting
06:36
one to five type of activities with that child.
06:40
But actually, that's not working for them.
06:44
So what we need to do is look really really carefully
06:47
and think OK, where is this child having the difficulty?
06:49
Is it after a certain number?
06:52
Is it getting things muddled up?
06:54
Would it be easier for them to do it outside?
06:57
Are they better doing it with fingers?
06:59
What we mustn't do is just keep head banging away at issues
07:03
repeating, repeating, repeating.
07:05
What we've gotta do is try and get to know this child.
07:08
Find out what it is that's causing them
07:11
to have a barrier to their learning and then help them
07:13
find a different way through that problem.
07:17
I think observation is really important
07:19
for that reason as well.