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Improving Child Observation Journals

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Any opinions, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of UK Essays.

Published: Mon, 12 Feb 2018

Master of Education: Reading and Literacy

Abstract

The purpose of this study is to describe the effect that providing journal and case study paper examples, more time to observe in the child care center and the use of different teaching methods will have on the improvement of observation journals and case study papers. This action research involved Child Development classes at Deerfield High School during the fall 2008 school year. Students struggle with completing weekly observations and case studies. This paper will share the findings of research that was done to assist students. If students have a better understanding of the observations and case studies, are provided with examples and are given more time to observe, the desired outcome is that their observation journals and case study papers will improve.

Introduction

Background of Problem

I am a Family and Consumer Sciences teacher at Deerfield High School in Deerfield, Illinois. Deerfield is a northern suburb of Chicago and the high school has approximately 1,800 students. I have been teaching at Deerfield High School for four years. While I have been at this high school, I have taught Child Development Preschool Lab, Consumer Economics, Freshman Advisory and Contemporary Living. Family and Consumer Science classes were formerly referred to as Home Economics which involved becoming a knowledgeable homemaker. In Child Development classes, proper parenting techniques were emphasized.

Now that Home Economics has evolved into Family and Consumer Sciences, there is an emphasis on preparing students to become well-informed parents as well as preparing them to become educated professionals who may work with children in their careers and their personal lives. Last year I taught two sections of Child Development Preschool Lab, which is the focus of my action research project. My first period class had 11 female 10th-12th grade students and my second period class had 14 female 10th-12th grade students.

Every week in Child Development Preschool Lab, my high school students, referred to as the high school friends, plan and teach lessons to two to five year old children in the on-site child care center, Deer Park Teaching and Learning Center (DPTLC). The students also observe these preschoolers, referred to as Deer Park friends, every week while they are in the child care center. The students typically really enjoy the class; however, they struggle the most with observing the children and creating their observation journals and semester case study papers. Through the use of their journal entries, the high school friends analyze and evaluate one specific Deer Park friend’s physical, intellectual, emotional and social development and write a case study paper to determine how a specific child is developing for their age.

As a Family and Consumer Sciences teacher, I believe it is essential for high school students to be able to communicate what they observe or see through detailed written form. Specifically, in Child Development Preschool Lab, this information should later be used to make conclusions about how a preschool aged child is developing physically, intellectually, emotionally and socially. Providing students with life long observation, analytical and written communication skills to be used in their future will benefit the student learner.

Rationale for my Research

The focus of this research study will be helping my students improve their observation journals and case study papers during first semester. Observing, journaling and the semester case study paper are what students struggle with the most all year in this class. It causes frustration and anxiety for the high school students and me. I often find myself wondering how I can make this a more pleasant learning experience for everyone involved (high school friends, Deer Park friends and me.)

In each observation journal, the high school friends are required to record six different observations every week. Each observation should include a factual description of what they see, an educated opinion of how the child is developing, and an assessment of the child’s developmental rate for their age. The students go into the DPTLC on-site child care center to observe children ages two to five years old. After approximately one month of observing a variety of Deer Park friends, high school friends are assigned a specific child to observe for the remainder of the semester.

Students are given 20-25 minutes of class time every week to observe in the child care center to collect their observations. The journal entries collected over the semester are used to assess one Deer Park friend’s developmental rate in the four areas of development. The journal entries act as evidence to support how the high school friend rates the Deer Park friend’s development in the case study paper.

Observing and journaling are taught in two class periods. I spend about 40 minutes initially teaching this assignment the first time. I spend approximately 20 minutes reviewing it the second time a few days later. Observing and journaling are taught during a lecture while students take notes. I provide one or two examples of journal entries on the board and we discuss this as a class. Chapter notes, developmental milestone handouts and the textbook appendix are shown to students as a resource to use when they are assessing how the Deer Park friend is developing for their age.

Feedback is provided to students on their observation journal entry assignments on a bi-weekly basis. I provide comments on their journals and return them to the students within two days of them turning them in. I will occasionally have a one-on-one meeting with students who really struggle with the assignment.

The evidence that supports students struggle with observing, journaling and writing their case study papers includes my observation that students are confused and frustrated with this assignment year after year, low scores on journal assignments, students not completing journal assignments and students struggling with the semester case study paper.

Intervention Planned to Implement

Through my experiences teaching observing and journaling in Child Development Preschool Lab for the past four years, I believe that students struggle with observation journals and their case study papers because they are not given enough time in the child care center to collect sufficient observations. This causes students to feel rushed which increases frustration and anxiety. Additionally, more time should be spent and different teaching methods should be used when teaching observing, journaling and the case study paper. Finally, student work may improve if excellent examples of observation journals and case study papers were given to students.

Focus Statement

The purpose of this study is to describe the effect that providing journal and case study paper examples, more time to observe in the child care center and the use of different teaching methods will have on the improvement of observation journals and case study papers.

Research Questions

Therefore, my research question is: What are the benefits of providing Child Development Preschool Lab high school students with journal and case study paper examples, more time to observe in the child care center and the use of different teaching methods among students to improve observation journals and case study papers in Child Development Preschool Lab during the fall semester?

The questions that I will be exploring include: How will giving more time to observe in the child care center impact the high school students journals and case study papers? What teaching methods should I use to teach observing and journaling? Will spending more time on teaching observing and journaling improve student work? How will providing excellent examples of observation journals and case study papers impact student work? Will student anxiety and frustration levels decrease if more observation time is given?

Key Terms

High School Friends

High school students in the Child Development class who work with the preschoolers in the child care center.

Child Development Preschool Lab

An Applied Arts course that incorporates Child Development curriculum along with a practical lab experience where high school students work with preschoolers in a child care center.

Deer Park Friends

Twoto five year old preschool children that attend the Deerfield High School on sitechild care center.

Case Study Papers

The Child Development Preschool Lab first semester final project where students analyze one preschooler’s rate of development for their age.

Observation Journals

Weekly observations that high school students make about the preschoolers when they are in the child care center interacting with the children.

Deer Park Teaching and Learning Center (DPTLC)

The name of the Deerfield High School on site child care center where two to five year olds come for child care.

Four Areas of Development

Intellectual, social, emotional, physical are the four areas in which children develop.

Literature Review

Students learn in many ways and it is essential that educators meet different student needs by implementing a variety of teaching strategies. Sometimes this involves class discussions, providing examples to guide students, modeling a concept, or encouraging students to learn through hands-on learning experiences. Many high school teachers have said that students respond well when they are motivated to learn and when they are actively engaged in the lesson.

Benefits of Observing Preschoolers

Observing preschoolers is essential for students who are working with young children. The information that is learned through seeing what a young child can do first hand is critical in helping a high school student assess how a child is developing. These observations also act as a credible source to support their evaluation of the preschooler’s developmental rate and provide specific examples to the parents in the high school student’s case study paper.

Through observation, teachers are able to gather valuable information about the preschoolers that may help them in planning and preparing developmentally appropriate lessons (Barbakoff & Yo, 2002). Barbakoff & Yo suggest that teachers use a running record or a checklist to record their observations of a child. Providing teachers with adequate time to collect and record observations of the preschoolers interacting with one another is “time and energy well spent” (Barbakoff & Yo, 22). Perhaps allowing students to spend more time observing the children in the child care center will increase their understanding of how children develop. This may lead to more creative lesson plans and more thorough journals and case study papers.

Teaching Methods and Student Motivation

Research has also shown that several teaching methods have been proven to be more effective than others when motivating students to learn. Lam & Law (2007) examined the relationship between how the use of teaching writing strategies and motivating students affects student writing performance. Students should be challenged and need to understand the importance of the writing assignment they are expected to complete (Lam & Law).

According to Lam & Law, the writing assignment must be related to something they can connect with in their past, present or future. Student writing also improves when students are curious about the topic they are writing about and when they are provided with feedback (Lam & Law). Lam & Law support the idea that when students are motivated and understand “why” they are completing an assignment they are more likely to grasp the idea being taught and are more successful.

Writing Strategies: A Four Step Process

Collins & Collins (1996) have identified a four step process that educators find useful when teaching students to write. These writing strategies include; “identifying a strategy to teach, introducing the strategy by modeling it, allowing students to use it and helping students work toward independent mastery through repetition and practice” (Collins & Collins). Although modeling and practicing new concepts is beneficial, some students are not able to grasp the content being taught through this strategy (Collins & Collins). Collins & Collins have found that some students learn best through the use of concrete visual examples. When teaching students a new idea, educators may find it useful to consider what excites and motivates students to learn and what teaching methods address all student needs.

Providing Examples to Students

Providing students with excellent examples to guide them in their work is a teaching strategy that has been found to be useful for students. In the article, “Students’ Perceptions of Teaching and Learning: The Influence of Students’ Approaches to Learning and Teachers’ Approaches to Teaching, a ninth grade student who was interviewed said,” “the best way of learning is definitely hands on, trying it yourself, I think that is a very good way. And seeing examples of what you’re doing” (Campbell, Smith, Boulton-Lewis, Brownlee, Burnett & Carrington, 2001). Additionally, Day & Elksnin (1994) discovered that the concept being taught should be described, modeled, discussed (talked through aloud) and practiced by the students.

Students may be involved in this process from the very beginning by asking them what they struggle with most and what they think may help (Day & Elksnin). Providing feedback to the students is also effective when students are struggling (Day & Elksnin). Day & Elksnin’s research supports the idea that presenting students with examples and models of previous work will assist them in the understanding of the assignment which will lead to improved grades.

How Students Learn Best

Many students have been interviewed and surveyed on how they learn best. They have become a valuable resource when evaluating how different teaching strategies impact their feelings while they are in the class and their success rate on assignments. Campbell, Smith, Boulton-Lewis, Brownlee, Burnett & Carrington (2001) found that when interviewed, both students who have a deep approach to learning and students who have a surface approach to learning, felt that when being exposed to new concepts, they learned more when they were in a caring, supportive environment and when they were actively engaged in the lessons being taught.

However, when the class was teacher focused and when students were lectured to, both types of students became surface learners and were not as engaged (Campbell et al.). Their perceptions of the class were negative compared to the hands-on, active classes that built the students self-esteem (Campbell et al.). This can be related to students’ anxiety and frustration levels when learning. If students feel they are in a supportive, caring environment that provides hands-on learning experiences, they will approach learning in a deeper way. Child Development students experience hands-on learning on a weekly basis when they are in the child care center teaching and observing the preschool children.

As educators, it is vital that we consider the different needs of our students when teaching a new concept. Our students may be some of our best resources when evaluating the teaching methods we use. Teachers should consider the methods used to teach the lesson, the time period given to teach the new concept, and the amount of frustration or excitement the teaching strategy or assignment brings to students.

Data Collection

Methodology

In this study, which focuses on describing the effect that providing journal and case study paper examples, more time to observe in the child care center and the use of different teaching methods will have on the improvement of observation journals and case study papers, I will primarily be using qualitative data. The form of qualitative research method I plan to use is ethnography. Ethnography is fitting to my research due to the fact that I will be observing my students when they are working in there every day surroundings (Glanz, 2003).

I also found ethnography to be appropriate for my research because I will use observations as a main source of my data collection (Glanz, 2003). The research method I am using is not a case study because I am collecting data that I will interpret and focus on a group rather than an individual (Glanz, 2003). The research questions that guide my data collection are: How will giving more time to observe in the child care center impact the high school students’ journals and case study papers? What teaching methods should I use to teach observing and journaling? Will spending more time on teaching observing and journaling improve student work? How will providing excellent examples of observation journals and case study papers impact student work? Will student anxiety and frustration levels decrease if more observation time is given? (See Appendix A)

When collecting my data, I am interested in comparing my perceptions of what students struggle with when observing, journaling and writing their case study papers to the students’ perceptions of what they struggle with when observing, journaling and writing their case study papers. The data will be collected during the first semester of the 2008-2009 school year. The data I will collect will primarily be qualitative which will include my own observations, colleague interviews and collection of student work. I value how my students are feeling about the projects assigned in my class so I will ask for input from the students as well. This data will be provided through a student focus group and student surveys at the beginning and end of the semester. All of the data collected will assist me in answering the questions I am exploring in this action research project.

Colleague Interviews

There are three teaching professionals I interviewed before the high school students began observing in the child care center. The Deer Park Teaching and Learning child care center Director, another Child Development teacher and an English teacher were asked for input on my topic. When interviewing the child care center Director (See Appendix B) and the Child Development teacher (See Appendix C), I investigated the time spent on teaching journaling and observing and the teaching methods they felt were beneficial to the students. I also wanted to understand their perceptions on how they feel providing students with example journals and case study papers impacts the students understanding of the assignment.

Through these interviews, a qualitative research method, I was able to understand the teachers’ views on providing students with more time in the child care center to observe. When interviewing the English teacher (See Appendix D), I focused on strategies used by this teacher to improve students writing.

It was also beneficial to find out what students in English class struggle with most when they are writing and what the teacher does to address these struggles. I am hoping to apply this information to my class to assist my students when they are writing their case study papers. I asked both the English teacher and the Child Development teacher what type of presentation methods students struggle with and what type of presentation methods get students excited about learning.

Student Focus Group

At the beginning of the semester, I will hold a class discussion regarding the amount of time given to observe in the child care center (See Appendix E). During this class focus group, a qualitative research method, I intend to also get feedback from the students regarding their views on how providing example observation journals will impact their understanding of the observation journal writing process. What I have found in the past is that students have a pretty good gage on what they need to be successful so asking students what their needs are at the beginning of the semester is important.

Student Survey – Questionnaire

Two surveys (See Appendix F) were created to request information from students in the two Child Development classes I teach. The intentions of the surveys, a qualitative research method, were to ask the students for their input to address the following questions: How will providing more time for you to observe in the child care center impact your observation journals and case study papers? What teaching methods do you benefit from most when learning about observing, journaling and writing your case study papers? Will spending more time on teaching observing and journaling improve your journals and papers? How will providing excellent examples of observation journals and case study papers impact affect your understanding of the assignment and your work? Will your anxiety and frustration levels decrease if more observation time in given? The questionnaire will be implemented at the beginning of the semester, before they observe, and at the end of the semester, after their papers are written, to gain a better understanding of the students’ viewpoint on this assignment.

Collecting Artifacts

Another qualitative research method I plan to use is to sporadically collect the students’ observation journal entries throughout the entire semester. My intention is to analyze the improvement of the students’ work as the semester goes along. I will collect the journals after the first time they observe when more time is given in the child care center, more time is spent on teaching observing and journaling and examples are provided to the students. I will compare this to the observations I have made in regards to student work from previous years.

Collecting these artifacts throughout the semester will allow me to evaluate the students’ understanding of observing and journaling as they progress through the semester. It will also provide me the opportunity to give the students feedback so the students will feel guided in this process. At the end of the semester, I will collect the final case study papers and the scores on the journals and papers, which is a quantitative data collection method. This will allow me to analyze student progress throughout the semester. The case study papers will also provide me with an idea of each student’s overall understanding of observing and how they are able to relate the information they have gathered through their observations to how a child is developing.

Observation and Field Notes

While students are using the example observation journals to guide their own journal writing, I will observe and note, qualitatively, the ease at which students do this. I will also note how often the students refer to their examples as the semester progresses. Throughout the semester, during the first ten minutes of class and the last ten minutes of class, I will observe and make notes on the students’ frustration levels related to observing. The beginning and end of class is a time when students talk to each other about a variety of things they are dealing with at the time. This will be an ideal time for me to step back and listen to their discussions between one another in regards to observing, journaling and writing their papers.

Timeline for Collecting Data:

Time of Year

Data Collection Source

Data Collection Source

Data Collection Source

Data Collection Source

Before Semester Begins

3 Colleague Interviews

     

Beginning of Semester

Student Focus Groups

Collect Artifacts –

Observations Journals & Scores

Student Survey –

Questionnaire

Observation & Field Notes

Middle of Semester

Collect Artifacts –

Observations Journals & Scores

Observation & Field Notes

   

End of Semester

Collect Artifacts –

Observations Journals & Scores

Student Survey –

Questionnaire

Observation & Field Notes

 

Data Analysis

Qualitative Data

During my data collection I will obtain data through colleague interviews, student focus groups, student surveys, observations, and artifacts. After my data is collected I will organize the data (Glanz, 2003). In order to organize my data I will read and reread the data to allow myself the ability to distinguish any patterns that are important (Glanz, 2003). Themes that I am prepared to find through my data collection is that students will benefit from examples that are provided.

After analyzing my observations, students surveys, and student focus group notes I predict I will find students will be relieved to have examples of the paper. I find that with provided examples students enjoyment of the project will be much more positive. To analyze my data I will group student in three categories: students that view examples as helpful, students that view examples as no help, and students that view examples as hurting their understanding. I will collect my data and then put each student in one of the three categories in which they fit. After I collect data I will need to code the data and find any themes or patterns that arise (Mills, 2007).

Quantitative Data

The quantitative data that I am collecting in my research is the student’s case study paper scores. I will use the scores to compare if student did better this year than from previous years. I will compare student’s papers to papers from the past two years. I will need to also review students overall scores throughout the year to be sure that the students did better because of the examples provided and my teaching methods but not because of the student’s natural ability.

Call for Action and Predictions

Affected Population The findings of this study will provide valuable information to high school teachers who have students who struggle with or are frustrated by the writing process. English teachers typically are responsible for teaching students the writing process and allowing them to practice that skill in their class. However, writing may be reinforced in all subject areas. The more practice students have with writing, the more likely they will be successful, especially if they are motivated and are writing about something they can connect with or enjoy. Both types of students, students who struggle with writing and those who do not, may benefit from the research found in this study.

I predict that providing examples to students and modeling writing strategies, will allow students to gain a better understanding of the observation journal and case study paper assignments. If students are able to visually see clear examples of what is expected in their writing, they are more likely to succeed and become less frustrated. Specifically, the students who will benefit from this study the most are my current students and future students because I will alter my teaching methods to include examples of previous student work. My colleague’s, Susan Johnson, students will also benefit if she decides to implement similar strategies when teaching observing and journaling.

Importance of ResearchOnce this data is collected and analyzed, it will provide me with the information I need to make changes to the way I teach observing and journaling. At this time, students are very frustrated with observing and writing their papers and I believe the data that I will collect may provide some insight into “what” specifically students are struggling with and “why” they have such a hard time with these assignments. I believe if I can find what is frustrating to students I can help students focus on the importance of the project rather than the difficulty. The data will also allow me to ask other educational professionals and students their opinions on this issue so I can gain multiple perspectives. Hopefully, this will allow me to implement change in my teaching methods, the assignment and the students learning experience.

Hypothesis and Future Outcomes Although I have not collected any data at this time, I expect student frustration levels to decrease and the quality of student work to increase if students are provided more time in the child care center to observe. I anticipate students would not feel as rushed and may be able to gather more thorough descriptions of what they see if they could spend the entire period in the center rather than half of the period. More time in the center may also provide students with an enhanced learning experience because they might be more likely to interact with the preschoolers and become more engaged in what they are observing.

Student’s engagement in observing may motivate them while they are completing their observation journals and writing their case study papers because they will have more experiences with the children to refer to. I foresee the students’ understanding of observing and journaling to improve if more time was spent on teaching these concepts and if a variety of engaging teaching methods were used. It can be frustrating for students when they are not given enough time to learn a new concept. Allowing students time to practice and discuss examples of observing in groups, partners and individually before going into the child care center, will enable students to become more comfortable with the observation process.

Many students get excited about learning new ideas when they are learning through hands on experiences and working with other students. When I am teaching observing and journaling, I will try to provide students more opportunities to do this before expecting them to go into the child care center to observe on their own. I feel this will help motivate students about the observation and case study project.Finally, I anticipate that providing students with examples of observation journals and case study papers will assist them in their understanding of the assignment.


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