A Testing of structured and unstructrued observation techniques

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This study aims to testing and comparing a capacity of classroom observation technique to reflect insight into classroom events and interactions. Consequently, I wish to explore the advantage and disadvantage of each observation technique. Structured (observation schedule) and unstructured observation techniques will be used to indicate evidences show behaviour of pupil in the classroom. This project will be conducted in Primary school and I will observe 2 lessons within the same classroom and it takes about 60 minutes for each lesson.

This report will be divided into 4 parts and the first part will explain the fundamental theory underlying classroom observation including overview, definition, characteristics, purpose and possible methods that usually use in conducting classroom observation. The second part will describe selected methods, sample and ethical consideration of this study. The third part will partially describe results from this study and reflect insight into methods that has been used to generate these results. The last part will conclude and suggest the possible and more appropriate way to resolve the difficulties that I had faced during conduct this study.

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Classroom observation is a tool that widely use in educational research. There are a number of studies that extensively emphasis on the student activities and their behavior when they are in the classroom. The influences of gender - difference toward classroom interaction is determined and has been observed by using observation methods (Howe, 1997). The influences of both gender and classroom subject toward teacher-student interaction were assessed base on the utilization of observation instrument (Duffy et al, 2001). In addition, pupil involvement and curriculum allocation (in term of a period of time teacher spent for different area of curriculum) were also determined by using observation schedule (Bennett, 1981).

From several studies describe above point out the observation method could provide information for researcher to understand behavior of student and teacher and also get insight into events occur in the classroom. This information has the implication on the classroom improvement and teaching effectiveness.

Definition

Classroom observation has been identified by Martin (1977) as instruments that are "organized and objective system for observing, coding, arranging and analyzing the behavior emitted by teachers and students engaged in instructional exchanges (p.43)"

There are five major characteristics that a professional classroom observation requires (Hopkin, 2008);

Joint Planning

Jointly planning meeting among people involved in a particular observation is needed in order to establish trust and agreement especially in the first step of series of observation. Context of observation and ground rules (e.g. time and place) are also the outcome that the agreement made to set ground rules for particular observation.

Focus

Focus is classified in to two categories - general and specific. General indicates an approach that counts everything happen in the classroom. Specific indicates an approach that restrict to a well-defined classroom activity or practice.

Establishing Criteria

Establishing criteria before the observation start may be help staff to agree and develop criteria for a particular observation during the initial process. Those criteria also needed to revise which is subject to ongoing review in order to refine the definition and establish the road map for development.

Observation skills

There are three skills that are essential for doing classroom observation, which are; a) promptly aware the tendency to quickly judgement, this problem could be solved by generate clear focus for observation and made the agreement about ground rules beforehand, b) develop interpersonal skills including create sense of trust and supportive skill that will be used to support others person when they feeling like being threatened, c) design the schedules that could be used effectively and given rise useful and important information to the observer.

Feedback

An appropriate feedback is considered as an important factor that makes the benefit of classroom observation being realized. Being rushed, judgemental, one-way and impressionistic are characterized as poor feedback.

Purposes

Observation is the method that gives researcher the opportunity to collect data and understand the "live' situation and context of particular programme or environment. Moreover, observation could enabled researcher to discover the information in case of participant could not give a freely talk when conducting interview (Cohen et al, 2001).

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Within this research study, classroom observation was used as an approach to understand and gather data about student interaction and events occur during class hour.

Possible methods

There are several methods of observation that recently use with classroom research. It is possible to categorize into four main groups which are;

Open observation or unfocused observation

This method is usually performed by writing or note taking down key points or short hand writing for making a record. In the same time, this unfocused observation allows observer making premature judgement. Best ways to avoid these pitfalls are making a record on observation as factual as possible, and interpret these records and discuss them after the classroom lesson (Hopkin, 2008).

Focused observation

Observers usually use this method when they know exactly what to look at or for. In particular circumstance, specific criteria that observer has been decided to look at may have some difficulties in characterize and distinguish all possible explanation of that specific criteria. With this regard, external resources such as report or summaries of research and aide-me'moires are useful tools to help observer focus with the topic of the observation (Hopkin, 2008).

Structured observation

The structured recording system such as tally or diagram system will be used to collecting information from classroom. The observer collecting information by tick on the recording system every time a particular event occurs. By using this method, results will represent factual rather than judgemental and can be made into rich descriptions by using focused observation (Hopkin, 2008).

Systematic observation

Systematic observation will be used when the information are numerous and open observation could not be afforded with it, and excessively complex to collect by structured observation. The systematic observation is usually performed when the observer tend to record of student behavior in term of on-off task plus their causes (Hopkin, 2008)

Classroom observation also classified into qualitative and quantitative approach. In qualitative approach, observer provide the descriptive information and not emphasize on how often particular events occur. In quantitative approach, observer use instruments such as checklist or coding scheme to record the occurrence of particular events and analyze the results and report in the form of frequency profile. Thus, quantitative approach is relatively narrow as it focuses on the measurement of particular behavior or sequences of behavior (Good & Brophy, 1994).

Selected instrument and sample for this study

This study has been conducted in Primary School in Irlam, Manchester and divided into two parts; each part has employed different group of observation method, different class subject, difference gender and different group of students. The selected instruments were divided into 2 groups;

Systematic and structured observation schedule that has been used in this study, was based upon a schedule in the book that written by Good and Brophy in 1978 (see appendix). This schedule allowed me (as a observer) to codify the behavior of one boy and one girl students, both are in year 4 ,and causes of corresponding behavior during an IT literacy lesson, systematically. Moreover, this schedule also enabled observer to calculate the amount of time student spent on and off task during this lesson. During the IT literacy lesson which is taking 60 minutes for a whole, the observation has been made and recorded minute by minute.

Open or unfocused observation such as note taking also has been used in this study to describe pupil behavior. Observer describe the activities that one boy and one girl, both are in year 6, have during Math lesson. In addition, teacher-student interaction, student-student interaction and events happen in a classroom were described by using open observation. The note taking has been made every time a particular event or interaction occurs during lesson which is taking 60 minutes as a whole.

After completed both observation study describe above, the results from both methods are compared and describe about its advantage and disadvantage. The systematic observation is expected to given some numerical data that would bring to calculate and show results in the form of relative on and off task behavior. On the other hand, the open observation is expected to produce descriptive information that could reveal events and interactions between teacher and student, and interaction between student and student.

Ethical consideration

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According to the School of Education Ethical Approval Guidance for Research project, the particular study undertaken with the participant who are children under age 16 is require consent from parents or legal equivalent. In this study, consent was obtained from Head Teacher as she has a legal equivalent with parent and this study has only conducted during class hour in school. The Criminal Record Bureau (CRB) Disclosure has shown to the head teacher in order to confirm the background of me (as an observer) that I do not have any history or behavior that would not suitable to work involving children. Moreover, participant information sheet describe aim and necessary information of this study has been sent to the head teacher before the study has started. The data protection procedure and the maintenance of confidentiality of data produced from this study has informed to the head teacher. The agreement from head teacher in the case that data collected may be passed to other researcher (my supervisor) has been obtained.

Result

The data from observation schedule has been partially coded and analyzed. A criterion that was used to analyze is on-off task behavior. On task behavior is describe as 1) pupil pay attention or actively work at assignment teacher gave during lesson 2) distract others for questions, seeks help or investigate any hint involving assignment 3) call out the answer when teacher ask questions or ask about progress on assigned work 4) call out about teacher comment or ask teacher a question.

Pupil A is a girl who sat left-behind in the class. The frequency that she has on on-task behavior is 42 indicate she spent 42 minutes from 60 minutes. Therefore, she spent 18 minutes off task and then the percentage of on-task is 70, off-task is 30. Pupil B is a boy who sat right-behind in the class and his frequency on off-task behavior is 53, thus he spent 53 minutes on task, then his off task period is take 9 minutes (there is 1 minutes that the observer has lost and not be able to record any behavior). Therefore, the percentage of on-task is 89, off-task is 11 approximately.

It is not convenience to describe on-task behavior in every minute by using open observation when comparing with using observation schedule. Therefore, results from this open observation will be shown in the form of short description. Then, the result on on-task behavior that has been partially analyzed could be described as 1) pay attention and working on assignment 2) following teacher's instruction 3) read out loud what teacher has wrote on a white board 4) listen to the teacher's command and response with it 5) ask teacher a question involve assignment.

Although open observation is not practical to record student behavior minute by minute, but it is possible to estimate the amount of time pupil spent comparing with total time. Pupil C is a boy who sat at centered-behind the classroom, has spent around 50% of total time involving with lesson, approximately. The indication shows his involvement with lesson are pay attention with his assignment, read out loud what teacher has wrote on the white board, response with teacher's command, listen to the teacher and speak with teacher,

Pupil D is a girl who sat at far left-behind in the classroom, has spent around 75% of total time involving with lesson, approximately. She spent time involving with lesson by pay attention with her assignment, read out loud what teacher has wrote on the white board, response with teacher's command, raise hand and answer the question, listen to the teacher and take note, raise hand to ask teacher a question and discuss about her assignment with the teacher.

Difficulties and lesson learn from different classroom observation method

From the result described above has shown that both observation schedule and opened observation are functional for use as a tool to observe and get insight into classroom. However, several problems were arising while using those methods especially when the person who uses them has not any experiences conducting an observation.

Although the observation schedule I used in this study has been adopted from others study and it was useful to me to undertake the classroom observation. However, I found some problems when I used it during conduct my own classroom observation. It is extremely difficult when I have to observe two students in the same time. Moreover, behavior and causes of each student needs to record minute by minute. These could leads to faulting in coding because I have to do many tasks in the same time. Some activities or behavior from one of two students may fail to record because I still focus and record the behavior of other.

I also found the opened observation is useful when I observe student during lesson but the problem still arise there because I still have to observe two students in the same time. Many of classroom observation handbooks are mention the pre-mature justification, expectancies and prejudices are the point that the observer should avoid (Hopkins, 2008, Good and Brophy, 1994, Sideridis, 1998). During the observation, I have tried to open recording as factual as possible and provide the descriptive information as much as I could do in one minute in order to avoid those factors. However, the opened observation required me to record in the form of descriptive information, I still need to focus in what sort of information that relevant with my interest.

I got the access to the site of classroom easily because my supervisor had made the first contact with the head teacher of the school. Then, the supervisor assigned me to make a contact directly with the head teacher to arrange the date and time that I should go and observe the classroom. The head teacher had informed me the information about class lesson, age of student in the classroom. This information were given to me about two days before I went to the classroom and both classrooms that I went to observed were conducted in the first half of the day.

When I firstly met the head teacher, she did sign the consent for me. I expected her to introduce me to the teacher who will bring me to their classes, but I have not an opportunity to do so. She brought me to the coffee room and asked me to stay there until the teacher comes and bring me to the classroom. I expected to have a discussion with the teacher about my presence before the classroom begin because I need to informed the teacher that I will not participate in the lesson in any way and will ask her to briefly explain about my presence to students.

The first observation began at 9.20 AM and the teacher had briefly introduced me to students. During the observation, I positioned myself at the back of the classroom and slightly separated myself from student because I do not need to causing distraction through students keep turning to see what I was doing. However, the position I choose to sat and observe caused me had a difficult to record what was happening during lesson because I could see only student's back and could not clearly hear the conversation between student and teacher and between student and their friends.

The second observation began at 11 AM and the teacher had not introduced me to students at all. Same as the first observation, I also positioned myself at the back but slightly deviate into the right. At this time, I could clearly see the face of both students that I observed but I still had a difficult to listen to their conversation with friend and teacher. These problems from both observation caused me had a trouble in coding on an observation schedule and writing the descriptive information down into an observation record because I could not fully understand the cause that make student do any particular activity during lesson.

Conclusion

The complexity of the observation checklist is likely to be an explanation for a bias that emerges during the observation. The complexity of checklist is causing difficulties to the observer in term of their ability to catch up activities that two students have every single minute. This could be a possible factor associated with the unreliability of this study. The observation schedule is needed to re-design or adapt to make it easier for observer to coding in a limited time.

The using of multiple methods is the way to help increasing the validity and reliability of this study. Cross-check data by using another method such as questionnaire or interview is needed in order to confirm the emerging result (Skrtic, 1985). Moreover, repeating observation at the same classroom which is allows the observer gathering data over a period of time is also needed to do. This will help to increasing the validity of the finding (Merriam, 1988)

The comment from colleague or other researchers is considered as a basic strategy to ensure validity of particular study (Merriam, 1988). For the further study, comment from my supervisor will be asked after finished the observation in order to ensure the emerging finding is having a practical explanation. In addition, the examination from the teacher who is responsible for each class is also a useful approach that could ensure the validity of this study. Thus, the pre-visit the school will be made when conducting the further study in order to allow me to getting more familiar with the teacher.

Another possible factor that could make this study unreliability is the error of the observer. With this study, me as the observer had a late sleep in the night before conducting the classroom observation. This could make me tired or overstretched and did the fault coding and recording the data during the observation. Therefore, the next time I do the observation, I will prepare myself ready by having an appropriate sleep, proper meal.

From the result that I found difficulties to observe the student because I have tried to position myself behind the student and I could not be able to see the student's gesture, face and listen to their conversation with friend and teacher. Thus, the next time I do the observation, I will re-position myself to the most suitable position which is not distracted students during lesson. I might have to visit the classroom sooner prior the lesson will be started in order to survey and deciding which position in the classroom that should be possible for me to obtain the data.