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This study aims to test and compare the capacity of classroom observation techniques to generate insights into classroom events and interactions. Consequently, I wish to explore the advantages and disadvantages of each observation technique. Structured (observation schedule) and unstructured observation techniques will be used to collect evidence about the behaviour of pupils in the classroom. This project will be conducted in a Primary school and I will observe 2 lessons in the different classrooms are with each approach. 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 are used in conducting classroom observation. The second part will describe the selected methods, sample and ethical consideration of this study. The third part will partially describe results from this study and search for insights into methods that has been used to generate these results. The last part will reflect on the experience and suggest the possible and more appropriate way to resolve the difficulties that I faced during conduct of this study.
Classroom observation is a tool that widely use in educational research. There are a number of studies that place emphasis on the student activities and their behavior when they are in the classroom. For example, the influence of gender - differences in classroom interaction is one factor that has been observed by using observation methods (Howe, 1997). The influences of both gender and classroom subject toward teacher-student interaction have also been investigated through the utilization of an 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 investigated by using observation schedules (Bennett, 1981).
The several studies described above point out that observation methods could provide useful information for researchers to understand behavior of students and teachers and also offer insight into events that occur in the classroom. This information has the implication for classroom improvement and teaching effectiveness, and can be helpful to teacher.
Classroom observation has been defined by Martin (1977) as the use of instruments that are "organized and objective systems 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);
A Joint 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 observations. The context of observation and ground rules (e.g. time and place, style etc.) are other matter that need to be clearly determined.
Focus is classified in to two categories - general and specific. "General" indicates an approach that seeks to capture everything happening in the classroom. "Specific" indicates an approach that is restricted to a defined classroom activity or practice, or to a specific pupil or pupils.
Establishing criteria before the observation starts may help staff to agree and develop criteria for a particular observation during the initial process. Those criteria may need to be revised subject to ongoing review, in order to refine the scope of definition and establish the road map for development.
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) interpersonal skills including the capacity to create sense of trust and the supportive skills that will be used to support others person so they do not feel threatened, c) designing the schedules that will be used, so that they are fit for purpose and important information for the observer is generated.
Appropriate feedback is considered as an important factor that offer helps the benefits of classroom observation to the teacher to be realized. Being rushed, judgemental, one-way and impressionistic are characterized as poor feedback, so plenty of time and an emphasis on evidence are important aspects of good feedback.
Observation is a method that gives researchers the opportunity to collect data and understand the "live' situation and context of a particular programme or environment. Moreover, observation could enable the researcher to discover the information that a participant could not give freely when being interviewed (Cohen et al, 2001).
Within this pilot study, classroom observation was used as an approach to understand and gather data about student interactions and events occurring during lesson in a particular primary school. As the main objective was to gain experience of using the method, no particular form was agreed with the class teacher before the observation tool place.
There are several methods of observation that we regularly used in classroom research. It is possible to categorize them into four main groups which are;
Open observation or unfocused observation
This method is usually performed by writing or taking down notes covering key points or statements making a record of events. In the same time, this unfocused observation may leads to the observer into making premature judgements. Best ways to avoid the pitfall is making the record of observation as factual as possible, and waiting to interpret these records and discuss them after the classroom lesson (Hopkin, 2008).
Observers usually use this method when they know exactly what to look at or for. In particular circumstance, factors that the observer has identified to look at may prove quite difficult to capture, though generally this can be overcome by careful planning. With this regard, external resources such as reports or records or even previous research studies are useful tools to help the observer determine focus for the topic of the observation (Hopkin, 2008).
A structured recording system such as a tally or diagram system is often used to collect information from classrooms. The observer records information by "ticking" on the recording system every time a particular event occurs. By using this method, results will be factual rather than judgemental, and can be made into rich descriptions by using supplementary notes (Hopkin, 2008).
Systematic observation will be used when the information is complex and open observation would not be east to do, or it is too complicated to collect by structured observation. The systematic observation is usually performed when the observer tend to record student behavior in term of activities on-off task plus the causes (Hopkin, 2008)
Classroom observation approaches can also be classified into qualitative and quantitative approaches. In a qualitative approach, observers provide the descriptive information and do not emphasize how often particular events occur. In quantitative approach, the observer uses instruments such as checklists or coding schemes to record the incidence of particular events and analyze the results and report in the form of frequency profiles. Thus, the quantitative approach is relatively narrow, as it focuses on the measurement of particular behaviors or sequences of behaviors (Good & Brophy, 1994).
Selected instrument and sample for this study
This study has been conducted in a Primary School in Irlam, Manchester and divided into two parts; each part has employed a different observation method, different class subject, difference gender and different group of students. The selected instruments were as follows
The systematic and structured observation schedule that has been used in this study was based upon a schedule in the book by Good and Brophy (1978 see appendix). This schedule allowed me (as the observer) to record and analyze the behavior of one boy and one girl student (both are in year 4) together with causes, during an IT literacy lesson. Moreover, this schedule also enabled the observer to calculate the amount of time these students 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 recorded through note taking also has been used in this study to describe pupil behavior. The observer describes the activities that one boy and one girl (both are in year 6) showed during Math lesson. In addition, teacher-student interaction, student-student interaction and events that happened in the classroom were described by using open observation and "free" comment. The note taking has been made every time a particular event or interaction occurred during lesson which is taking 60 minutes as a whole.
After completing both observation studies described above, the results from the two methods are compared and there is discussion about advantage and disadvantage of structured and open observation. The systematic observation is expected to given some numerical data that can be used to calculate and the results in the form of average could be displayed graphically. On the other hand, the open observation is expected to produce descriptive information that could reveal key events and interactions between teacher and student, and interaction patterns between student and student.
According to the School of Education Ethical Approval Guidance for Research projects, the particular study undertaken with participants who are children under age 16 requires consent from parents or legal equivalent. In this study, consent was obtained from the Head Teacher, as she has legal equivalence with parents while children are in school and this study has only conducted during class hours in school. The Criminal Record Bureau (CRB) Disclosure was shown to the head teacher in order to confirm my background details (as an observer) and show that I do not have any history or behavior that would not be suitable to work involving children. Moreover, a participant information sheet describing aims and necessary information about this study has been sent to the head teacher before the study had started. The data protection procedures and the maintenance of confidentiality of data produced from this study was also communicated to the head teacher. The agreement from the head teacher in the case that data collected may be passed to other researchers (my supervisor) has also been obtained.
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 was given to me about two days before I went to the classroom and both classrooms that I visited to do the observation were conducted in the first half of the day.
When I first 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 did not have an opportunity to do so. She brought me to the coffee room and asked me to stay there until the teacher comes and brings me to the classroom. I expected to have a discussion with the teacher about my presence before the classroom observation begin because I need to inform 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 after 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 the students because I did not want to cause distraction through students keep turning to see what I was doing. However, the position I choose to sit and observe caused me some difficulty to record what was happening during lesson, because I could see only the students' backs and could not clearly hear the conversation between student and teacher and between student and their friends. This meant sometimes I did not know for sure what the student was doing.
The second observation began at 11 AM and the teacher did not introduce me to the students at all. Not surprising, some students did wonder who was this stranger in their class and from time to time turned around to look at me. The same as the first observation, I also positioned myself at the back but slightly toward into the right. This time, I could clearly see the faces of both students that I observed but I still found it difficult to listen to their conversation with friends and the teacher. These problems from both observations meant I had trouble in coding the observation schedule and in writing the descriptive information down into an observation record because I could not fully understand the cause that make students do any particular activity during the lesson.
The data from the observation schedule has been partially coded and analyzed. A criterion that was used to analyze is on and off task behavior. On task behavior is described as 1) pupil pays attention or actively works at assignment teacher gave during lesson 2) asks others questions, seeks help or assistance involving the assignment 3) calls out the answer when the teacher asks questions or asks about progress on assigned work 4) calls out about teacher comments or asks teacher a question.
Pupil A is a girl who sat on the left towards the back of the class. The frequency that she has on on-task behavior is 42, indicating she spent 42 minutes from 60 minutes doing what she asked to. 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 at the back on the right of the class and his frequency of on task behavior is 53, thus he spent 53 minutes on task, then his off task period is take 6 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 convenient to describe on-task behavior every minute by using open observation when comparing with using observation schedule. Therefore, results from the 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 written on a white board 4) listen to the teacher's instruction and respond to these 5) ask teacher a question related to the assignment.
Although with open observation is not practical to record student behavior minute by minute, but it is possible to estimate the amount of time pupil spent compared with total time. Pupil C is a boy who sat in the centre of the classroom, toward the back. He has spent around 50% of total time involved with the lesson, approximately. The pattern shows his involvement with lesson, paying attention to his assignment, reading out loud what teacher has written on the white board and responding to the teacher's instruction is quite low- only half of the available time, listen to the teacher and speak with teacher,
Pupil D is a girl who sat at far left toward the back of the classroom. She spent around 75% of total time involved actively in the lesson, approximately. She spent this time following instructions, taking notes, and even raised her hand to ask teacher a question, to clarify what was expected of her.
Difficulties and lessons learnt from the different classroom observation methods
From the result described above it is shown that both observation schedules and open observation are functional for use as a tool to observe and get insight into classroom behaviour. 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 another study and it was quite suitable to my purpose in the classroom observation. However, I found some problems when I used it during the classroom observation. It is extremely difficult when I have to observe two students in the same time which should be I be looking at?. Moreover, behavior and causes of each student needs to record minute by minute. These could lead to error 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 be recorded because I was still focused on recording the behavior of the others.
I also found the open observation is useful when I observe student during lesson but the problems still arose there because I still have to observe two students in the same time. Many classroom observation handbooks 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 make recording as factual as possible and provide the descriptive information as accurately as I could do in one minute in order to avoid those factors. However, the open observation required me to record in the form of descriptive writing which take time and I still needed to focus on what sort of information was relevant to my interest, which is not so easy when you are busy writing.
The complexity of the observation checklist is likely to be an explanation for a bias that emerges during the observation. The complexity of the checklist is causing difficulties to the observer in term of their ability record activities that two students are involved in every single minute. This could be a possible factor contributing to unreliability in this study. The observation schedule needs to be re-designed or adapted to make it easier for the observer to code in a limited time, otherwise this form of observation is too exhausting.
The use of multiple methods is one way to help increase the validity and reliability of this study. Cross-checking data by using another method such as a questionnaire or interviews is needed in order to confirm the emerging result (Skrtic, 1985). It would also allow me to check my understanding of what the pupils observed were actually doing. Moreover, repeating observation in the same classrooms, which allows the observer gathering to data over a period of time is also necessary as this might produce more reliable data. This will help to increase the validity of the findings (Merriam, 1988)
The comments from colleagues or other researchers are also considered as a basic strategy to ensure validity of particular study (Merriam, 1988). For the further study, comment from my supervisor will be asked for after finishing the observation in order to ensure the emerging finding is having a practical explanation. In addition, the feedback from the teachers observed who are responsible for each class is also a useful approach that could enhance the validity of this study. Thus, the pre-visit the school will be made when conducting the further study of this type in order to allow me to become more familiar with the teachers and their ways of working. Then it would be possible to share findings with them and get their comments on these.
Another possible factor that could make this study unreliable are the errors made by the observer. With this study, as the observer I had a late sleep in the night before conducting the classroom observation. This could make me tired or overstretched and leads to misconducting and poor recording of the data during the observations. Therefore, the next time I do the observation, I will prepare myself by having an appropriate sleep, proper meal and so on. I feel I was too nervous and then affected my performance
From the experience 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 friends and teachers. Thus, the next time I do the observation, I will re-position myself in the most suitable position which is not distracting to students during the lesson. I might have to visit the classroom prior to the lesson in order to survey and decide which position in the classroom will be most suitable for me to obtain the data.
Finally, I think I would pilot any observation approach I want to use in future, whether it is a pre-coded instrument or even free-recording of what is happening. Actually, I discovered that one minute intervals are too short for me to keep up, and if I had piloted this time maybe 2 minute intervals would have been more reliable.