The behaviour of children during an observation

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In this assignment I shall be looking at the topic of assessment in Primary Schools. I shall be looking at one of the methods of assessment which is the use of observation. I shall be looking at whether this is an appropriate method of assessment and a fair one.

Looking at research in general it is essential to do, this is so that practice is constantly improved. It can also help to gain a clear understanding that has previously not been researched. We do research in education to allow the constant development and improving of teaching styles and methods to take place.

I have decided to concentrate on looking into the observational side of assessment as I feel as though this is increasingly becoming the most popular method of assessment.

For this I shall analyze any data, facts and figures that has been created on the focus of assessment but more importantly on observational assessment in the Primary Classroom. I shall discuss the views of a variety of theorists, their contrasting arguments and their research. I shall also discuss my outlook on the subject matter whilst considering others beliefs. I shall send out questionnaires on a large scale to various schools.

I expect my results to show that many of the results will conclude that observing a child in the classroom alters a child's behaviour. I shall then look at how this affects the whole process of assessment, as to whether this is a fair way of assessing children and can it affect them. I shall then look at methods that can help to ensure that observation does not affect the results.

In order for the question to be answered, information needs to be gathered to gain a further understanding of the subject. The following six literature pieces will help to give a clearer understanding of the subject.

Snow and Hemel, 2008, discuss the benefits of using observational assessment in the classroom. They say that periodical observations and testing help those who struggle but do not make it known, in order to gain further help. (Snow and Hemel, 2008, pg 147)

Observational assessment helps those who have problems, to gain further help from their teacher, who will have a clearer understanding of where they are going wrong.

However Kantowitz, 2008, looks at the disadvantages of observational assessment, and in particular how when observing you can only see what the problem is, you cannot get a great understanding of what is causing the problem -this would involve more formative assessment. (Kantowitz, 2008, pg 32)

Koshy, 2009, notes the many advantages of observation, those that are vital in educational assessment include; it is an opportunity to analyse the behaviour of the children during the teaching of a lesson. This helps to analyse the notes in order to cater for their learning styles.

Nonetheless Tassoni and Bulman, 2008, suggest that observing children holds some weaknesses. The primary ones being; that it is difficult to place yourself in the classroom, where you are not obtrusive but you can still see and hear what is being said. Also the children may feel pressurised as an adult is watching everything that they are doing. (Tassoni and Bulman, 2008, pg 191)

Koshy wrote how observation can help teachers interpret what learning styles to teach to ensure the pupils learning styles are met.

After researching the subject of observational assessment, it was found that there was not a great deal of research or writing in the year of 2009. It was also noted that there was not a lot of case studies on observation. There was also a distinct lack of information on how the notes made during the observation were used, apart from the use for learning styles.

This possibly could be noted for future research by other authors. Another area for future research could be identifying and researching the behavioural changes in a child when they are being observed - which could be a key development on the fairness of observational assessment.

The literature above forms a beneficial insight into observational assessment in the classroom. This action research project will focus entirely on classroom assessment, primarily observations. It is hoped that during this project, the fairness of observational assessment will be answered.


Hui, M and Grossman, D (2008) Improving teacher education through action research Oxon: Routledge

Kantowitz et al (2008) Experimental Psychology (9th ed) London: Wadsworth publishing

Koshy, V (2009) Action research for improving educational practice a step by step guide (2nd ed) London: SAGE publishing

Snow, E and Hemel, S (2008) Early childhood assessment why what and how? London: National Academies Press

Tassoni, P and Bulman, K (2008) Children's care, learning and development candidate handbook London: Heinemann Publishers Education

The Variables

When researching a subject, the variables should be looked at; there are the things that will vary, which could affect the outcome. There are three primary variables; the first being, the amount of years the person has been teaching.

The amount of years of teaching practise could possibly alter the outcome as if the person is a Newly Qualified Teacher (NQT) they may not have a lot of experience with observation. This could lead the NQT to state their opinion; where as a teacher with numerous years of teaching practice would form their answer on experience and knowledge.

Another variable that is chief, is the key stage that the teacher is based in. This is because it may not be possible to observe the children at all or as frequent if they teach in key stage two. Where as there will be more opportunities in the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) to observe. Again it is possible that the outcome will be more opinion based rather than factual, for those with less experience.

One other variable quantity is the school that the person teachers in. this is because the school may have informed the teachers to do observations or not to do them. This may have an effect, if they have been told to do them often, so they may have a negative view of observation. However if they have been told not to do observations they may, again, not had any or enough experience.

Develop research questions

In this action research project a further understanding of classroom observation is what is to be achieved. An understanding as to whether classroom observation is effective will be looked at. This will be done by assessing whether observing a child alters their behaviour and puts un-necessary pressure on them. First we will look at whether the behaviour of a child is affected whilst being observed. Once this has been assessed I will look at whether this is a fair method of assessment; by putting children under pressure will we gain the best picture of a child's knowledge? Once this has been attained, looking as to whether it is an effective method of assessment will be next.

Based on the above research points my research question will be, 'Does observation in the classroom alter the way a child behaves and if so, is this way of assessment an effective method?'

Essentially the question holds three individual questions, so this will be looked into as individual points of research, but will still remain as one whole question.

Approach taken

Upon approaching to answer the question, it was essential to look at the different methodologies and study types whilst undertaking the action research. I feel as though there are four types of studies etc that should play a part in my research.

The first being retrospective study, this is a study which looks upon the past, this is essential as it helps to give an understanding of what has happened, rather than what 'could' happen.

Another is prospective study which looks in the future; this often holds a specific deadline or goal. This also plays a part in the project, specifically when looking at timeline and timescale.

I would also like to look at case studies, I feel as though they can be helpful to gauge an idea as to any consequences of an action.

Finally it would be helpful to look at a cross section of people; this is helpful to create an un-biased research piece.

To find answers to my questions it was decided to create questionnaires, for teachers to fill out. It was then decided to host the questionnaire online, as this would contact a wider audience.

Once the questionnaire had been written there were fourteen questions. These included questions to determine whether the teacher does observational assessment in the classroom. Other questions ascertained what the teachers thought the advantages and disadvantages were of observational assessment.

Having developed the questions it was needed to find a website which would host the questions. Having found a website ( the questions were then typed up onto the website, upon this being done the questionnaire was launched.

Negotiations undertaken

In order to publish the link onto the appropriate websites, it was essential to gain permission from the website owners.

A list was produced of six websites, which were felt that the appropriate audience would visit, a list can be found in appendices one. Upon compiling the list, the appropriate websites were contacted, with regards to gaining permission to publish the link.

Responses to the emails were received, all website owners replied, copies of the emails can be found in appendices two, and four out of the six websites granted permission.

Once permission had been received, a copy of the link was posted on the relevant websites along with an introduction paragraph about me and the questionnaire. (Appendices 3)

One of the website owners contacted me to inform me that they would promote the link on their social networking site, which is aimed at teachers.

Develop timeline

In order to complete an effective action research project, a timeline should be in place. It was decided to do this project over a six week period; a simple timeline was created for this length of time (appendices 6)

For week one the task was to decide on the action research question, before this it was essential to write up the focus statement. It was also necessary to research literature on the subject and write this up in a literature review. During the first week it was also crucial to write up the variables of the project.

Moving to week two, permission was to be gained to publish a link to the online questionnaire; the questionnaire also needed to be created, once permission had been gained the link needed to be promulgated. Finally during week two, the approach that was undertaken and the negotiations needed to be described and written up.

During the third week, whilst the data was collating online, how this data was being collected needed to be written up.

Week four was to be devoted to analysing the data that had been collected, creating a document on Microsoft Word and producing graphs out of the appropriate information that had been given.

After the collection and analysis of the data collected, during week five, the action plan was to be contrived and written up. After this it was also time to discuss the reaction to the action research project, and the data that had been collected.

Finally, during week six, the networking tools that was available during the project, were to be described and the appendices for the project were to be accumulated.

Data collection plan

There are many ways of collecting data, to mention a few are normative, interpretive and action research. Normative research is where you look towards proving your hypothesis you have stated. Interpretive is where the research focuses mainly on case studies rather than statistically and theoretical evidence. Finally there is the action research approach, which looks towards the author finding a problem with a subject and developing a way to overcome the problem. This is the method of data collection that will be used.

As the questionnaires were published online the data collection plan was relatively unproblematic. As described earlier, the questionnaires were written online to reach a wider audience, the questionnaires also needed to be launched.

Once this was done, the websites that had granted permission were then analysed to find the appropriate place to post the link. On every website there was a forum, some had a sub- topic folder for assessment where as others had a general discussions topic. The appropriate place for the link was found and a brief introduction to the questionnaire and me was posted.

Once the link was posted, a target of gaining a minimum of twenty results was set. After the planned one week on the timeline, ten questionnaires had been filled out, so an extension of the one week was changed to a month.

During the month of collection, it was necessary to check the websites frequently; this was in order to allow any queries that were written on the forum, with regards to the questionnaire, to be answered.

After one month the target of twenty questionnaires had been met, collecting a total of twenty two, these next needed to be analysed.

Data analysis

To analyse the questionnaires, the results first needed to be typed up, this was done on Microsoft Word. Once this was done the information was then turned into pie charts, this was to allow for easier reading.

For the first question there was a general ethos that classroom assessment was beneficial. Those who answered other were asked to specify, some of the answers were that on the basis of it being beneficial so long as it assists with the child's learning. One interesting comment was that if teachers were to focus too much on achieving good results, it could narrow down the curriculum.

Question two looked at whether the teachers used observational assessment in their classroom. The main cluster answered that they did use observations in their class; one teacher noted how it enabled them to see how they interact in the classroom. All apart from one teacher use observational assessment, the one teacher who answered other; stated that they did not observe children in the class but they themselves were observed by Ofsted.

Looking at the information received for question three; which viewed how often observations were done in the classroom. The general time period was that they were done daily, which was then followed by them being done monthly.

Question four queried whether they used a structured or naturalistic approach to observations. The answers were split and were quite defined, just over half of the teachers said that they used a naturalistic approach; the remainder were split in half with one half answering they used a structured approach and the other answering other. Those that answered other broadly specified that they used both. Reflecting upon this question it would have been an idea to allow them to give an answer that they use both structured and naturalistic.

The fifth question enables the teachers to answer whether they feel their chosen method of observation is effective. The majority of the teachers answered that they do feel as though their chosen method of observation is effective. A few of the teachers answered other and specified that it can be an effective use of assessment.

Question six required the teachers to write up about what happens with the information collected during observations. Generally the teachers implied that their observations are used to guide and annotate their lesson plans. Other answers included that the notes were used in other reports or that it helps to evaluate whether they are meeting the children's learning styles. The most concerning answer was that the notes went into folders without any action, three of the teachers put this as their answer.

The next question looked at whether they felt there were any advantages towards observing the children in the classroom. Nearly all the teachers felt as though there were advantages, those that answered otherwise stated that they didn't feel there were any advantages.

The teachers were then asked to elaborate on their answer to the previous question. The teacher who answered no, expanded saying that if the children has a good understanding then they see that their teaching has worked. Although there were many different answers, they seemed to fall in three primary groups. The first and most populated group being those who saw it as an opportunity to gain an insight and a better understanding of the behaviour of the child. The second group was those who believed that observation helped them to gain an understanding of a child's knowledge.

The final group felt that the main advantage of using classroom observations was that it helped them to acknowledge that their teaching style was effective.

For question nine the teachers were asked if they knew of any disadvantages of observing children. As expected the majority of the teachers answered yes; they could see disadvantages of observations. The second most popular answer was that they could 'maybe' see some disadvantages.

The next question the teachers were asked to elaborate on their previous answer, again the answers were grouped into categories. There were eight different categories including the one teacher who could not think of any disadvantages. The two most popular categories were those who thought that it was time consuming and it involved un-necessary paperwork. The other popular group was those who were concerned that it put too much pressure on the children, which could also link to the next group. The next category of answers was those who thought the children's behaviour changes when they were being observed. The final four groups involved individual answers, which are felt to be interesting and un-categorical to be grouped. The first is one teacher implying that they feel they can judge from the children's work how well they are doing and in regards to assessment. An interesting comment by another teacher is that although they believe that observations are beneficial, those who are high in power will not think so unless dependable data is available.

One other teacher looked at how it is hard for teachers, whilst observing, not to help children if they are struggling. The final category is for the teacher who says the disadvantage is that they can become an over used method of assessment.

Question eleven is the question that relates most to the action research project. The question enquires as to whether they think that structured observation alters the behaviour of a child. The majority of teachers believe that is does alter the way a child behaves, the second most popular answer was maybe.

For the nest question, again, the teachers were asked to elaborate on their previous answer. The general ethos was that the children would behave in an out of character way- generally on their best behaviour.

The final two questions were to gauge how much experience, with assessing children, the teachers had. The years of teaching ranged from Newly Qualified Teachers (NQT) to a teacher of thirty-four years. Having worked it out the average amount of teaching years was twelve years. The teachers were generally in Key Stage two and then were spread over Key Stage one and a mixture of all the stages.

Reflecting on the data that has been received, I feel that my original question has had some factors answered. The answers received were ones that I had expected.

Action Plan

Having created a research question, looked at others beliefs in the literature review and collected notions through questionnaires it is time to develop and action plan.

This action plan will help to develop further knowledge and with complexity of the question. Looking at my action research (appendices 6) the next stage will be to assess how well the project has gone.

After finishing this project, it would be possible to extend the research. This would be done, once the reflection stage has been completed, identifying what else needs to be investigated. A research question then needs to be developed and then the research needs to be carried out. Finally the project should be evaluated and assessed, which brings it back to the start of the cycle.

This would need to be looked into richer, to research in more depth it could be possible to break the question down and use the cycle for each section of the question.

Networking tools

The networking tools that were available were various media opportunities such as books, journals, websites and documents. There was also the opportunity to engage and converse with various teachers through both internet and the voluntary place in school. Finally access was available to notes made and hand outs given on the course (Foundation Degree in Teaching and Learning)

Reaction to project

Now that the project is completed, it is felt that overall it has gone well. The question of 'Does observation in the classroom alter the way a child behaves and if so, is this way of assessment an effective method?'

This question can be looked upon as two separate questions, 'Does observation alter the way a child behaves?' and 'If observation alters the way a child behaves, is it an effective method of assessment?' I feel as though research of literature and questionnaires it is clear that many people believe observation in the classroom does alter the behaviour of the children. This is because if the children are being observed and it is well known, the children may feel pressurised and will not perform to their normal or the best of their ability. It has also become aware that the presence of another adult can cause some children to act out of character causing disruption to both others and their own work.

The second part of the question which looks at whether observation is an effective method of assessment; links back to the question which was asked in the questionnaire. The teachers thought that their method of observation was effective due to more than half of the teachers confirming that they did feel as though their method of assessment was effective, it is clear to see that observational assessment is effective.

When looking back at the question, due to the research, it can be answered that although observational assessment does alter the way a child behaves it is still believed to be an effective method of assessment.

Reflecting upon the undertaking of the project, it is felt that there are some things that it would be done differently. The first one being that I would ensure that the questions were understandable, although only one person had trouble with answering a few questions, it is still critical that all questions are fully understandable.

This project was based on a small scale approach, if this were to be done on a larger scale, it would be necessary to contact local schools to send questionnaires as well as launching an online questionnaire.

Finally if this project was to be done again, the timeline would be made to take into account any problems. In this project there was an un-expected three weeks added on to the time scale sue to the minimum amount of questionnaires not being reached in the targeted time.

As an overall concluding statement about this project it is felt that the question was answered, not in the timescale, but in a timely manner. As this is action research an action needs to be taken and looking back over this project, a suggestion can be made that the best observation to do is naturalistic so children do not feel pressurised and their behaviour changes.