Forms of Observation

Each week at Woolley Wood I deliver a 45 minute classroom based course for 8 of the staff.  Each course runs for 5 weeks and is an opportunity for me to present the principles and method of Intensive Interaction through presentations and social learning activities.  The course supports the mentoring that takes place in class and the combination of these two approaches seems to be helping staff to understand the practice.
Last week I explained to the staff my framework for observations and this week everyone reflected on the observations that they had carried out during the week.  For example, one thing that I have asked people not to do is to write on a form at the same time as trying to observe.  This approach just means that, for at least half the time, the observer ends up looking at the form rather than looking at the child and the constant shifting between filling in the form and trying to observe can make the practitioner feel quite tense.
Having tried this during the week the staff made several reflections.  One person said it was much more relaxing to just watch and then fill a form in afterwards.  Although she felt that once she had got to the form she may have forgotten something that she observed, she also felt that she actually saw much more in the first place by not trying to fill in the form at the same time.  Other staff reported that it was much better to leave the form until later because, having tried without it, the form only seems to serve as a distraction.  The reason we can place less emphasis on the form is because the purpose is slightly different.  Our aim for observation in intensive interaction is that we need to be able to function as observers all the time so that we can respond appropriately to the moment-to-moment happenings of the interaction.  To do this well our observations cannot be reliant on a form so the idea of the framework is that it is clear enough so that it can be remembered easily and staff will eventually be able to conduct accurate observations without needing paperwork.
Teaming up on the observations was also reported to be a successful approach.  The idea was for one staff member to observe while the other films the observation.  After the observation they discussed what each person saw and then looked at the film to see if they missed anything.  The two staff from foundation reported that between them they felt that they missed very little and that the post observation discussion was very helpful because they were able to discuss the application of the observation framework and this helped them notice more about how the child was behaving rather than just what they were doing.
The highlight of the session for me was when one teaching assistant talked about how she found that conducting an observation using the iPad helped her to focus on the observation more and let go of the tasks she would otherwise be responsible for with the other children.  She said that using the iPad made her feel like she had a clearer task to do and that if the rest of the staff team saw her holding the iPad they would know what she was doing and that she couldn’t be disturbed.  The effect of this was that the teaching assistant felt she could let go of her other responsibilities, stop worrying about the other children in the class and relax into a mindful observation.
The reason I really like this is because the effect on the staff team of the teaching assistant’s holding of the iPad is pure intensive interaction.  By holding the iPad she is non-verbally communicating to the rest of the staff team that she is engaged in an observation.  How as practitioners can we use our actions in a similar way to affirm the behaviour of a child and non-verbally communicate that we are here for them.  By enjoying doing what the child is doing and using our actions to show that we too can find meaning in what the child finds meaningful.

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