Anglia Ruskin University
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Ways of seeing and knowing children: a case study of early years practitioners' understandings and uses of child observation during their first year of employment

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posted on 2023-08-30, 13:58 authored by Paulette Luff
Observation of children, based upon careful watching and listening, is a key aspect of effective early childhood pedagogy, and yet research shows that early years practitioners struggle to observe children satisfactorily and find difficulty in planning provision based upon their observations. This finding is unexpected as there is a focus upon child observation in practitioners‘ initial training. This study set out to consider this anomaly through exploring new practitioners‘ understandings and uses of child observation during their first year of employment. The study took the form of a collective case study involving ten newly qualified early years practitioners. Taking an ethnographic approach, the project used participant observation in three early years settings, combined with semi-structured interviews with new practitioners and their mentors, to collect evidence of child observation in practice. Thematic content analysis of data, supported by the use of NVivo2 software, focused upon three aspects of the research question: firstly, new practitioners‘ understandings of the nature and purpose of child observation; secondly, why and how they use it; and, thirdly, observation as an aspect of their work within early years settings. Findings indicate that new early years practitioners demonstrate both informal practice, underpinned by an ethic of caring which guides observant, responsive work with young children; and formal practice, rooted in a developmental view of childhood leading to conscientious recording of predetermined, sequential, learning outcomes. The former is an intrinsic, connected response whilst the latter results from implementation of external policy requirements. Drawing inspiration from Dewey‘s pragmatist philosophy of education and from notions of wise practice, a new dynamic and relational approach to child observation is proposed, which may unite these dichotomous modes of thought and action and so enhance early years care and education.



Anglia Ruskin University

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