Observing learning: best practice guide

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By Fe Luton

It is well known that observation is an essential part of the EYFS. We observe, we analyse, we plan, we create an effective learning environment and associated opportunities… and we observe again. The cycle is an effective accepted approach to facilitating learning and progress. But what are effective observations and how can we ensure that we do the best for our children as a result?

teaching observation

How should we be observing?

There are essentially three types of observation. All are important and should be included. Each has its own strengths. Sometimes your observations come from planned observations where you stand back and observe ‘from afar’. These observations should be focused on a specific child or group of children. At other times your observations come from snippets of learning that we glimpse across the day. These ‘spontaneous’ observations, when a child does or says something that demonstrates a moment of learning, could be of any child in your setting at any point across the day. The third type of observation is what the social sciences refer to as ‘participant observation’ – you are interacting and involved with the child or children and are part of the learning that you are also observing. These are the observations that tend to be the most subjective as you are ‘in the moment’ alongside the child. You are also in a position where you may (subconsciously) be influencing outcomes.

It is important that we distinguish between these three forms of observation in order to ensure we implement all three on a regular basis. The reason for this is that each achieves a different end:

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