As someone who has worked in special education for many years classroom observations are a familiar routine for me. I have realised since moving into private practice that it’s a bit of a foreign concept for most parents. I thought I’d write about the process of a classroom observation to de mystify it.
Sometimes it is helpful for me to see a child’s behaviour in the context that it happens. If the leadership team of the school and the class teacher have given their consent for me to observe I can come into a classroom or other school setting to see what is occurring.
I usually observe for a maximum of 20-30 minutes although I may book a longer appointment. This gives me time to get settled into the room and to chat with staff if there is an opportunity to do so. I ask teachers to introduce me (if they wish to do so) as someone who is there to observe in the school to see how things work in that class or school. I ask them not to identify me as there to observe a student. Generally, I tuck myself in an out of the way spot in the room and take notes of what I am seeing. Sometimes children ask me what I’m doing so I usually have a general response prepared. My aim is to be as unobtrusive as possible whilst acknowledging that just by being there I’m changing the dynamic of the classroom somewhat.
Teachers are used to someone observing in their classrooms as this is often part of professional development. It can be very difficult when the teacher is focused on teaching a lesson to see the very small details of an individual child’s behaviour. Quite often what I can see as an outside observer isn’t possible for even the perfect teacher to see.
Usually observations are part of a wider assessment and I will provide a written report including my conclusions about what I’ve observed. The report will also include some recommendations about how to help the student engage better with learning.
Robyn Stead, Child Psychologist and Educator, lives and works in central Auckland.